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Are the Politics of Jason Statham’s ‘Beekeeper’ Actually Dangerous?

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/MGM
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/MGM

In David Ayer’s The Beekeeper, conspiracy abounds at the highest rungs of American government. The surprisingly watchable thriller sketches a hasty outline of the so-called “Deep State,” and also an opposing deep Deep State, a shadowy institution with such breadth and operational capacity that officials quail at its mention.

“When I was sworn in,” says Jeremy Irons, playing a former CIA director, “there were programs even I wasn’t privy to.”

Plot has never been paramount in the Jason Statham cinematic universe, and we’re not meant to take The Beekeeper at face value. Still, squint hard enough at this brand of storyline and you’ll find our national reflection. Kurt Wimmer’s clever screenplay is a form of hyper-parody, its self-awareness tailormade for our super-online era.

Alas, self-awareness is situational. And political self-awareness might be paradoxical. In late 2020, a full third of Americans professed belief in the Deep State. Does this demographic draw similarly glib conclusions from The Beekeeper?

Photo still of Jason Statham in The Beekeeper

Jason Statham in The Beekeeper

Daniel Smith/MGM

In other words, it’s worth asking if satire occasionally becomes so sharp, and so of-the-moment, that it doubles back to emerge as something else. Dare we juice our screenplays with government conspiracies even as we hope that voters don’t believe in them? Furthermore, can a B-grade Jason Statham action thriller really operate in lieu of political discourse? Maybe even in a dangerous way?

Film and Stereotype

“Films,” writes cinema studies professor Jörg Schweinitz, “perform a kind of sociopsychological calibration. They interact with the needs, wishes, and desires, as well as the viewing habits and the capacities that unite major target groups.”

In Schweinitz’s Film and Stereotype, the German academic says that our preconceptions of the world are ultimately responsible for how we view a film. This makes sense. The same Evangelical viewer will suffer different knee-jerk reactions when faced with Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and this week’s new Messiah-themed film The Book of Clarence. What’s more striking is Schweinitz’s argument that, in larger culture, the formation of cinematic stereotypes is a “reciprocal process.”

Haters Be Damned: Jason Statham Is a Hollywood Treasure

“Stereotypes do not only represent preexisting fantasy values,” he says. “They also actively participate in the formation and structuring of the reservoirs of the imagination… Through the process of conventionalization, stereotypes become powerful cultural instances.”

What Schweinitz means is that mass cinema affects how the real world sees itself, as when Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather inspired the dress and behavior of real-life mafiosi. When viewed through this lens, a reciprocal lens, the politico-cabalistic narratives of The Beekeeper grow distorted and, yes, even a bit worrying in their vicinity to contemporary political tidings.

“We have laws for these things,” says noble FBI agent Emmy Raver-Lampman.

“Until they fail,” replies Statham. “Then you have me.”

Under duress, a corporate lackey says of his Machiavellian overlords, “These people, they’re untouchable!”

And here’s Jeremy Irons asking, with a moralistic shrug, “What does it matter to you, how presidents get elected?”

Ayer and Wimmer seem to be playing Mad Libs with the newspaper headlines. But then, isn’t that what movies are supposed to do?

“The underlying stereotypes form and structure the intersubjective imaginary world of our time,” writes Schweinitz. “The stereotypes of popular film therefore simultaneously become cultural signs.”

Cinema Wars

I might not have seen The Beekeeper at all but for a fortuitous, or perhaps portentous, bit of timing. The film’s spoiler-heavy trailer found my attention not 15 minutes after I’d read New York Times editorialist Thomas L. Friedman’s “What Is Happening to Our World?”

“There are good seasons and there are bad seasons in this business,” Friedman begins, before spiraling into a heady bout of woe. “Brutal invasion of Ukraine… cascading effects of climate change… authoritarian drift… U.S.-China cold war.”

Egad!

Thankfully, the internet takes, and it sometimes giveth. Mired in op-ed funk, here ambled my unlikely savior in the form of a gasoline-pouring, Glock-whipping Jason Statham, no longer fighting prehistoric megasharks but somehow upholding international bureaucracy.

Photo still of Jeremy Irons in The Beekeeper

Jeremy Irons in The Beekeeper

Daniel Smith/MGM

“I protect the hive,” says Statham. “When the system is out of balance, I correct it.”

The trailer’s taglines, in font like dripping honey: “EXPOSE THE CORRUPTION.” “FIGHT THE SYSTEM.”

Hang on. Are we balancing the system, or fighting it? Isn’t “expose the corruption” something they say at QAnon town halls? (Does QAnon hold town halls? With pastries and coffee and everything?) And has Statham aged even a single day since The Transporter came out 22 years ago?

Ayer’s hook had me by the cheek.

In his 2010 book Cinema Wars, film educator Douglas Kellner diagnosed the media’s darkening proclivities during the aughts. “The number of post-apocalyptic films in the Bush-Cheney years dramatically proliferated,” he writes. “Such films offer allegories of social collapse, dystopias that provide warnings that trends in the present age can spiral out of control and produce catastrophic disaster on a grand scale.”

Today, depending on point of view, our national nightmare comes in more flavors than you’ll find at a Baskin-Robbins. The Beekeeper hints at most of them. The film may not be overtly political, but it spits out political buzzwords and tropes frequently enough to activate our news-bloated serotonin receptors. We meet coastal elite Josh Hutcherson as he orders a flat white while riding a skateboard in his high-rise office. Hitjobs are called in from the gilded side room of a POTUS briefing. Rich folks are portrayed, almost without fail, as cocaine addicts committing corporate conspiracy in neon-lit, techno-blaring business dens.

“Contemporary Hollywood cinema,” writes Kellner, “can be read as a contest of representations and a contested terrain that reproduces existing social struggles and transcodes the political discourses of the era.”

There Are Just So Many Bee Puns in Jason Staham’s ‘The Beekeeper’

Ayer and Wimmer, to their credit, deliver enough puns to keep The Beekeeper lighthearted. The necessary grain of salt is Statham, whose mere presence indicates unseriousness. Still, speak enough about conspiracy and the notion seems to linger after the theater lights turn on, a kind of low-level pollution. Look no further than this weekend’s reporting on the Iowa caucuses, where, per The New York Times, “voters plow through snowy streets to hear from candidates, mingle at campaign events and casually talk of the prospect of World War III, civil unrest and a nation coming apart at the seams.”

“There’s a civil war coming,” says a 65-year-old chemical engineer named Mark Binns. “I’m convinced of it.”

How many interviews did it take to pull that quote? Three or four? Regardless, the quilt of our collective American reality is looking a bit frayed these days. A bit dog-chewed. I don’t think The Meg bears any relation to this phenomenon. And to be clear: I’m not sure The Beekeeper does, either. But does it mean something that you could at least ask the question?

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