2 out of 5 stars

He’s a man on a mission, determined to keep justice, trained to be the most effective special agent in the world, to become an unstoppable force of necessary violence. He is one of the few: a beekeeper. Hmm… that actually sounds a little silly when you say it aloud.

Adam Clay (Jason Statham) is an enigmatic character existing on the fringes of society. He lives in a rural area where he tends to his bees, making honey for his neighbour and gradually learning to open up. But this idyllic existence shatters when his neighbour falls victim to a heartless scam, losing everything and succumbing to the crushing weight of despair. Fuelled by grief and righteous fury, Adam embarks on a quest for vengeance, determined to find and bring to justice those responsible. What begins as a local pursuit swiftly spirals into a labyrinthine chase, leading him to the doorstep of the White House… because, of course it does.

The Beekeeper is the worst thing to happen to bees since climate change. Devoid of any commitment to character development, thematic depth, or even basic human interaction, The Beekeeper becomes an action film as straightforward as a bee’s trajectory to a blooming flower. In the predictable, half-baked plot, fisticuffs come first and everything else comes never, creating a movie that may satisfy the most desperate of genre fans, but will leave anyone wanting an iota of substance bewildered, even if mildly entertained.

When a film disappoints, the director often bears the brunt of the blame. For David Ayer (Suicide Squad), this criticism has become familiar throughout his nearly two-decade career. Since his 2005 directorial debut, only one of his films has garnered lukewarm praise, while the rest are peppered with misfiring action-thrillers. In 2017, he strayed into preachy territory with Bright, Netflix’s commercially successful but atrocious mess of superficial social commentary and bland action.

Much the same could be said of his latest film, The Beekeeper. While it boasts action sequences, it stumbles in both character development and narrative cohesion. Although believability isn’t always paramount in action films, some of the sequences in The Beekeeper verge on the ludicrous, potentially hindering immersion for viewers seeking a more grounded story.

My gripe with the implausible action sequences is that it renders the film without any stakes. Stooges carry guns, but are comically incapable of shooting Clay, even when he is standing right in front of them. As a result of Clay’s invincibility, none of the action becomes tense or thrilling. When our protagonist effortlessly breezes through an entire government operation without sustaining a single injury, we can only assume his onslaught will continue unimpeded. This, coupled with Clay’s underdeveloped personality, further diminishes our investment in his fate.

Arguably, the biggest problem plaguing Ayer’s films is the abominable screenplays. Littered with corny rhetoric and one-liners, which masquerade as threats or cool lines, they instead elicit unintentional laughter due to their lack of self-awareness. This means that Ayer’s scripts feel like the cinematic equivalent of that guy who’s desperate for you to know how badass he is.

However, this project wasn’t written by Ayer, meaning there was still potential for this film not to be unrelentingly violent or grim. Unfortunately, screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium) crafts a sloppy and uninspired narrative that could just as easily have been written by an A.I., or a 12-year-old (though, one could argue this was a sage move on Wimmer’s part as he clearly knows his demographic).

The root of my bewilderment with this movie lies mainly in Wimmer’s script. It doesn’t ever attempt to explore any character’s depths. Clay’s background as an operative remains shrouded in mystery; we are denied even fleeting glimpses. He utters not a word about the program that molded him or the sacrifices it exacted. The facility that forged these “beekeepers” into human battering rams remains equally obscure. Clay’s superhuman prowess, dismantling hordes of Navy SEALs and FBI agents with ease, is simply presented as an accepted fact. He’s the toughest of the tough and we’re supposed to take everyone’s word on that.

One can’t help but draw comparisons between The Beekeeper and the original Jason Bourne trilogy (2002-07). The success of those films was largely due to their nuanced character development, particularly in exploring how Bourne’s skills emerged from traumatic experiences and inhuman manipulation. Witnessing his gruelling training and the brutal ordeals he endured adds depth and complexity to his character. His skewed notions of right and wrong, which were instilled in him through his training, create a potent internal conflict, driving both narrative tension and meaningful character growth.

Statham’s character, both terse and unchanging, is entirely devoid of emotion and development. Of course, in the churn of big-budget productions, it’s often unclear how much of the original script survives. Studio meddling and directorial clashes can leave screenwriters seething as their attempts at nuance are sacrificed for the sake of action. However, given the fact that the scenes which aim for sentiment fail so abysmally, I will assume Wimmer’s writing is responsible for many of the film’s lowest points.

The bee motif that pervades throughout the film resonates deeply with Clay’s mission. Trivia about our pollinating friends is woven into the plot in an imaginative, if rather ridiculous, way. This includes a factoid about how some bees will execute the queen bee if they consider her offspring to be subpar, which consequently weakens the colony. This is mirrored in Clay’s mission to assassinate President Danforth (Jemma Redgrave) for her son’s crimes. This thematic touch is continuously hammered home, becoming funnier each time someone uses the term “queen-slayer” to refer to Adam Clay.

Perhaps even more hilariously, characters initially seem to avoid using “beekeeper”. Statham’s character identifies himself only as a “keeper of bees,” while Agent Parker dismisses him as “just some bee guy.” In my favourite moment, a bemused villain, surveying Clay’s beehive collection, mutters, “I guess he’s a… bee-lover?” This persistent circumlocution around the obvious “beekeeper” is utterly bizarre and fails to add any mystique to Clay’s background. Instead, it comes across as oddly forced and unintentionally humorous.

