The Beekeeper

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Jason Statham enters the territory of John Wick, Taken and The Equalizer (feel free to add your own) with The Beekeeper, a midweight actioner marked out by spectacular fight sequences and violence that’s ingenious and gloriously brutal.

He plays one of those retired guys who used to be something in the secret service. They’re never regular CIA or anything so crass, these ex-operatives, but onetime members of elite squads who can eat whole SWAT teams for breakfast, even though they’re now retired, out of shape and don’t really want to swing into action.

But swing into action they must once they’ve been triggered by the death of a dog, in John Wick’s case, or the kidnapping of a daughter, in the case of Liam Neeson’s Taken character. In this instance, Adam Clay – very primal – pivots into play when a kindly old dear (Phylicia Rashad) he’s renting barn space from commits suicide after being scammed out of all her money in a phishing scheme.

The trail leads to a local boiler room where the hi-tech fraudsters have soon been given a taste of Clay’s lo-tech ire – he arrives with jerrycans of flammable liquid. Then on upwards to a tech bro (Josh Hutcherson finding his niche as a movie baddie) who employs the former head of the CIA (Jeremy Irons, elegant and malevolent as ever) as his head of security. And from there, 1970s paranoid-thriller style, right to the very top – tech bro Derek Danforth (Hutcherson) happens to be the son of the President of the USA (Jemma Redgrave).

What motivates Clay in his vengeance jag isn’t just that he has something of a soft spot for the underdog – though he does – it turns out he used to be a Beekeeper, the sanitation squad that’s both outside and above the law and whose off-the-books purpose is to regulate society if it swings out of whack.

What does a former Beekeeper do to fill the hours now he’s retired? He keeps bees, of course, an inspired piece of nonsense writing by Kurt Wimmer, who’s hoping we might be amused enough by it not to notice that this is John Wick all over again. It also allows Jason Statham to utter lines like “I keep bees. I’m a beekeeper” in the Schwarzenegger deadpan repurposed so effectively by Keanu Reeves.

Josh Hutcherson as tech bro Derek Danforth
Bad tech bro Derek Danforth

Nothing wrong with John Wick all over again, as long as it’s good. And The Beekeeper isn’t bad, in a midweek, midweight, old-school action way. Statham is a blend of all the gristly taciturn fighting machines while director David Ayer loads on the action vibe of decades gone by. Locations print out across the screen tickertape style – “Central Intelligence Agency, Langley, Va etc – there are greenscreen computers and stygian offices with photocopiers in them.

In the tech department, cinematographer Gabriel Beristain provides plenty of blue light, the better to spot the smoke that’s often in the air. And the soundtrack by David Sardy and Jared Michael Fry gives us plenty of the banging door that The Terminator made so popular in the mid-1980s.

Themes? Yes. Tech bros are bad news and politicians are corrupt. Scepticism, in a word, beneath the relentless bee references – Adam Clay does love his hive metaphors.

I’m mocking but actually it is all great fun. Technically it’s fantastic and in an action movie that’s what you need. The fights are particularly well choreographed by Eddie Fernandez and he even gives us a variant on that famous close-quarters stand-off from Oldboy.

More of Minnie Driver (blink and miss, almost), Irons and Rashad would have been good. More too of Megan Lee, who plays the new Beekeeper who’s taken over from Clay now he’s retired. This all-action female version of our guy looks like she’s going to kick the movie up several notches but Lee doesn’t get enough screen time – give that woman a franchise.

Talking of franchises, is this another one for Statham? It would be his seventh, depending on how you count these things. He was about 56 when he made this, roughly the same age Liam Neeson was when he entered the geri-action stage of his career with Taken. There’s still time.

The Beekeeper – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2024

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