The new era of DC Comics movies under the watchful eye of James Gunn has yet to begin, but the last remnants of the previous regime’s DCEU are finally trickling out (i.e. The Flash etc). Blue Beetle falls somewhere in the middle as a film intended for the previous continuity, but whose main character and actor will reportedly continue in some form (according to this) under Gunn’s universe rebirth. In the meantime, Blue Beetle must be judged on its own merits and while it suffers from the usual superhero origin constraints, its loving portrayal of Latino culture and a star-making performance from Xolo Maridueña as Jaime Reyes aka Blue Beetle produces a big and bright ride full of cartoon superhero silliness.
After graduating from college, Jaime Reyes returns home to Palmera City to find his family home and business facing foreclosure. While working menial jobs to help his family, Jaime comes into contact with an ancient alien relic, a Scarab, that bonds with his body, creating an A.I. built inside a super-exosuit capable of creating any weapon he can dream up. The previous Blue Beetle, Ted Kord, is missing, but his sister Victoria (Susan Sarandon) runs his business empire and is hell-bent on retrieving the Scarab from Jaime at any cost in order to create a superior OMAC (One Man Army Corps) force of soldiers to secure the company’s financial future.
Blue Beetle has long been a character that I believed could inject fresh faces and stories into a live action DC Universe. If done right, Jaime can essentially become a version of Marvel’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man for DC’s Justice League catalog of character. Both are young, wise-cracking, reluctant superheroes with rough up-bringings and tragic lessons that propel them. Director Ángel Manuel Soto’s film does enough right with the film, getting the core elements of the character right here – the suit is faithful and looks incredible, the banter between Jaime and the A.I. is confrontational but humorous, the powers are extremely cool to see in action but most importantly: Jamie is exuberant and endearing.
While it all looks great, the movie is missing a compelling villainous presence to truly threaten Jaime. Susan Sarandon brings her A-list cred to Victoria Kord, but despite a clear attempt to have a good time, the veteran actress mostly looks lost. Kord’s lead soldier Carapax (played with quiet intimidation by Raoul Max Trujillo) is a one-dimensional anti-Blue Beetle that ends up a weak parallel to Iron Monger in one of rival studio Marvel’s own origin films, the original Iron Man. Laughably, Carapax has a huge, last second backstory info-dump via a tragic flashback during the film’s climax in a misguided attempt to give some lacking depth to him at the buzzer. I have to imagine Soto decided not to use any of Jaime’s bigger source material enemies like The Reach or the other scarabs as villains in order to save them for future sequels, but it leaves this one flat.
Comic book absurdity aside, the true strength of Blue Beetle lies in the Reyes family. The close knit, eclectic family provides the heart and humor of the film and their love and pride in Jaime drive the film. Maridueña’s charisma and likability only strengthen the audience’s affection for the family as their familial affection spreads to the viewer as you get to know Jaime. George Lopez as Jaime’s appropriately dubbed “Latino Doc Brown”, Uncle Rudy, is surprisingly great despite his scenery chewing humor. The film’s PG-13 rating affords a few eye-brow raising risque laughs and much of the family, especially Nana (Adriana Barraza), are played for hit-and-miss goofball jokes that come dangerously close to ruining the film’s tone. Thankfully, other family members like Jaimes’ father Alberto (Damián Alcázar) help center the story.
The unique perspective of a Latino family at the core of a superhero origin helps breathe refreshing life to one of DC Comics’ beloved, but relatively unknown characters to mainstream audiences. The structure follows all the tropes one has come to expect in a film of this type, but Maridueña IS Jaime Reyes and Blue Beetle is a serviceable launch to a hero that has big potential for James Gunn’s emerging DC cinematic rebirth.
Score: 3 out of 5