There are two films somewhat at war with each other in Blue Beetle. One is unlike anything we’ve ever really seen from the DC Universe. The other? Well, we very much have. Unsurprisingly, the unique film is far superior to the familiar one. That kind of goes without saying, but having them sandwiched together is still a bit jarring. Still, the movie overall is able to work, even while balancing these disparate elements.
Blue Beetle is partly a vibrant and culturally specific family tale. If it were only that, it would be closer to a charming indie. Of course, in part it’s also a DC superhero origin story. That comic book element is far more forgettable. Whether that part of the movie drags down the other or if the better half raises up its counterpart is debatable. The end result is still a flick that probably is better than some were expecting, but still a bit more cookie cutter than others were hoping for. All in all, it’s fine, and at least for DC, still one of their more successful efforts.
After a somewhat generic opening sequence meant to introduce us to the world of the film, as well as the alien scarab at the center of it all, we meet its human heart. Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) is a recent college graduate with big dreams. He’s returned home to his family, greeted warmly by his parents Alberto (Damián Alcázar) and Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo), grandmother (Adriana Barraza), sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo), and uncle Rudy (George Lopez). While Jaime’s been away at school, they’ve gotten into financial trouble, losing their business and nearly their house, which is next. Determined to prevent that, he and his sister get a job cleaning at the home of business mogul Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon). When Jaime stands up to her during a confrontation with her idealistic niece Jenny (Bruna Marquezine), they lose their jobs. Jenny takes pity on him and offers him a better job at Kord Headquarters. There, he’ll end up accidentally in possession of the scarab, which will change his life.
Choosing him as its host, the scarab bonds with him, forming a suit of armor that’s capable of nearly anything he can imagine. Trying to harness the power, Jaime will ultimately have to go up against Victoria Kord and her muscle Conrad Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo), especially once Kord figures out that he’s in possession of what she so desperately wants. To do so will require not just the scarab, alongside its nearly infinite power, but also the Reyes family as well. Together, they’ll give the Blue Beetle all that he needs to succeed, forming a new superhero in the process.
The cast handles the comedy and family dynamics quite well. When the CGI gets involved, they’re somewhat swallowed up, but the heart and soul of the Reyes clan is intact. Xolo Maridueña makes for a strong young hero, with charisma to spare. Damián Alcázar and Elpidia Carrillo are warm parental units, while Belissa Escobedo is an amusing sister. A little of George Lopez goes a long way, though his funnier moments are very funny, while there isn’t enough of Adriana Barraza’s Nana. Bruna Marquezine is forgettable, though she ends up with a few nice moments opposite Maridueña. Susan Sarandon, on the other hand, is more or less phoning it in as a paycheck villain gig. Supporting players, in addition to the aforementioned Raoul Max Trujillo, include Harvey Guillén (utterly wasted), Becky G, and more.
Director Angel Manuel Soto and writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer are at their best when the focus is on the Reyes family. The comedy works, there’s a ton of heart, and it’s something we haven’t really seen in a superhero flick before. When the action kicks in, some of the scarab’s powers are fun, but it becomes fair more familiar. The actual plot machinations involving the villain are pretty lackluster, feeling almost tossed off. Soto doesn’t do a bad job with the action, but it’s workmanlike. It’s clear the filmmaking focus was on the culturally specific elements, which is where the movie shines.
DC certainly has the option of utilizing this character in the new universe spearheaded by James Gunn. The film itself isn’t necessarily strong enough to make that case on its own, but the best parts of it are singular enough to definitely fit into someone like Gunn’s vision. Hopefully, Jaime will get to lean more into the fun and sillier aspects going forward, no longer tied down to an origin story we’ve basically seen countless times before.
Blue Beetle deserves credit for putting a value on characters, as well as culture. We don’t get nearly enough of that in our blockbusters. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of what we already have too much of in our blockbusters. Your mileage on this one may vary, but while I liked more of this film than I disliked, it’s two very different elements at play. If the mixture can be balanced out next time, we might have a promising new DC hero on our hands.