The Beekeeper | How Kurt Wimmer’s script takes righteous aim at 21st century tech bros

the beekeeper kurt wimmer david ayer jason statham
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Jason Statham’s latest action flick, The Beekeeper, has more on its mind than most. Here’s a spoiler-filled dissection of Kurt Wimmer’s superb script.

NB: The following contains major spoilers for The Beekeeper.

Action thrillers often have an element of generational conflict to them. There’s Clint Eastwood’s middle-aged cop versus Andrew Robinson’s swivel-eyed, toxic young hippy in Dirty Harry. Architect turned vigilante Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) slaughtered entire gangs of conspicuously younger hoodlums and lowlifes in a string of Death Wish movies.

Few action films in recent memory, however, have quite so starkly laid bare the gap between generations as The Beekeeper,

David Ayer’s action-thriller released in cinemas last week. It sees a grouchy, bearded Jason Statham go up against a very different type of villain than the usual hoodlums or terrorists he usually pulverises – this time, the Stath takes aim at a gang of criminal-minded tech bros.

The Beekeeper’s inciting incident – because every action script needs one – sees kindly retiree Eloise (Phylicia Rashad) fall victim to a phishing scam which sees her bank accounts emptied within seconds. Unfortunately for the scammers, Eloise happens to have Jason Statham – here going by the name Adam Clay – as her lodger. When Clay learns of the incident, he puts his beekeeping hobby to one side and goes off on a spectacularly violent rampage.

Director David Ayer is no slouch when it comes to action thrillers – he made the extremely good End Of Watch and Fury before he was brought low by 2016’s Suicide Squad and the surprisingly horrible orc-cop fantasy, Bright.

But a true star here, I’d argue, is surely Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay.

John Wick is an obvious touchstone when it comes to the plot – like that franchise, it features a clandestine organisation of elite assassins, this one called the Beekeepers (of which Clay is a former member). An equally key inspiration, though, appears to be Jesse Armstrong’s hit TV series Succession, both in terms of The Beekeeper’s catty dialogue and its depiction of a warped family of ultra-wealthy degenerates.

The most prominent of those degenerates is Josh Hutcherson’s Derek Danforth – the spoiled, morally-bankrupt son of Boston multi-millionaires.

Riding around his plush offices on a skateboard, casually mistreating staff, and sneering into his phone at various underlings, Derek’s The Beekeeper’s equivalent of Succession’s Roman Roy, so memorably brought to life in that series by Kieran Culkin.

The closest thing Derek has to a Logan Roy-like father figure is Wallace (a desert-dry Jeremy Irons), the ex-CIA security guy charged with keeping Derek’s family business, Danforth Enterprises, on the straight and narrow on behalf of Derek’s mother, who… well, more about her shortly.

Like Wimmer’s script in general, Wallace is amusingly dismissive of Derek’s side-hustle, which he sums up as “your metaverse meth-lab or whatever it is.” Of course, we at home know that Derek secretly runs a phishing scam that cons the old and vulnerable out of their money on an industrial scale.

It’s worth pausing here to point out just how wildly – and engrossingly – Wimmer’s screenplay escalates. The Beekeeper’s villain appears to be introduced in the first reel – the oleaginous Mickey Garnett (David Witts) who rules his call centre of early-20s-looking scammers like Jordan Belfort ran his boiler room in The Wolf Of Wall Street (“Alright kids! Let the strip mining begin!”)

For most writers of B-movie action-thrillers, this would be enough fodder for a typical 100-page script, with the embittered hero murdering his way to the main boss. Roll credits.

Seriously, this guy really has it coming. Get ‘im, Stath. Credit: Miramax/MGM/Sky Cinema.

Instead, it turns out that Mickey Garnett is simply one cog in a much larger criminal enterprise run by Derek, which again is where you’d expect most thrillers of limited funding to draw the line.

Instead, it turns out that Derek is himself part of an even wider conspiracy involving hacking software developed by Danforth Enterprises on behalf of the CIA. And that Derek used that software not only to swindle old people out of their money, but to then funnel those ill-gotten profits into the presidential campaign of his mother (Jemma Redgrave) who in the film’s reality is now the actual President of the United States.

