‘The Beekeeper’ review: Jason Statham goes John Wick-ish in David Ayer actioner


Like Chad Stahelski’s John Wick franchise, David Ayer’s The Beekeeper has the kind of goofy action premise that, if played straight enough, could have served as a springboard for ludicrous delights. The problem is that in the process of maintaining its gimmick — a revenge saga in which Jason Statham plays a beekeeper and retired black ops killer — the film forgets to have any fun.

For his part, Statham is utterly committed to playing a stoic, mournful apiarist with a penchant for dismemberment. However, the film around him is neither dramatically adept enough to carry any emotional heft nor witty enough to hold your attention. It doesn’t help that the script by Kurt Wimmer is packed with seemingly endless quips and puns that seldom land.

Is the action at least worthwhile? Maybe, on paper; there’s likely a version of the movie that could have been carved from Ayer’s footage in a way that makes an impact. (Assuming Ayer had more say here than he did on Suicide Squad, perhaps it’s time to stop demanding the latter’s #AyerCut). In any case, what ends up on the screen radiates reluctance. It feels far too hesitant to put its gory B(ee)-movie sensibilities on full display. There’s a term in academia for this sort of middling, weightless “nothing” of a movie dumped in theaters early in the year: “Fuck You, It’s January!” (See also: Night Swim.) 

The Beekeeper is preposterous in a dumb but not fun way. 

David Ayer directs Jason Statham in "The Beekeeper."

David Ayer directs Jason Statham in “The Beekeeper.”
Credit: Daniel Smith / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Ayer and cinematographer Gabriel Beristain do a fine job of creating a sense of mystery around Statham’s Adam Clay, whom we first see entering a shadowy, rundown barn in silhouette. Before we see his face, we see the distinct shape of his white beekeeping suit. He’s an astronaut whose exploration is fauna instead of the stars, and he’s both confident and highly competent at taking care of a wild hornet’s nest, in what looks like a giant kill room from Saw

While this creepy setting does end up playing a part in the action later on, it’s soon revealed that it’s owned by a normal, unassuming good Samaritan named Eloise (Phylicia Rashad), on whose Massachusetts ranch Adam houses his beehives. Why she owns a building that resembles a slaughterhouse is anyone’s guess; it’s as though the filmmakers were hell-bent on a spot for horror-adjacent kills, but they couldn’t figure out where to put it until the last minute.

This disconnect between appearance and actual premise is easy to ignore at first, but the oddities when it comes to the movie’s setting continue to pile up. Adam mostly keeps to himself, but when Eloise ends up the victim of an expensive banking scam, the lone bee enthusiast starts tracing the fraudsters up their food chain, leading to a mutual escalation. More goons, law enforcement, and private security pile up on one side. On the other, Adam remains a one-man army who never breaks a sweat — though this is also a major problem.

The action in The Beekeeper is dull.

Jason Statham standing still.

Jason Statham standing still.
Credit: Daniel Smith / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Naturally, Adam is a retired operative in hiding. Once he sets his mind to a violent task, he refuses to stop. But each time he dispenses with some new enemy in a creative way — whether hired guns or FBI SWAT teams sent to take him down — the movie cuts away from all the action and impact.

As a story of vengeful violence, The Beekeeper is thoroughly deflating. There’s little satisfaction to Statham expressionlessly sawing off a scammer’s fingers or knocking out a goon’s teeth with a shotgun when the visual only implies these acts, and the sound never enhances them. Most often, Ayer and editor Geoffrey O’Brien cut around the violence and punch into a close-up, not of a strike or injury or even the agonizing expression of one of Adam’s deserving victims, but rather Statham himself, who shows no remorse or reaction. After all, surly stoicism is basically his brand. 

It’s the right choice on the actor’s part, but the wrong one in terms of editing. That Adam feels nothing when performing mechanical executions ought to make for a worthwhile plot point, but the audience ends up feeling nothing as well.

The movie’s emotional weightlessness is, unfortunately, matched by a physical weightlessness too. One elaborate set-up on a bridge to dispense with a gaudily dressed tech scammer — who begs for his life in exchange for offering Adam “crypto and NFTs” — involves a body being flung through the air and making a specular impact, at least in theory. But it’s presented at such a distance and with such wonky CGI that it resembles stock footage of a crash test dummy, instead of a human being experiencing pain he might deserve.

That’s the very crux of a revenge romp, and the movie gets it wrong throughout. Then again, it’s hard not to wonder if nailing these action set pieces would’ve made any difference, given its scattered, half-baked, and at times incomprehensible world-building.

Wait… What’s actually going on in The Beekeeper?

Jason Statham accosts Jeremy Irons.

Jason Statham accosts Jeremy Irons.
Credit: Daniel Smith / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

“I’m a beekeeper. I protect the hive.” It’s a line worth a chuckle the first time Statham utters it. Like Michael Fassbender’s character in The Killer, he repeats his credo throughout the film, as he immerses himself in his detailed process. The difference is that Adam is competent — perhaps too competent. That he never misses a step robs the movie of tension. And when it comes to actual worldview, he doesn’t seem to have any, other than what different characters in the film say about him in intelligence briefings and private conversations. They drone on about his relentless drive and his insatiable desire to finish any brutal task, but he comes off as entirely mechanical in his own scenes. 

The ensemble is surprisingly stacked, between Josh Hutcherson’s doofus tech CEO send-up at the head of the scamming ring, and Jeremy Irons as his… stepfather? Guardian? Handler? It’s not quite clear, though his character has enough connection to real intelligence agencies that he can deliver exposition about Adam’s former outfit. As it happens, they’re known as “the beekeepers,” so it can be hard to tell when someone is talking about this secret agency or about actual beekeeping.

Surprisingly enough, this does become a problem, as it seems Adam isn’t the only black-ops apiarist around — yet another unexplained detail that ends up as a shrug. Is it a prerequisite? A coincidence? Is there some deeper meaning involved, perhaps something connected to their training or their “protect the hive” mantra? Who knows.

Josh Hutcherson is a doofus tech CEO in "The Beekeeper."

Josh Hutcherson is a doofus tech CEO in “The Beekeeper.”
Credit: Daniel Smith / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

The movie doesn’t seem concerned with these questions, even though their answers might make things more intriguing, or marginally more enjoyable. It does, however, spend time detailing the phone-scamming empire Adam seeks to take down. It’s nothing like a real scamming ring, and it needn’t be. Jason Statham killing dozens of poor Indian call center workers would’ve been a radically different movie. Instead, these fraudsters are presented as rich financial predators à la The Wolf of Wall Street, with sprawling offices lit like midnight raves — yet another weird detail that remains an unexplored opportunity, as this environment is seldom used for eye-popping action scenes.

It’s a wonderful premise to work with: “What if Kitboga, or some other YouTuber who reverse-scams tech scammers, was also John Wick?” But the John Wick films always have an emotional core, while Statham’s stoicism here prevents The Beekeeper from ever feeling like any of its action ever matters.

It takes well over an hour for the full scope of the movie’s plot to even come into view, via a twist that’s presented with enormous pomp and circumstance, thanks to a relentlessly bombastic score. However, the information it reveals to the audience is already known to most of the characters, rendering this attempted swerve more of a gentle changing of lanes.

It’s bunk storytelling — emotionally pointless, with no raising of existing stakes — mixed with action that never reaches the level of junk-food pleasure. At least it has the decency to clock in at only 105 minutes long. It also ends abruptly, but its lack of real catharsis or resolution doesn’t matter by that point, if it means being able to get up and do something better with your time.

The Beekeeper opens in theaters Jan. 12.

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