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“Blue Beetle”: When Life Lets You Down, Get Bitten by an Insect!

DC’s part-time insect brings with it joy and heart at its core and the action and buffoonery of comic book movies at its periphery.
August 26, 2023
8:32 am

As DC attempts to expand its diminishing sphere of influence, audiences watch in dismay at its poor execution–particularly in the past 3 movies. Black Adam and Shazam! Fury of the Gods cost the studio hundreds of millions. And The Flash? We’ll just forget about DC’s Speedster for now.


This seemingly unending streak of utterly bad to “um…it’s okay I guess” movies coincides with the so-called “superhero fatigue” sweeping across the comic book realm in recent months. Combine these and any reservations audiences had on showing up to DC’s latest bug party is more than justified. But as history and physics have proven, even a broken clock is right twice a day.  And Blue Beetle is one of those rare rights.


Directed by Puerto Rican-born filmmaker Ángel Manuel Soto and written by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, Blue Beetle is evidence that skillful execution can make even the most generic of movies feel original. We meet Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña), a fresh Mexican pre-law graduate coming home to bad news: his father lost his auto shop and had a heart attack, and most daunting, they are about to lose the family home.


As the only graduate in the Reyes family and given the sacrifices made by them, Jaime is overcome with guilt and strives to overturn their economic woes. One thing leads to another, and he finds himself face to face–or put more literally, spine to spine–with a sentient alien scarab guarded jealously by Kord Industries, under the watchful eyes of Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), who intends to use it to build a line of Iron Man-like soldiers.


Fusing with his body (by going up his ass apparently), the scarab–by the name Khaji Dah (voiced by Becky G)–is bound to protect its host, giving him a tough blue exoskeleton, wings, and a whole lot of bouncing around the skies of Palmera City.


Suffice to say, this movie does nothing out of the ordinary. Rather, it builds upon the comic book state-of-the-art to deliver what is an awfully predictable two-hour run. However, unlike some other films which take the best bits of the bad parts, Blue Beetle does the opposite: threading together bits of Spiderman, Shazam, and Cobra Kai and letting joy and heart move the clockwork.


Blue Beetle

For all its predictability, there is one thing you certainly won’t see coming: family. And no, this is not an ode to the Fast and Furious franchise because Blue Beetle does effortlessly–in two hours–a concept the former has been trying to force down our throats for two decades.


As the inaugural Latino superhero movie, Blue Beetle aptly reflects the prime position of family in Latino culture. The Reyes family has a dominant presence in the film with their scenes delivering its most delightful and heartfelt moments. A hopeful dad, Alberto (Damián Alcázar); a persistent yet loving mum, Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo); a very funny sister, Milargo (Belissa Escobedo); a conspiracy-theorist and quippy uncle, Rudy (George Lopez), who is in love with his truck and of course, the mysteriously action-minded grandmother, Nana (Adrianna Barraza), who really has some questions to answer about her skillful marksmanship and revolutionist past.


They are all jumbled up in Edge Keys, the suburban part of Miami-esque fictional city of Palmera, and they need to stick with each other and that’s what they do pretty much throughout. Their unity and mutual support is like Shazam! (2019) all over again albeit with a more emotionally resonant touch. At times you feel Mexican; drawn into the food, music and motherly nagging.


Although Maridueña does brightly as the lead, skillfully charisma-ing his way into our hearts by capturing the anxious emotions of a young hero and giving off a solid coming-of-age vibe (think Peter Parker but Mexican), he is outshone by his family of poor but resolute individuals. Far from a negative aspect, this dynamic works and Maridueña would be happy it did because like he said, “I find my strength from my family.”


Belissa Escobedo as Jaime’s sister is a blessing to the movie–after all; it is she who unknowingly sets in motion the chain of events that leads to her brother becoming a robotic beetle–as was George Lopez’s Uncle Rudy simply by being the absolute best. Another unofficial member of the family, Victoria’s stubborn niece Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), sadly cannot join the party of things that worked well.


It’s difficult finding exactly where to fit her in. As a love interest, her presence comes across as cringe. And one could argue that she solely exists to bring Jaime closer to the scarab. But her character exemplifies the quite conspicuous juxtaposition between a family with no money and a prosperous one, underscoring the truth that material wealth doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness.  This success is not-so-much a Bruna Marquezine thing but a Jenny Kord thing.


Oddly enough, when not exhuming great family themes, Blue Beetle subtly hints at some thought-provoking and profound issues, most notably gentrification. Palmera City skyline itself is a visual representation of the growing rich-vs-poor divide. The lines “We used to have the other side of the tracks, now they want that, too” and “We’re invisible to people like that, it’s kind of our superpower” by Milargo, are quotes that would follow the audience home.


Blue Beetle Poster

Regrettably, the movie paints its bright spots in red (literally) offering us two soulless antagonists: Victoria Kord and her big baddie prototype robot soldier, Conrad Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo) with an excuse for a backstory. Furthermore, the lack of emotion and backstory attributed to the scarab seems like a missed opportunity. Add to this the plot inconsistencies–such as how Victoria and her goons never cared to check the old Kord mansion for potential clues about the scarab code, the inexplicable ease with which a military-tech company’s security could be breached or how the Reyes gang knew how to fly a giant beetle-ship (if we can call it that) within seconds–and the clichés, you may find yourself leaving with a bitter-sweet taste of both satisfaction and disappointment.


But hey, at least unlike in The Flash, the CGI department brought their A-game. And good lord, what a costume! It may just be the most practical suit ever donned in a comic book movie and proves that CGI suits are not substitutes for a good sewing department (looking at you again Flash).


Ironically, Blue Beetle distinguishes itself by simultaneously embracing and disregarding what came before it and being what it was intended: a good ‘ol origin story. It has no business being ahead of the curve, instead it develops and syncs its homemade themes and strengths which predecessors have ignored. Ángel Manuel Soto and Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer’s delivery of this mildly-cathartic Latino-themed movie is not groundbreaking–sometimes feeling frustratingly rushed–but they manage to fluff it up with an overwhelming mix of joy and heart. It never does too much or too little of anything (asides from some feathery characterization), delivering naturally comedic scenes that are a stark contrast with the poorly-time ones we have come to expect from Marvel movies. The outcome is undeniably captivating.


For a bug that many expected to be squished under the shoes of larger-than-life IPs like Antman (himself another bug), Flash, and Black Adam, it delivers what may be the best comic book movie of the year. That it’s not particularly lighting up the box office is proof that life isn’t always fair to the good guys.


Release date: August 18, 2023

Run-time: 2 hours and 7 minutes

Platform: Cinematic Release

Director: Angel Manuel Soto

Cast: Xolo Maridueña, Bruna Marquezine, George Lopez, Damian Alcazar, Elpidia Carrillo, Belissa Escobedo, Adrianna Barraza, Susan Sarandon, Raoul Max Trujillo, and Harvey Guillén and Becky G

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