For a good part of his career, it seemed that David Ayer could do no wrong. Even before he sat in the director’s chair he had written several terrific thrillers like Training Day (2001, Fast and the Furious (2001) and Dark Blue (2002). All of these films had a strong focus on damaged, morally complex characters albeit The Fast and the Furious to a lesser extent.
When stepping into his role as director, his ensuing films continued to pivot around characters that live in a morally grey area where the line between good guys and bad guys gets increasingly blurred. Harsh Times (2005), which was Ayer’s first film as director, perfectly displays Ayer’s penchant for following darker characters, with Christian Bale giving a gripping performance as a PTSD afflicted former soldier.
Ayer’s follow ups were certainly more commercial but still contained that gritty edge that made them notably his work, with Street Kings (2008), End of Watch (2012) and Sabotage (2014) all featuring stories around the police and corruption combined with Ayer’s typically damaged heroes being the backbone of the films. Even his WW2 movie Fury (2014), which I personally find to be his best work, doesn’t feature your typical war heroes. Like those in his crime thrillers, Fury centered on a gang of misfits that in any other scenario may have probably turned out to be the villains.
Admittedly some of his films were better than others but there was always a consistent level of quality throughout. Then came DC comics adaptation Suicide Squad (2016). What should have been the biggest film of his career ended up becoming his greatest failure. The completed film would become a wild departure from his previous work, although you can see what may have attracted Ayer to the project in the first place, with the Suicide Squad’s roster of “heroes” being made up of DC villains, the type of damaged characters that Ayer’s work typically focused on.
Ayer clearly had the best intentions, but Warner Brothers had other ideas of what his film should be. Through well publicized studio interference, Suicide Squad became a trainwreck, made up of a hodge podge of ideas and tonally inconsistent throughout. It is the most faceless of all of Ayer’s work, with it being obvious his vision for the film was majorly diluted to being almost unrecognizable from what he initially set it out to be. He has since commented that the Suicide Squad is the film that broke him.
Career wise, Ayer has never really recovered from Suicide Squad. His follow up Bright (2017) wasn’t exactly met with enthusiasm. Personally I found it to be an entertaining fantasy actioner that was somewhat reminiscent of the awesome Alien Nation (1988). Mixing the fantastical elements with Ayer’s more grounded style of action worked well in the film’s favor, but alas this wasn’t enough to alter the poor critical reception.
The Tax Collector (2020) saw Ayer return to smaller scale fare like his earlier Harsh Times, but it failed to find an audience. This was understandable as while it had worthy performances and some well staged action it never fully comes together as a whole, with it being one of his more disappointing movies.
All this preamble brings me to Ayer’s latest The Beekeeper, a Jason Statham star vehicle that proves to be a real return to form for the director. The Beekeeper sees him forgo some of the traits of his previous work, with him instead adopting a more 80’s/90’s action movie style. It results in Ayer’s best film in years, as well as proving once again that Statham is one of Hollywood’s best action stars.
Adam Clay (Jason Statham) is currently living a simple life working as a beekeeper. He has grown close to retired schoolteacher Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad) who he rents garage space from. Clay claims that Eloise is the only person who has ever taken care of him.
When working on her computer Eloise becomes the victim of a phishing scam, where the scammers rob her of over $2 million which is mostly made up from funds of a charity that she helps manage. Unable to deal with the shame and guilt of this, Eloise takes her own life. Clay discovers the body, but before he even has a chance to react he is discovered by Eloise’s daughter Verona (Emmy Raver-Lampman), and FBI Agent who swiftly arrests him for her mother’s murder.
After a brief investigation, Eloise’s death is found to be the result of suicide. Clay is released from custody with the intention of going back to his beekeeping. It is only after Verona tells Clay about her mother being robbed and that the FBI are having difficulty tracking down those responsible that Clay decides to get involved.
It turns out that Clay isn’t a simple beekeeper, rather that he was a member of a shadowy government organization called The Beekeepers, employed to make sure the powers that be don’t step out of line. Wanting justice for Eloise, Clay contacts someone he trusts within The Beekeepers to help track down the company involved in the phishing scam.
Clay receives the location of the call center where the scammers are based. Clay makes his way into the building, warning those who want to live should leave. He then proceeds to beat up a security team before setting the building on fire. The building’s operations are overseen by Derek Danforth (Josh Hutcherson) who decides to have Clay dealt with. Unsurprisingly this doesn’t go to plan, with Clay informing him over the phone he is coming for him.
Although Danforth may not pose any apparent threat, he is incredibly well connected. Not only does he have the support of former C.I.A. head Wallace Westwyld (Jeremy Irons), but his mother is extremely powerful, resulting in Danforth being almost untouchable. Even with Danforth’s level of protection, nothing will deteriorate Clay’s determination to bring him down and make him pay for all the people he has scammed.
