The final days of the DCEU are rapidly approaching with new co-head’s James Gunn and Peter Safran set to reboot the universe that has been long overdue. With 2 projects remaining, the last handful of efforts have fallen short of the expectations set upon the decades long legacy, but the characters still manage to scrape a couple of blows together on their way out. Too little too late. In the grander scope Blue Beetle, the newest and penultimate effort put out by the DCEU represents a first for all studios that are in the superhero business – Blue Beetle is the first Hispanic superhero to lead a film in a franchise.
Following in the footsteps of Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Shang-Chi, Black Panther and so on, director Angel Manuel Soto brings to life an unexplored corner of the world that superhero films haven’t touched upon yet. And Blue Beetle is filled to the brim with proud representation, a rich culture and heritage in every scene. While there is a lot to celebrate within, writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer includes some of the harsher realities and stereotypes that minority groups face – putting these stereotypical allegories at the forefront of these characters motivations, including the villain.
At the center of Blue Beetle is Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) fresh out of college with a law degree from Gotham University (the first in his family to attain that) returning home to Palmera City to give back to his struggling family. Jaime learns that his family has only 3 months left in their home before Kord Industries owned by Victoria (Susan Sarandon) gentrifies the small tightknit community – making living unaffordable for the Reyes family after Jaime learns that his father Alberto (Damián Alcázar) has lost the family business – leaving the responsibility solely on Jaime’s shoulders.
There’s a quick shot of the inner-city set to be reconstructed showing closed business after closed business and a future Starbucks moving in
Blue Beetle picks up steam after Jaime and his sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) get jobs working for Victoria and Jaime meets Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), Victoria’s niece and the daughter of Ted Kord. Jenny sticks Jaime with a valuable artifact stole from Kord Industries known as the scarab which chooses Jaime as the host, thrusting conflict between Victoria and her henchmen Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo) against Jaime and the Reyes family. But this is where Blue Beetle begins to blur the lines with an original take and what came before it – just another generic superhero origin story where the muscle bad guy has the exact same power source as the hero and the villain has no motivation or empathy to their journey.
From the trailers, Blue Beetle has the appearance of Iron Man, sharing stylistic similarities, just a blue version in a different universe. The heads up display, the scarab symbol infused on Jaime’s body and the little voice in his ear are all derivative. The difference arguably being the symbiotic relationship between Khaji Da and Jaime (Venom would like a word) immediately after connecting one another. Within that is a blending of genres that leaves Blue Beetle not knowing what it wants to be. Is it a comedy, sure, there are plenty of comedic moments all supplied by Jaime’s uncle Rudy (George Lopez), some of which land while the others fail to make their mark. The real humor comes from the nuances and subtle under the breath moments of realizations as Jaime learns to control his new abilities.
Like all in the genre, Blue Beetle comes with a suspension of disbelief attached to it – centering around the matriarch of the family (Adriana Barraza). For example, during the climactic 3rd act of the film, with bullets and bodies flying around, Nana is able to fully handle a gatling gun (shown in the trailers) with ease as she sprinkles in some of her backstory and tough bravado. But it’s one moment within the heat of the battle that adds to the overuse of levity used by Alcocer and Soto. On the other hand, Nana is given a more meaningful moment that brings the main theme of family and culture together.
As the film shifts into the second half, the Reyes family experiences a tragedy. To avoid spoilers, Nana takes charge of the situation – keeping the family together in their grief but focused on stopping Victoria Kord. When the family is the focus in Soto’s film, Blue Beetle becomes an engaging experience. The dynamic between every member comes across as organic and the chemistry between the ensemble cast leads the way for an attachment to the characters and their struggles as a minority group in a class driven society.
But Blue Beetle is Xolo Maridueña’s big screen breakout. Known for his leading part in Cobra Kai, Xolo commands the screen as Jaime. He’s easy to root for as an underdog and become enamored with as soon as he steps off the plane with his giant optimistic grin – fitting right into the role with a natural charm and charisma. Throughout the 127 minute runtime, its Xolo carrying the film on his scarab infused back and I can’t help but wonder what if, if Gunn and Safran chose to keep Xolo going forward after their reboot – he has the appeal of a franchise leading man.
Given the last few efforts put out by DC and Warner, Blue Beetle is a breath of fresh air. For representation, a celebration of culture and heritage, it’s a total knockout but the superhero of it all falls short of the potential, which the DCEU is known for and will be remembered by. Full of vibrant colors, a serviceable score from Bobby Krlic and an outstanding family dynamic, Angel Manuel Soto puts his heart and soul into his film. The effort and care is there and can be felt from the small ensemble cast. But like many, the pitfalls to a superhero story (overuse of CGI, muddied action, a poorly written villain) become the distraction.
Screenplay By: Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer
Directed By: Angel Manuel Soto
Music By: Bobby Krlic
Cinematography: Pawel Pogorzelski
Starring: Xolo Maridueña, Bruna Marquezine, Adriana Barraza, Damián Alcázar, Raoul Max Trujillo, Susan Sarandon, George Lopez, Elpidia Carrillo, Belissa Escobedo
Edited By: Craig Alpert
Release Date: August 18, 2023
Running Time: 2 Hours 7 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%
Based On: Jaime Reyes by Keith Giffen, John Rogers & Cully Hamner