The One Man Army has been a respected, and well trod, genre for many years. In recent times there’s been an influx of flair and personality into what can tend to be somber and bloody affairs. The Beekeeper looks like it might just be another run and gun, but there are times when it rises above itself to become heightened cinema. Adam Clay might not have personality, but The Beekeeper does.
Adam Clay (Jason Statham, Expend4bles) looks after bees. He’s a beekeeper. When his only friend, Eloise Parker (Phyllicia Rashad, Creed III), kills herself after being scammed out of all of her money by online predators, he decides that he has to protect the hive. This is bad news for billionaire failson Derek Danforth (Josh Hutcherson, Five Nights At Freddy’s), who finances his megacorporation off the backs of the technologically illiterate. As Clay works with his way up the chain to clean out the hive, he is pursued by FBI Agent Verona Parker (Emmy Raver-Lampman, TV’s Heels), and has to fight obstacles thrown into his path by Danforth Corporation CEO Wallace Westwyld (Jeremy Irons, The Flash).
The Beekeeper is the sort of ridiculously literal movie that means that, while Adam Clay is a beekeeper, the very word strikes fear into the hearts of those who understand it. “You mean a Beekeeper Beekeeper?” says Minnie Driver (Uproar), in a cruelly brief appearance as CIA Director Janet Harward. In these moments, it’s like a portal into another movie, leaking occasional guest stars into this one. There’s a semi-hidden lore at play here that tickles even as it confounds.
It’s at its most fun when it tries to keep a straight face with the secret society stuff, and at its most in between when Clay is using an elevator to cut a crack team of retired Navy SEALs in half. It’s not for nothing that the film climaxes on a private island where Clay has to take on an army composed of what could be best described as South African party cowboys, only one of whom stands even the slightest chance against him.
The unstoppable killing machine genre still requires a delicate balancing act to get across the line: people forget that though John Wick comes out on top, he often bleeds a lot on the way, and the battles add up for him. Statham, who allegedly is contractually unable to lose a fight on screen, faces only one instance of friction in the entirety of The Beekeeper. What screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (Expend4bles) forgets is that the Terminator was literally a machine – and even it was stopped in the end. Certainly the viewer wants Clay to win, but it would be nice if he had to break a sweat for his victory. At the very least it’s the most effort Wimmer has put into a screenplay for years, but Statham could stand to get dirty.
Director David Ayer (The Tax Collector) has a handle on his material, knowing his way around an action scene and painful ultraviolence. Freed from the constraints of the American PG-13, Ayer has room to breathe, to set up one silly caper after another, and can even sell the largely extraneous FBI subplot: Agent Parker is the inciting victim’s daughter, and this never really matters except to give her motivation to work almost in tandem with Clay (while ostensibly condemning his actions). There’s a political message somewhere in here, but Ayer keeps The Beekeeper light enough without making it weightless. He is of course helped by Irons, who can elevate almost any material, and a Hutcherson who’s not afraid to embody all of the most loathsome tech bro stereotypes of the era. Statham, of course, is exactly what you’d expect of him for this sort of movie; devoid of the wit that usually serves him well, he’s a more than competent killer — the jokes are outsourced to the FBI.
The Beekeeper is a cohesive action film about a man you would want absolutely nothing to do with in real life. When it allows itself to play with the form, with pops of colours other than red, it becomes much more than the boilerplate that might have satisfied but been instantly forgotten. It’s a bit much to say that The Beekeeper will stay with you, but an action movie that makes you laugh and cringe at the right parts lingers in the mind longer than most.