The sense of Latino identity wins out in the otherwise formulaic and predictable ‘Blue Beetle’
Blue Beetle is not the first Latino superhero to hit the screen. Let’s get that out of the way. Who he actually is specifically is DC Comics’ first Latino superhero lead in a film. Even with that misperception cast aside, ‘Blue Beetle’ might seem like it needs that sort of notoriety to combat a seemingly late arrival to the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) party.
The last two DCEU releases, ‘Black Adam’ and ‘The Flash,’ served as death rattles for the Synderverse, failing at the box office in a way that was more entertaining than anything either of those films put on the screen. In October, James Gunn and Peter Safran were named the new heads of Warner Bros.’ DC Studios, tasked with righting the ship. This essentially tipped their hand that DC films that were already in the can and yet to release would likely not tie to the future of the new cinematic universe.
BLUE BEETLE ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Ángel Manuel Soto
Written by: Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer
Starring:Xolo Maridueña, Bruna Marquezine, George Lopez, Belissa Escobedo, Susan Sarandon
Running time: 127 mins
‘Blue Beetle’ is a unique case. The character is rather obscure and eccentric, getting its start in the 1930s and including three different incarnations over the years. You wouldn’t find children on a playground arguing over whether Blue Beetle could beat Superman in a foot race. More importantly, the character has never had its own feature film. This release arrives at a time where it could glean some relevance from DC fans desperate for a cinematic lifeline and exhausted casual superhero movie viewers alike. That positions the film to carry over to Gunn and Safran’s new vision for DC films. Director Ángel Manuel Soto and Gunn confirmed the possibility. You can never have too many beetles.
The film itself follows the typical young unassuming superhero formula. Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) finds himself and his tight-knit family struggling with money problems. While getting ceremoniously fired from his menial labor job he befriends a rich young woman named Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), the niece of the current CEO of Kord Industries, Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon). Jenny makes a non-committal offer to give Jaime a shot at a job interview the next day because she feels bad about his firing.
The next day their paths cross again after Jenny steals a rare, powerful artifact from the Kord Industries office. To avoid suspicion, she hurriedly hands it off to Jaime, who doesn’t object or question her like a good little corporate job applicant. He takes the scarab-looking artifact home, and against Jenny’s instruction, inspects it with his family. It latches onto Jaime, melding with his body and transforming him into a cyborg to the hilarious horror of his family.
From here the story checks all the usual boxes and beats of a modern superhero origin film with varying degrees of success. Jaime needs some time to adjust to and master his new superpowers. He needs encouragement to accept the mantle. Movies have done this a million times over the last two decades. some of them definitely better. Where ‘Blue Beetle’ shines, however, is its full embracing of the little idiosyncrasies and in-jokes of the Latino community, which serve as a Trojan Horse for a unique and sweet version of the “my family gives me power” trope. It falls somewhere between the first Shazam film and the Ms. Marvel television series in quality and tone.
‘Blue Beetle’ should appeal to a general audience, but Latinos will delight at well-placed Cheech and Chong props, well-timed abuela jokes, and well-represented jabs at gentrification and imperialism. Watching a family bond over telenovelas, El Chapulín Colorado, and their shared sense of being unwanted weirdos fills this Latino with so much pride, and I won’t be the only one.