THE BEEKEEPER Review: BEE-lieve The Buzz, Statham Stings In This Rip-Roaring Actioner

Editor, U.S. ; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)
THE BEEKEEPER Review: BEE-lieve The Buzz, Statham Stings In This Rip-Roaring Actioner

When a kindly old woman loses everything, her friendly neighborhood honey farmer strikes out on a brutal campaign of violent vengeance in David Ayer’s latest blast of hyperkinetic action, The Beekeeper.

The film finds Jason Statham in his element as Adam Clay, the least unassuming apiarist of all time, with not only a passion for maintaining the hive, but also muscles for days and a very particular set of skills. The sudden scamming of his neighbor Eloise Parker, a blissfully genteel Phylicia Rashad, out of her entire life’s savings and then some, hits her hard enough that Clay feels the need to make sure it never happens to anyone ever again.

In order to do so, he’s going to have to take down the slimy cybercrime syndicate whose leaders reach the highest levels of government. Armed with a rusty old pick-up truck and a couple five-gallon cans of gasoline, he begins a rampage that tears through the Northeast on the way to his ultimate destination, and it’s going to be bloody.

Blessed with an absolutely insane, and perhaps bizarrely brilliant (?) script from action auteur Kurt Wimmer (Ultraviolet, Law Abiding Citizen, Equilibrium), The Beekeeper is an explosion of over-the-top action and a return to form for David Ayer, who has been working his way back to the A-list after the debacle that was Suicide Squad. This collaboration finds both working at peak capacity, with Wimmer’s world building abilities complementing Ayer’s talent for staging engaging hyperviolent action meshing in a way that begs for further team-ups down the road.

Adam Clay is a character out of place in the world of the film. A former member of a non-governmental paramilitary organization called Beekeepers tasked with maintaining societal balance by any means necessary, he is utterly without humor and laser focused on whatever task he sets for himself. Meanwhile, the world around him is filled with comical villains, neon-lit call centers filled with douchebags in silk shirts celebrating every dream they crush with hoots and hollers, and a colorful array of wackadoo assassins looking to take down the pesky Beekeeper before they get stung.

Statham navigates this universe with the sternest face imaginable, even as the world around him throws knuckleball after knuckleball. Hot on his tail is FBI agent Verona (Emmy Raver-Lampman) who has a unique connection to the case and her comically laidback partner Matt Riley (Bobby Naderi), whose continuing bewilderment with the escalating nature of the situation provides more than a few laughs.

A rampage is nothing without a target, and The Beekeeper has no shortage of those. From the Josh Hutcherson’s scenery chewing billionaire brat to Jeremy Irons’s overqualified babysitter to a psychotic raver assassin and – my personal favorite – Taylor James as a South African lunatic who provides Statham with his only real challenge. Each baddie is more ridiculous than the last, and each comes with their own miniature army, which provides Ayer ample opportunity to crank up the volume and deliver some of the most delightfully over-the-top bloody action in a major studio film in years.

In what feels like a brave move, The Beekeeper is both over-the-top and harnesses a crazy sort of tonal dissonance in a way that really works to distinguish it from the pack. While the film itself feels like something of a commentary on the recent spate of hitmen-out-or-retirement actioners – hello, Mr. Wick – this film does something wholly unique by creating a lead who is so determined to complete his task that he doesn’t recognize how absurd the road to realizing that goal has become.

The film is constantly invoking straight-up bee science as a metaphor for society at large. But while most characters utilize this as metaphor, and occasionally even as comedy – one character reading a beekeeping manual refers to our pollenating friends as “interesting little shits”, Clay does no such thing. He talks about bees and the concept of the hive in very concrete terms, there is no winking from Statham – in fact, there may not even be blinking, he may be a robot. An incredible, unstoppable, killing machine from whom comedy exudes, but it’s all in the situation rather than the delivery, and it’s fantastic.

It's a rare film that can elicit a spontaneous round of applause from an audience, and I have to admit, this movie got me there a couple of times. The majority of the fight sequences really deliver the goods, and there’s a solid variety that does a great job of keeping it fresh. I’d hesitate to say that it’s breaking any new ground, but The Beekeeper executes well and often. With a glut of films that have decided they don’t need to get into the central conflict until the end of act two, it’s exciting to watch a film get the setup out of the way in the first fifteen minutes so it can get to the good stuff, and in this regard, The Beekeeper absolutely rips.

There is a perspective that may argue the The Beekeeper is mindless action, and while I can see that point of view, I have to say that there is definitely more going on beneath the surface for fans of genre film. While it is blisteringly paced and skeletally plotted, there is true craft here. There’s an understanding of character, of motivation; an airtight internal logic that is borne out from the first frame to the last. It’s a marvel of economical bombast, and I’m into it.

Definitely best viewed with a crowd, The Beekeeper is an early contender for best R-rated action film of the year.

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