Jason Statham in “The Beekeeper” is angry with the machine, reviews the impressive images

You do not hire Jason Statham to read love poems onscreen, or to weep gently at the sight of nuzzling puppies, or to gaze thoughtfully at a particularly breathtaking sunset. You hire the Derbyshire native to kick ass and take names, with the “names” part being optional. The cinematic missing link between Bruce Willis and Charles Bronson, Statham has been keeping a certain type of genre film alive for close to two decades. He’s not the last action hero standing — his Hobbs & Shaw partner Dwayne Johnson continues to flirt with big, loud, blowed-up-real-good moviemaking, international stars like Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais are hanging around, and everyone from Charlize Theron to Bob Odenkirk has trained hard enough to convince you they could kill entire armies with a corkscrew. But Statham is one of the few above-the-title names that’s instantly synonymous with a kind of pulpy, trashy, cinema du bloody knuckles. You know exactly what you’re going to get: a no-frills cornucopia of he-man behavior, delivered with a primo Cockney accent to boot.

The creatives behind The Beekeeper are well aware of this star’s particular set of skills, and they’re all too happy to take maximum advantage of them. His character, Adam Clay, is indeed a keeper of bees, content to gingerly tend to his buzzing flock of workers day after day. How he ended up practicing his trade on the farmland owned by an elderly schoolteacher (Phylicia Rashad) is, of course, not important. All that we need to know is that she’s the only one who ever looked after him, for some undisclosed reason or another. And that his patron saint falls for the ol’ “Your Computer Has Been Infected” pop-up-window trick, which results in a cyberscammer call center conning her out of both her personal savings and several million dollars she’s stashed away for her charity.

Rather, Adam both indulges in that titular profession and is also part of a top-top-top–secret program known as “Operation Beekeeper.” This elite group is designed to exist off the books in order to “protect the hive”; if you’re allergic to bee stings and/or bee-related wordplay, we suggest you consult a physician before viewing this movie. This allows him to engage and disarm security guards, state police, SWAT teams, former Navy SEALs, Blackwater-style mercenaries, and other soldiers of fortune a dozen or so at a time; it should be noted that in some cases, “disarm” is taken extremely literally. It also means that, despite the fact that FBI agent Verona Parker (Emmy Raver-Lampman) has been trying to find this cyberscam outfit for over a year — coincidentally, the daughter of the same woman who’d been renting her farm to Adam — he’s able to not only locate them in a single clandestine phone call but begin working his way up the criminal organization’s chain of command.

Initially, all roads lead Adam to a hotshot rich brat named Derek Danforth (Josh Hutcherson, looking exactly like the dictionary definition of “entitled douchebag”) and the exquisitely named Wallace Westwyld (Jeremy Irons), a former head of the CIA who now has some mysterious job in the private sector. But the longer that Adam kicks, kills, and honey-firebombs — apparently a jar of that sweet nectar is stronger than nitroglycerin — his way through Danforth’s shell companies and private armies, the more he starts to uncover that the social rot goes all the way to the top.

And while we don’t want to spoil what passes for a plot twist here, we can say that this aspect is where The Beekeeper starts to repeatedly sting itself in the face. Whenever we get extended sequences of Statham busting heads, breaking bones, shooting up buildings, and displaying decades’ worth of martial-arts mastery on a host of stunt men, there’s a palpable thrill. Statham may be the type of star for whom “blunt force trauma” describes both his action-hero persona and his style of acting, but in a movie like this, that counts as more of a feature than a bug. This is a character who prefers physical over verbal communication, played by one of the few performers in the business who seems like they can actually handle themselves in a firefight or a five-person dust-up. Even his glares leave bruises.

Yet director David Ayer (Suicide Squad, End of Watch) and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (the recent Point Break and Total Recall remakes) don’t want to give you just a hard, fast, violent-as-fuck revenge flick. They also want to suggest that there are other agendas at work behind this criminal enterprise, and what starts out as Statham defending the downtrodden and the defenseless hard-working citizens who get robbed by 21st-century villains turns into something close to toxic tinfoil-hat ranting. By the time a final showdown snaps your suspension of disbelief and suggests there are bigger hornet’s nests to kick, The Beekeeper has crept out of the realm of pulpy B-movie thrills and falls just short of being a Bee movie dabbling in deep-state paranoia-mongering.

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