The film is prone to shoehorning bee-related lingo into incongruous scenes, resulting in some genuinely comical moments. The epitome of this awkward, heavy-handed writing comes when Lazarus (Taylor James), a ruthless South African mercenary, holds a gun to Clay’s head. Instead of pulling the trigger, he posits the question, “To bee or not to bee?” One must give Wimmer credit for catering to the dedicated, Statham-and-Shakespeare fan club—we’re a niche community, but we deserve recognition.

Truthfully, I was disappointed that the bee theme was only surface level. Part of me would have liked the premise to be inundated with bee trivia. As bees dance to communicate, I was disappointed Statham didn’t weaponise some form of top secret tango. Bees also have two stomachs, though the benefit of having dual digestive systems would’ve been a greater advantage to the audience: one to process the meal before the film, and one to stomach some of the terrible lines we’re fed throughout the movie.

The editing in The Beekeeper is frantic enough to convince audiences that a whirlwind of activity is unfolding. When we are given a wide shot in these fight scenes—which only last two seconds, at most—we can see how unrealistic these battles truly are. Editor Geoffrey O’Brien tactfully covers up what appears to be slower movements from Jason Statham, allowing him to remain a suave action hero well into his mid-fifties. O’Brien’s adept work also excels at sweeping some of writer-director Ayer’s missteps under the rug. Tactical manoeuvres, which would be impossible with the hordes of Secret Service agents standing just out of frame, are conveniently edited over, allowing us to enjoy the spectacle without letting us question it too much.

Despite O’Brien’s skilful editing, Ayer struggles to escape the overused tropes of the action genre. This list includes Clay’s inexplicable ability to dodge bullets, which seems totally daft. The film’s moral compass also wobbles, leaving viewers perplexed by Clay’s selective slaughter and questionable decisions to spare certain individuals. Finally, the climax with a tough henchman falls flat, introduced too late to generate any emotional investment in their showdown.

Now, before you brand me a spoilsport, let me clarify: I adore unrealistic action movies. The Raid 2 (2014) holds a special place in my heart for this genre, which likely consists of an hour-and-a-half of incredible violence. However, these fight sequences are both brilliantly executed and expertly choreographed, making every one of them awe-inspiring. Perhaps more importantly, they are interspersed with a little thing called engaging characters and a compelling story, making them welcome deviations from what is a solid film in its own right. In contrast, The Beekeeper hobbles nonsensically along from one extravagant action set-piece to another, turning the film into a mindless affair.

O’Brien’s editing also results in relentless pacing, which mostly works in the film’s favour; as there’s no interest in character or theme, we may as well skip ahead to the fight sequences. However, that this is Ayer’s modus operandi is painfully apparent in the first few scenes. An unabashedly lazy attempt is made to construct Clay’s motivations for violence: the setup lasts all of ten minutes.

Despite his best efforts, Statham can’t quite reach peak performance in this film. He’s embodied the macho hero in so many movies (some considerably better than this one) that a certain predictability clings to his portrayal. Almost 40 action films since the turn of the century haven’t instilled a discerning eye for quality scripts, evidenced by some eyebrow-raising dialogue delivered with his signature tough-guy stare. (“I told you—I keep bees.”) Kudos to him for delivering these lines as convincingly as is humanly possible.

Ayer’s familiarly excessive violence pushes Clay towards the precipice of psychopathy. His execution of security guards and Secret Service agents, merely fulfilling their sworn duties, is unsettling. The relish with which he kills some of these glorified props unintentionally makes him a morally ambiguous character: he is ostensibly doing what is best for society—I refuse to refer to our civilisation as a “hive”—but is largely destroying it. Perhaps, ridding our systems of evil not only requires taking it out by the root, but also by scorching the Earth? By suggesting that the ends justifies the means, his philosophy becomes obscure as it is tangled up in the bloodthirsty action sequences.

Interestingly, Statham feels like he is only onscreen for about half an hour. The film heavily relies on cartoonish villains and side characters who fail to capture either humour or dramatic weight. Among these underwhelming supporting acts is FBI Agent Verona Parker (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Clay’s disapproving sidekick from afar. Raver-Lampman delivers a pretty terrible performance, unconvincing in its emotional range. Despite the recent trauma of her mother’s suicide, Parker seems curiously detached, indulging her partner in unfunny badinage. She also engages in overly rehearsed mannerisms like lip pursing and incessant “squinching,” as if perpetually posing for an imaginary photoshoot.

Josh Hutcherson nails the role of the spoiled brat, although the character remains a flat archetype. Jeremy Irons (Dead Ringers), as always, delivers a masterful performance, replete with his signature refined yet arrogant gentleman persona. Taylor James’ brief appearance showcases a surprisingly convincing South African accent—I was surprised to learn he was British. Ultimately, the film is brimming with the kinds of characters that can only be found in David Ayer’s films.

The Beekeeper is totally nonsensical and demonstrates nothing new for the action genre, but at least the film isn’t boring. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the film kept me entertained. So, if you are looking for a brainless, soulless action romp with a confused message about ethical conduct, then The Beekeeper is the film for you. However, being a mechanical exercise in adrenaline and quick editing, you probably won’t walk out of the cinema with any sense of fulfilment. But you’ll learn some fun facts about bees along the way—so there’s that.

USA UK | 2024 | 105 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: David Ayer.
writer: Kurt Wimmer.
starring: Jason Statham, Josh Hutcherson, Jeremy Irons, Emmy Raver-Lampman & Jemma Redgrave.