With so much discussion surrounding the roles of producers involved in the DC film universe, which characters count (and in which multiverses), let alone focus on films arriving years down the road, it all becomes a hindrance to what a movie like Blue Beetle is meant to deliver, to begin with – fun. Yes, it’s simple to say that all of these comic book superhero movies should be fun. Still, with so many fans, journalists, and others acting as though these blockbuster films are as important as a political discussion that can effect real change, there should be more of a reminder that oftentimes it’s just not that deep. Blue Beetle is an enjoyable superhero origin story. It stands out due to its Latino-heavy cast and an emphasis on family. Its flaws exist in the same way they do in most of these types of movies, but a unique power set being handed over to the kinds of folks who do not often get to be seen in this sort of spotlight helps it stand out as worthwhile.
Cobra Kai’s Xolo Maridueña stars as Jaime Reyes, a recent college graduate returning home to Palmera City (DC’s Miami equivalent). While his family is on the verge of losing the house, a chance encounter makes that problem suddenly seem pretty small by comparison. Through various circumstances, Jaime comes into possession of a piece of alien biotechnology: the Scarab. It chooses Jaime to be its host, grafting itself to his body and gifting the young man with a suit of armor and incredible powers.
It’s in these early stages where director Ángel Manuel Soto shows the joy one can get from combining a life-changing alien device with a heavy dose of goofiness when it comes to the Reyes family. While the drama is intriguing enough, you still have plenty of human comedy being shared between Jaime’s father, Alberto (Damián Alcázar), his mother, Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo), his grandmother (Adriana Barraza), his younger sister, Milagro (Belissa Escobedo), and especially his uncle Rudy (George Lopez). It’s a family unit that is unbreakable as far as their love for each other goes, as well as proudly enthusiastic and always finding time to bicker.
While not nearly as expansive as something like Black Panther, which included the introduction to Wakanda, Blue Beetle is the kind of film where the specificity of how it highlights Latino culture allows the film to be relatable. Yet, numerous qualities are elements designed to be recognized by specific audiences without the movie going out of its way to explain everything to others. It’s refreshing and a reminder that the kinds of opportunities, when presented, can be a great benefit in a sea of movies that can begin to slide into one another based on familiarity.
Still, it’s not like this narrative has anything new to present in the realm of superhero cinema. It’s an origin story, which can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we are introduced to new characters, learn about this specific hero’s power set, and have the chance to see why we should be excited about future adventures. As a counter, it’s not hard to see where any of this is going. There’s the period of the hero figuring it all out, rejecting the call/being brought to their lowest point (full hero’s journey style), losing a loved one, and engaging in an extended third-act, action-packed finale.
Nothing is inherently wrong with working through a storyline made so reliable by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Joseph Conrad, and Richard Donner’s Superman. It’s how a film can make all those elements exciting and enjoyable that matters. Blue Beetle mostly gets there, but it’s almost beside the point in terms of the story being told. Really, it comes down to how enjoyable it is to be with this cast. But before I start saying family more than a buzzed Dom Toretto at a barbeque, there are other things to compliment.
The style of this film is fun when it allows itself to be. While the more heavily visual effects-focused moments occasionally rise to the challenge of delivering cool visuals (other bug-themed superheroes are hard to top), Soto and his team do seem to have a particular aesthetic in mind that evokes the 80s. Everything from Miami Vice to Akira to Cronenbergian body horror films seem to have been on the mind of these filmmakers. Moreover, Bobby Krlic’s (aka The Haxan Cloak) synth-heavy score was a welcome break from the various Hans Zimmer proteges providing solid yet unmemorable work.
Okay, yes, there’s also the family. Xolo Maridueña really stands out here, providing a strong lead performance that doesn’t feel like a copy of other leads based on his position in society and what he’s fighting for. He also shares good chemistry with Bruna Marquezine’s Jenny Kord, the film’s de facto love interest, who has a pretty strong connection to Blue Beetle lore, as far as the comics are concerned. Lopez relishes his role as the wacky uncle, a conspiracy theorist, and a competent mechanic/inventor. Bonus points also go to creating a believable sibling relationship between Jaime and Milagro.
As Blue Beetle increasingly settles into being a standard action movie, I at least wanted to look to where the benefits still could be found. Susan Sarandon’s villainous role as a businesswoman hellbent on creating weapons for her company doesn’t give her much opportunity to shine. Still, it speaks to the film’s imperialist themes, though smaller moments focused on gentrification do plenty to get across similar ideas. That said, Surandon’s right-hand man, Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo), is the kind of aspect that really works when the film finally locks in with this guy. Naturally, however, his power is just being a bigger, stronger version of our hero.
With that said, having this villain provides the movie a chance to show what the Blue Beetle can do. Taking a page out of Green Lantern and Iron Man, but with less oversight from the Corps and no battle with alcoholism or Stark Industry policies, this character can fly, use his imagination to create whatever he wants to assist him, and deal with an in-suit voice. Becky G voices Khaji-Da, the entity within the Scarab. While she’s no JARVIS, this sort of “suit to the person in the suit” relationship always tends to entertain.
So, here’s the rub. I liked this movie. Blue Beetle has plenty going for it, including the likable cast, a solid lead, and a cool look for Palmera City. But now, because of how things are, I’m also supposed to care about where this fits in with the rest of the DC Universe and what potential team-ups Jaime can have, if any. I don’t want the Reyes family being left out to dry based on movie studio politics. One can only hope audiences seize the chance to enjoy the on-screen representation that informs this film for the better. Whatever the case may be though, this movie ain’t buggin’, as its heart is in the right place.