A January Jason Statham action movie titled The Beekeeper comes with the weight of expectations. “Beekeeper” must have a double meaning. The movie must be littered with tongue-in-cheek bee puns and references. The action must be fun and creative, ideally with bee-centered hijinks. And above all, the movie must be ridiculous, but with a straight face that hides the knowing wink behind the curtain.
Good news: The Beekeeper checks all of those boxes.
I enjoyed the movie when I first watched it, but it has grown on me since, like honey in a comb. Yes, some of the major plot points don’t make a lick of sense, including the character death that sets the whole plot into motion. And half of the cast isn’t quite on the level of tongue-in-cheek action fun as Jason Statham and Jeremy Irons (dutifully following Michael Nyqvist’s example from John Wick as “Guy who tells the petulant villain how extremely fucked he is”). But if you’re looking for breezy January genre fare, you could do a lot worse.
The basic premise pits Statham’s Adam Clay, a retired badass living a life of quiet beekeeping, against an evil call center who scammed someone he cares deeply about. As Clay investigates (and destroys) those responsible for the scheme, he uncovers a deep conspiracy (and more people to destroy).
The Beekeeper opens with a credit sequence filled with bee imagery — bee footage, art, and more — and on first appearance, Clay is in full beekeeping get-up. That should prepare you for the onslaught of bee quips and references to come.
But the movie has more than bee humor. The fight scenes are great, designed by action maestro Jeremy Marinas (John Wick: Chapter 4) and making great use of props to keep the combat fresh. The first major action sequence is in a call center, where Statham uses phones, keyboards, computer monitors, and anything else he can get his hands on to beat up the scammers and their security team. Marinas and director David Ayer (End of Watch) film the sequence well, creating clear visual lines so the audience can follow the action, and using sharp editing to bring out the full force of the impacts.
Statham is his reliable self, mixing his effortless gruff charm with his comedy chops to help sell the ridiculous lines he has to deliver. And the movie looks great — Ayer and cinematographer Gabriel Beristain cleverly infuse the visuals with a yellow/amber color palette to match the title and the vibe, often making you feel like you’re watching the movie from inside a honeycomb.
The villains are also cheekily over-the-top, adding to The Beekeeper’s overall atmosphere. Working for brash tech bro Derek Danforth (Josh Hutcherson), son of the U.S. president (Jemma Redgrave), the call center crew kind of blend Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort with an evangelical pastor, adding a dash of Die Hard’s cocaine-snorting scumbag Harry Ellis. They wear garish suits, high-five after stealing from old people, and generally behave like a fraternity that was given billions of dollars to commit crimes.
This makes Statham’s vengeance on them all the more entertaining. The Beekeeper excels in channeling Statham’s ability to effortlessly deliver lines like “You sound young. I bet you don’t have estate planning,” or the endless bee references noted above. He’s one of the few people on the planet who can make such things sound simultaneously funny and terrifying, and the movie likely wouldn’t work without him. (Or, frankly, wouldn’t have gotten made without his participation.)
Plenty doesn’t work about The Beekeeper. When I first watched it, the shoddy plotting (the event that motivates Statham’s revenge does not really stand up under much scrutiny) and a boring FBI B-plot with Umbrella Academy’s Emmy Raver-Lampman held back some of my enjoyment.
Raver-Lampman plays Agent Verona Parker, the daughter of the scam victim Statham is avenging. Her character is placed in the familiar position of an officer of the state hunting down the man doing the thing she wishes she could be doing. (In this case, avenging her mom.) Unfortunately, this element of the movie is derivative of better versions of this storyline: Her relationship with her mother is thinly sketched, and we don’t see much of her angst over her difficult position.
A very slight spoiler, since this happens early in the movie: The plot-kickstarting death I mentioned earlier is the suicide of Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad), a sweet old lady renting a room to the beekeeping Clay. When the call center scammers rob her and her charity of everything, she instantly takes her own life — no call to either of her loving children, no plea to Clay or the authorities for help. It lessens the impact of the revenge story by cheapening both Clay and Agent Parker’s relationships to Eloise, and the vengeance would have been just as righteous if she had simply been scammed.
But the movie improves with distance. Days later, I mostly remember the good times The Beekeeper offers: Jason Statham beating on fools who deserve beating, bringing the pain in exciting and inventive ways, all while delivering bee-themed one-liners. Sometimes, that’s all you want from a bee movie.
The Beekeeper will start pollinating theaters on Jan. 12.