There’s a certain subgenre of action film — most notably popularized by the Fast & Furious franchise — that, if judged by the same metrics that one would hold most movies to, would fall flat on its face as a result of quite direly fumbling the most basic storytelling fundamentals and grasp of an emotional core.
But if you evaluate these movies in the traditional sense, you risk missing out on observing an incredibly curious feat; how they blow right past the “stupid popcorn fodder” label, and land with both feet in a state so aware about and so committed to the nonsense at play, that they actually manage to produce something not only worth watching, but sincerely enjoyable.
The Beekeeper is one of these movies, and it wears that badge perfectly, which is precisely why it’s rated as high as it is — and, simultaneously, why it isn’t rated any higher.
Right from the outset, The Beekeeper makes it very clear that it has no time for such inconsequential drivel as “plot” or “character development,” as it ushers out the inciting incident as quickly as it establishes it, and introduces our main cast at the most recklessly incoherent pace possible; indeed, The Beekeeper leads by example in telling us all to check our conventional film expectations at the door. But what lens does it encourage we replace them with, exactly?
As hinted at above, The Beekeeper thrives by committing to its own nonsense; taking itself just seriously enough to avoid any tacky meta stylings, but not so seriously as to suggest that they aren’t in on the joke that is the film’s script.
The story follows, insofar as it follows anything, the exploits of protagonist Adam Clay — played by Jason Statham, who, rightly or wrongly, slots into this style of filmmaking seamlessly — a former operative who once belonged to a black ops organization known as “Beekeepers,” as he rampages across the eastern United States in a violent bid to bring down a network of cyber criminals.
Said cyber criminals don’t get much comeuppance from the hands of Statham’s Beekeeper, which, given how cathartic it probably would have been to see, will likely disappoint some, but the action sequences we do get are more than satisfying, complete with punchy choreography and sound design topped up with enough creative set pieces to avoid getting too monotonous. Refreshingly enough, the film isn’t afraid to play with color, either; where other action films may opt for a more dreary backdrop, The Beekeeper is happy to indulge in a brighter palette on several occasions, which helps make its busier scenes pop while also further signaling that it’s not treating itself as a more serious action film would.
There’s not much at all in the way of notable performances, and that’s entirely a result of this type of movie relying on its actors to, again, take all of this nonsense seriously, thereby forgoing any shot at truly standing out, and instead opening themselves up to being evaluated based on how well they committed to the movie’s goal.
In that regard, everyone mostly seemed to get the memo, with the extremely special exception of one Josh Hutcherson, whose character Derek Danforth — the ringleader of the expansive phishing operation that Adam Clay is targeting — is undiluted, 12-dimensional douchebaggery.
Characterization-wise, Hutcherson does his job well, but it’s the way this particular character is written that serves as the best “in” to understanding just what The Beekeeper has accomplished, here.
After Adam Clay’s first hit on one of Derek’s call centers, many characters of the film are gripped by dread when they learn of his status as a former Beekeeper, and it’s through said characters — chiefly Jeremy Irons’ former CIA director, Wallace Westwyld — that we get a bit of worldbuilding; worldbuilding that can effectively be summarized as “if the Beekeeper wants you dead, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Derek presses for information, getting increasingly fed up with vague answers about “protecting the hive” and “smoking out the hornets” and other bee-related euphemisms for going sicko mode on the world’s deplorables, his irritation relentlessly growing and growing right up until he gets fatally shot in the head by the Beekeeper.
It’s in that moment that The Beekeeper‘s specific niche states its case for being a new paradigm for creative genius, insofar as such a thing can exist within the confines of a blatantly stupid movie. This is a film that demands its actors take it seriously exactly so that we, the audience, are free to do the opposite; that give-and-take is very intentionally baked-in. So, Derek — the one character who didn’t take the Beekeeper seriously — being the film’s major climactic kill (again, insofar as a kill can be considered major or climactic in a movie like this) connects the film’s literal text with its creative intentions; by not taking the Beekeeper situation seriously, Derek defied what the movie demanded, and that karma came back to him on an in-universe level in the form of the Beekeeper coating the President’s office (yes, the “plot” takes us all the way to White House) with his brain matter. That’s what you get for not serving the hive, Derek.
But, despite understanding exactly what it wants to do, The Beekeeper doesn’t quite have the stamina to stretch its bizarro action movie formula even over it’s relatively short runtime of one hour and 46 minutes; by the third act, all the honey jars have been thrown, all the SWAT team members have been disemboweled, and you’re just kind of ready for the joke to be over. If not for that aforementioned brilliant high note it ultimately ends on, The Beekeeper would fizzle out in an almost objectively unremarkable manner.
In summary, the plot makes no sense, there’s nothing resembling a meaningful character arc to be found, and, generally speaking, there’s no immediately apparent reason you should walk away from The Beekeeper feeling any sort of satisfaction. And yet, if you’re willing to and capable of looking at it for exactly what it is, you’ll uncover a largely untapped breed of self-aware action fare that, while toothless when compared to truly great films, proves to be a fascinating example of just how many different ways we can sincerely quantify entertainment value and creativity as a whole. If that’s not worth something, I don’t know what is.
By ordinary metrics, it leaves everything to be desired. But, ‘The Beekeeper’ understands that better than anyone, and occupies the ‘Fast & Furious’-esque niche of action filmmaking in a way that’s arguably genuinely brilliant.