This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Starring Xolo Maridueña y una familia fuerte, Blue Beetle wields just about every modern superhero trope, but also a few key surprises.
It’s sadly hard to say whether or not Blue Beetle — the latest DCEU movie trapped in a transitionary period of holdover DCEU movies — will ultimately find the audience destined to adore it. Directed by Ángel Manuel Soto and boasting a truly wonderful cast with electrified writing by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, Blue Beetle pretty much copies the homework of most superhero movies since 2008, but does it with so much extra flavor and warmth, it’s a wonder Hollywood took this long to give this character (and Latine comic-book characters in general) their due.
Blue Beetle is unapologetically Latine in just about every sense of the word. Its central character Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña, Cobra Kai) will be more familiar to fans of newer DC comics and the Young Justice cartoon series, but his origin story isn’t exactly unique. It’s essentially a mix between the underdog earnestness of Peter Parker in Homecoming, the alien symbiotic power suit of Venom, the corporate espionage of Ant-Man, and a dose of that space flight scene from the first Iron Man for good measure. OK, yes, also the Whiplash scene from Iron Man 2. You’ll probably notice that those are all Marvel movies, and that’s maybe the point.
Maxing its potential.
This was originally supposed to be an HBO Max exclusive, after all, not a heralding of the new DCEU under James Gunn’s creative leadership which is still to come. We’ll have to assume all similarities to the contrary are incidental, but it’s amazing to consider that this film ends up being superior to The Flash, almost by default.
Still, if there’s one thing Blue Beetle calls its own that very few other major blockbusters of its kind can claim, it’s the film’s willingness to let you fall in love with the entire Reyes family as much as Jaime himself. If not more.
“You always land on your feet, bro.”
The story follows Jaime as a recent college graduate heading back home to Palmera City — DC’s version of Austin, Texas if it was fused with Seoul, I guess? — after studying at Gotham…Law. Don’t worry, it’s not a big deal in the context of the overall film. Regardless, Jaime returns to his tight-nit family being seriously down on their luck and in danger of losing their auto shop, the house, and even their health. Jaime quickly tries to score a huge job at the soul-sucking Kord Industries to help make ends meet, but instead ends up meeting a stolen “scarab” device that gives him superpowers.
He can now fly, he’s bulletproof, and he can even create just about any weapon he can think of with his imagination. He’s a Green Lantern Iron Man, basically, and he’s now working with Hope Van Dyne, sorry, Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine) to undermine her aunt’s evil corporation before their weapons are mass-produced to everyone who wants an Iron Man, sorry, scarab of their own.
“The universe has sent you a gift.”
Again, all these familiar beats sort of melt into the background of this infectiously wonderful family who consistently own the screen, even when it’s also being taken up by a parasocial alien being with yellow eyes. Jaime spends most of the movie gleaning wisdom from his trusted family members (Black Panther, too, why not?), who include his rambunctious conspiracy theory uncle (George Lopez), wisecracking sister (Belissa Escobedo), delightfully unhinged nana (Adriana Barraza), and endlessly supportive parents (Damián Alcázar and Elpidia Carrillo).
At least one refreshing quirk: there’s no “gotta hide this from the family” subplot. Jaime’s entire family knows what he’s going through from the jump, and they’re always around to help him at every turn in whatever way they can.
That’s the secret power of Blue Beetle. The investment in Jaime as a character connects beautifully to the stakes of wanting to see the best happen for his entire family as they face crisis after crisis. By positioning this directly as an allegory for undocumented immigrants — the film even employs a harrowing scene mimicking an ICE raid and the inhumanity of so-called “diversity-conscious” corporate overlords — Blue Beetle doesn’t shy away from using politics to paint the urgency and drive of each family member.
The bottom line.
The film certainly doesn’t earn any bonus points due to how shamelessly derivative it is, but at least it has the confidence and nerve to commit to its own bit. There’s enough chuckle-worthy comedy here to keep all the cheesier, weaker script moments from wearing the audience down, to the point where it actually doesn’t feel as long as it really is (just over two hours).
The action sequences and general showcase for Blue Beetle himself are probably the film at its most undercooked, oddly enough, which is probably why most of our time is spent simply hanging out and enjoying the scenery. The end of the film clearly teases there can be more to come, and sure, Blue Beetle has plenty more superhero cliches it can rip off and do its own thing with in a sequel or two. Here’s hoping next time around, it can do so with even more self-awareness.
Blue Beetle opens in theaters on August 18. Watch the trailer here.
BLUE BEETLE - 7/10