As peripheral characters – such as Emmy-Raver-Lampman’s FBI agent, Veronica, daughter of Eloise – talk darkly about ‘protecting the hive’, ‘killing the queen’ and ‘We have to kill him before he kills his way to the top’, the possibility dawns: are we watching the progress of a modern-day Howard Wilkes Booth? Is Clay’s murderous rampage going to end with the assassination of a sitting US president? Ultimately, Wimmer doesn’t escalate things quite that far, and that’s probably for the best.

Instead, even the President herself turns out to be an unwitting participant in Derek’s swindling, and appears to have had no clue as to where the tens of millions of dollars that flooded her campaign came from. Although Redgrave’s President Danforth is hardly an innocent, The Beekeeper’s villainous heart is therefore Derek and the assorted hackers and wranglers in his orbit – and as the illustrious Simon Brew wrote in his review, it’s a wonder that phishing scammers haven’t been used as action movie villains before.

After all, phishing exploits involving fake antivirus software are a current and pressing real-world threat – check out this news story, in which a victim was tricked into giving criminals access to his laptop in a situation remarkably like the one depicted in The Beekeeper.

Then again, Wimmer’s script appears to take aim at tech opportunists as a whole; when cornered by Statham’s glowering Clay (who’d hacked off his fingers only couple of scenes earlier), Mickey gives what is perhaps one of the most pathetic pleas for mercy in recent cinema: “You want crypto? NFTs? I got NFTs!”

Seconds later, Mickey is catapulted to his death in a spectacularly funny scene that borders on the Pythonesque.

We could watch a whole movie about Jeremy Irons’ Wallace tutting and sighing at the brattish Derek (Josh Hutcherson). Credit: Miramax/MGM/Sky Cinema.

The Beekeeper therefore serves as a marked contrast to Lift, the Netflix heist thriller coincidentally released on the exact same day that Sky Cinema put out its Statham flick in cinemas.

Lift, directed by F Gary Gray (The Fate Of The Furious) and written by Daniel Kunka (12 Rounds), contains an opening sequence in which an NFT artist is kidnapped, and his latest project – a kind of face mask that somehow makes a single piece of digital art out of thousands of photographs taken all at once – is sold for millions of dollars.

It quickly emerges that art thief anti-hero Cyrus (Kevin Hart) had bought the NFT using the proceeds of a stolen Van Gogh painting, and had kidnapped the artist, N8 (Spider-Man’s Jacob Batalon) in order to boost the price of said NFT so that he can sell it at an even more inflated price – something like $90m.

Lift seems quite enamoured with NFTs and the easy, yacht-buying money they represent; The Beekeeper, by contrast, seems far more cynical about the whole concept, given the film’s absolute worst characters are the only ones who even talk about it. That the entire NFT market cratered in September 2022, and that the scene is now the subject of multiple court cases and investigations for deception, wire fraud and money laundering, suggests that it’s Wimmer who’s on the right side of history in this instance.

Certainly, whoever bought that NFT of Kevin Hart’s character for $90m will now be severely out of pocket; it’s thought that most NFTs are now worth on average about $200 each.

Wimmer’s screenplay also makes a feature out of the reality that Statham’s character is much older than the people he fights. Many of Clay’s most elite opponents are portrayed as over-confident youths who dress like anime characters, and who – despite their superior weaponry – are roundly overcome by Statham’s grizzled Gen-Xer. Case in point: the gatling gun wielding Beekeeper whom Clay dispatches with a single jar of honey.

Cartoonish and often scruffy though The Beekeeper is (you can see a Tesco Express in one scene, supposedly set in Boston), it cleverly explores – or maybe exploits – our quiet fears that our tech-driven modern era isn’t entirely to be trusted.

From crypto exchanges that turn out to be a massive con, to search engine giants that fiddle about with your queries in order to sell you stuff, to electric cars that refuse to work if you try to repair them yourself, there’s a growing sense that the march of technological progress isn’t exactly siding with the ordinary person on the street. And this is before we get to the whole thread in The Beekeeper that our political systems may be altogether too wrapped up in corporate financing, and easily corrupted as a result.

The Beekeeper may be a relatively low-budget action flick, but thanks to Ayer and especially Wimmer, it’s far from lacking in ambition. Cult status surely beckons.

Podcast | The Beekeeper (2024) and more, with director David Ayer

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