The Beekeeper opens in theaters January 12.
Every great idea that moves an art form forward inspires imitators who swim in its wake, and John Wick has more imitators than most. The second audiences started praising the type of fight choreography that allows the viewer to actually see what’s going on, every action movie treated us to grueling, lengthy combat scenes shot at wide angles with every landed punch in the center of the frame. Others aped bits of the Wick mythos, building worlds of lore for their main characters – often members of secret fighting societies, often retired – and their enemies – usually mobsters or hitmen possessed with terrifying knowledge of a certain martial art. The Beekeeper, directed by David Ayer and starring Jason Statham, is the latest of these copycats, posing the intriguing question: What if John Wick, but with bees?
Statham plays Adam Clay, a quiet, soft-spoken man living in the New England countryside. He keeps to himself, but makes an exception for Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad), an elderly woman who lives in an isolated farmhouse. They share one exposition-laden conversation, but you can tell they’re friends. (If there’s one thing Statham’s going to do, it’s charm every veteran actress he’s cast opposite.) Clay keeps bees, housing them in hives on the side of the road and extracting and jarring the honey in Eloise’s shed. One evening, when delivering a jar of said honey to Eloise (after collecting a bunch of bee-killing hornets in a bag and electrocuting them), Clay finds her dead on the floor of her living room, having committed suicide after a shady company conned her out of her savings.
The Beekeeper Gallery
Things escalate from here. Gone is the hazy farmhouse, the rolling upstate hills. FBI Agent Verona Parker (Emmy Raver-Lampman) is on the case, but her jurisdiction only goes so far. It’s up to Clay to go rogue, hunting down those responsible for his friend’s death and blowing up their neon-tinged call centers. Shockingly, a beekeeper played by Jason Statham is not just a beekeeper. He was once a capital-B Beekeeper – “A Beekeeper beekeeper?” one character asks breathlessly – a member of a top secret organization of special agents that operates above the law when the law is not enough.
As you might expect, the rest of the movie is Adam Clay punching and shooting and exploding his way to the top of the phishing conspiracy, taking out goons and sawing fingers off of sniveling phone scammers while grunting lines like “I protect the hive” and “I’m gonna burn you down.” His lengthiest piece of dialogue is a long diatribe about the evils of organizations that financially prey on elderly people, so as far as any viewer is concerned, his actions are completely justified.
There’s enough over-the-top action and dialogue in the script by Expendabl3s writer Kurt Wimmer to keep things entertaining. There’s also a bit of fun worldbuilding: Clay calls in to a headquarters where chat bubbles show up as little honeycomb hexagons, and the way certain characters talk about Beekeepers, it’s clear they’ve run up against a formidable foe. (“When a Beekeeper says you’re gonna die,” one character explains, “you’re gonna die.”) Even Statham’s everyday beekeeping outfit looks like tactical gear, with a tailored fit and a series of buckles on the side reminiscent of body armor.
Many things, however, are unclear. How high up in the government do you have to be to know about an organization like this? Is there an international branch, or is it only under American jurisdiction? Are other Beekeepers so literal with their recreational pursuits? There’s not a ton of room for details. The story bounces between Clay’s rampage to Verona’s detective work as she toils to uncover the secrets behind Clay’s past, while the true villains – a greedy, foul-mouthed tech bro named Derek (Josh Hutcherson) and his protector, former CIA director Wallace Westwyld (Jeremy Irons doing a meaner version of his Alfred Pennyworth) – mobilize a defense against the oncoming Beekeeper onslaught.
Being a David Ayer action movie, the film is mainly concerned with the violent aspects of bees and beekeeping: Clay’s obsession with putting the collective above himself at all costs, battles between bees and hornets, and repeated references to a real-world phenomenon wherein a regular worker bee can become a “queenslayer” to protect the genetic future of her hive. There’s not a lot of curiosity about the insects beyond that point – in fact, when one character mentions an interesting bee fact she just read, she’s told to pipe down. The bees, as a motif, are functional to a point, like The Beekeeper’s reliance on the absurdist Wickian tropes. They’re in there because they need to be, according to the current model of action moviemaking.
That said, it’s not not a good time, if all you want to see is a classic Statham beatdown with flashes of inspired pizazz. The supporting cast is all good, if a little too heavily reliant on profanity-laden dialogue. We get it! You’re all upset! Taylor James of Vikings: Valhalla gets a particularly memorable third-act intro as The Most Evil South African Henchman You’ve Ever Seen With Frosted Tips. At a certain point, so many people are yelling and shooting and punching at each other that it’s difficult to remember why they’re all mad, and a shocking twist near the end of the film only serves to confuse even more. Where the inner workings of a beehive are ordered chaos, The Beekeeper is just chaos, with Jason Statham in a stinger-proof jacket barely holding it all together.