Scrappily Inventive Blue Beetle Showcases a Memorable Family of Everyday Heroes
Blue Beetle is one of the better Warner Bros./DC Comic superhero entries in recent memory. It’s an old-school comic book origin story throwback, similar in tone and style to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man or Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, only set to an invigorating Mexican beat. Director Ángel Manuel Soto’s feature is a fun, funny, and at times surprisingly moving treat, and as Warner continues to figure out what it wants to do with its lineup of superpowered characters, here’s hoping Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) and his charming family are among those slated to return for more adventures.
Recent college graduate Jaime Reyes returns home to Palmera City and the loving arms of his family: dad Alberto (Damián Alcázar), mom Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo), younger sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo), uncle Rudy (George Lopez), and grandmother Nana (Adriana Barraza). Amid all the joy of the clan’s reunification, however, is a layer of underhanded woe. The powerful Kord Corporation has snatched up the mortgage on the family home, and it’s increased the monthly payments to such a degree that foreclosure is all but inevitable.
In an unfathomable turn of events, Jaime captures the eye of Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), a powerful executive in the company who does not jibe with the plans of the current CEO — who happens to be her aunt Victoria (Susan Sarandon) — to restart the corporate giant’s defunct military weapons program. Thinking he’s going into the Kord offices for a job interview, instead young Jaime walks back out carrying a top-secret piece of alien technology known cryptically as “the scarab.”
Taking a page out of the Robocop, Upgrade, Venom, or any other sci-fi story dealing with the symbiotic melding of a human with a decidedly nonhuman component, Jaime ends up merging with the scarab (voiced by Becky G) and transforms into the otherworldly superhero in the film’s title. There are montages of him learning how to use his gifts, set pieces involving his first encounters with a collection of heavily armed bad guys, and the discovery that it is his selfless goodness that gives him his true power, not the cybernetic attributes the scarab has granted him.
None of this is new. Pretty much every superhero origin story has covered a lot of this ground at one time or another, so there isn’t a lot of novelty in seeing Jaime blasting off into space, awkwardly fumbling to try and use his abilities, and mostly making a silly fool of himself. Been there, done that. Part of me wanted to yawn.
But thankfully I never did. Why? Soto (Charm City Kings) and screenwriter Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer (Miss Bala) wisely play up the cultural and familial elements. This gives the film a rich, distinctive voice. Even with limited screen time, Alcázar, Carrillo, Escobeo, Lopez, and Barraza manage to make lasting impressions on the material. This is a real family. Their interactions are pure, genuine, and emotionally resonant. Their deep love for one another is the driving force around which the narrative revolves, and this helps make all the familiar pieces feel electrically alive in ways that kept my eyes glued to the screen — even when I was all but certain I knew exactly what was going to happen next.
It also helps that Maridueña, best known for his role as Miguel Diaz on Cobra Kai, is a magnetic force of nature and every bit the budding superstar. The actor has charisma oozing out of every pore, exuding a form of exuberant, optimistic happiness I completely adored. But Maridueña can mine much darker territory when required as well. This makes Jaime’s evolution from flippant everyman into resolute hero all the more affecting, lending his climactic face-off against Victoria’s menacing, unstoppable henchman Carapax (a terrific Raoul Max Trujillo) a shocking amount of morally complex weight that’s somewhat unexpected.
The other major plus is the visual fluidity of the third-act action set pieces. Even when it’s two people in CGI-created mechanical suits battling against one another as if they were video game characters, Soto stages things in a tactile manner. While the good guy obviously has to come out on top, how he’ll get there is a minor mystery, and this gives every punch and every kick an added ounce of refreshing oomph.
Whereas The Flash felt like too many of its core elements were conceived in a boardroom, Black Adam came across as a tonally turgid mishmash of disconnected ideas, and Shazam! Fury of the Gods was an amusingly forgettable trifle and nothing more, Blue Beetle has a distinctive creative voice that needs to be heard. The Reyes family is a wonderful addition to the cinematic comic book canon. Whenever DC and Warner finally decide where they are going to go next and how they are going to get there, if this group of scrappy everyday heroes isn’t part of the plan, then that would be a gigantic — and unforgivable — mistake.
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)