Working with a script from Kurt Wimmer, himself no stranger to the action genre, Ayer has assembled an extremely well paced actioner that is filled with fun performances and finely crafted set pieces. The Beekeeper marks Wimmer’s second collaboration with Ayer after Street Kings. This may not be Wimmer’s finest work as a writer but it is a major improvement on the last Statham film he scripted, Expend4bles (2023).
Harkening back to the likes of films made famous by Schwarzenegger, Stallone or to a lesser extent Seagal, The Beekeeper has Statham as a one man army taking down anyone who gets in his way. Frankly, Wimmer’s script could be seen as ridiculous, with it being filled with many of the cliches inherent in the genre, but Ayer’s approach makes everything seem believable if not exactly plausible.
It doesn’t have the rich characters found in Ayer’s best work, with us never really finding out much of Clay’s background other than he is not someone to be messed with. Like Seagal’s character in On Deadly Ground (1994), or any Seagal character for that matter, we have multiple people talking about how deadly and unstoppable our hero is. Unlike Seagal, Statham doesn’t come across as a joke and is able to sell this part of the character. Even when implausibly taking down an entire SWAT team with his bare hands, Statham is able to convincingly sell how deadly his character can be.
The one similarity Clay may have with previous Ayer characters is that he isn’t a full blown hero, existing somewhere in between. Clay is willing to do whatever it takes to get his mission done, even if it means shooting some Secret Service agents in the course of his mission.
The beekeeping analogy is laid on a bit thick, but it is well integrated into the story. Clay’s beekeeping even plays a part in the action, with him using the honey harvested in some interesting ways.
Clay is a tailored made role for Statham. He has played multiple characters like this during his career, and the only thing that differentiates Clay from say Arthur Bishop in The Mechanic (2011) is how far he is willing to go to complete his mission. While he doesn’t exactly stretch himself, Statham is perfect in the role giving the audience exactly what we expect. The majority of the action scenes are of the martial arts variety, with Clay only opting to use a gun on a few rare occasions.
His first fight scene works as a fine taster for what’s to come. It is also somewhat cathartic to anyone who has ever been scammed or conned, with Statham’s beating of a scammer with his own telephone actually garnering cheers in the cinema where I viewed the film. Similar scenes happen later, with some of those Statham takes down not exactly being combatants. Still, in the world of The Beekeeper, these people certainly deserve the punishment being enacted on them.
As expected, Statham commits fully to the action, with each of the film’s set pieces building upon the last, gradually increasing in scale as the film progresses. Standouts include Statham’s infiltration of the central hub that controls the multiple call centers carrying out the phishing scams. Gleefully violent, it has Statham not only taking on a SWAT team but dealing with a team of mercenaries in imaginative ways. Ayer takes full advantage of the R rating during these sequences, with it stretching to include one particularly memorable sequence where an elevator gorily cuts a mercenary in two.
There’s then the lengthy finale where the unstoppable Statham ploughs through an assortment of mercenaries and law enforcement to get to Hutcherson. During this he has to face off against the massive Taylor James, who plays one of the crazed mercenaries brought in to protect Hutcherson’s character. The two of them beat each other black and blue, throwing each other through walls and glass, trying to get the upper hand on each other.
On his tail are Emmy Raver-Lampman and Bobby Naderi’s FBI agents. The two of them work well together, with them sharing an easy camaraderie that is helped with some humorous dialogue. A minor issue is how one track minded Raver-Lampman’s Verona seems to be, with her seeming to forget those who Clay is taking out were responsible for her mother’s death. Even Naderi’s Wiley suggests they just let Clay finish what he’s started but instead Verona just forges ahead. Luckily Raver-Lampman is able to make her character seem relatable.
Josh Hutcherson’s Derek Danforth may not be a physical threat to Statham, but his whining villain is a definite standout of the film. His entitlement and extreme narcissism make him an easy character to dislike, and Hutcherson revels the opportunity to let loose. Judging by his appearance and some of the character’s eccentricities, it would appear that Hutcherson was channeling Logan Paul, although admittedly his character is more likeable.
There are some acting legends included amongst the cast that add a bit of gravitas. Jeremy Irons has fun as the ex head of the C.I.A., with him clearly exasperated with Hutcherson and having to deal with the fallout of his actions. Then there is Phylicia Rashad who only in a few scenes is able to make you understand why Clay would do whatever it takes to avenge her death. Jemma Redgrave, Minnie Driver and Enzo Cilenti also impress in smaller supporting roles.
It is clear that The Beekeeper is the set up of a potential franchise. With The Expendables franchise unlikely to return, The Beekeeper would be the perfect series for him to continue, with it playing perfectly to his strengths as a performer. I would definitely be excited to see where he and Ayer would take the franchise moving forward. I hope The Beekeeper fares well not only financially but critically, as I feel that Ayer deserves it, with him being a more competent director than many more successful filmmakers currently working in Hollywood.
Plot: 3.5/5 Acting: 4/5 Action: 4/5 Overall: 3.8/5