Give the waning days of the old era of DC movies at Warner Bros some credit for going out in style. I might have been something of a dissenting voice, but I thought June’s big-screen The Flash, despite disappointing some fanboys and at the box office, was a winning affair, a step above most superhero fare. And now I can say the same for the first cinematic attempt at bringing Blue Beetle to life, a much better movie than its August 18 release date might indicate.
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Under the assured direction of Angel Manuel Soto, it features a sharp cast of Latino actors led by the appealing Xolo Mariduena in the title role aka college student Jaime Reyes, who comes home to his tightknit family only to have things go crazy when he becomes the chosen one to carry the tradition of the Blue Beetle, a reluctant superhero whose powers know no limits. At least that is what it looks like.
The character goes back eight decades, first appearing in Mystery Men Comic #1 in 1939 and later in Captain Atom #83 in 1966. The alter ego was much different in those cases, and only led to the current Jaime Reyes in 2016 in Infinite Crisis #3. There the young Jaime lived with his family in El Paso, Texas, but now for his feature debut the creative team including writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer decided to give him more edge by placing him in a modern “Gotham”-style city called Palmera.
It is there Jaime decides to help out his family’s emerging financial troubles by getting a job in a big company. It doesn’t go well for him or his lively sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo), but as luck would have it, on his way out the door he meets Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), who by chance gives him hope by saying there might be a job for him at her tech company Kord. Founded by her father, it now is being run by her devious aunt Victoria (Susan Sarandon), who has visions for the company that involve one-man fighting machines that can take over the world (think Robocop types).
At any rate, eager beaver Jaime shows up claiming he has an appointment with her, only to be turned away. But when an emergency hits the building, he sees her rushing out of there and catches up to remind her of their meeting. Because she needs to get some very important cargo out of there quickly, she gives him a shot by handing him a hamburger box that contains a life-changing opportunity for Jaime, who is instructed never to open it.
Of course once he takes it back to the family, that is exactly what they urge him to do. Inside is the Scarab in the form of a blue beetle. Jaime has just unleashed madness but real powers too, as the device overtakes him, invades every part of his body and sends him flying through the roof. What the hell is happening?
This is only the beginning as the backstory gets told by Jenny, swearing it is not her fault that he has been chosen to partner with this Scarab, whose initial instincts are to kill kill kill. Eventually he finds a way to communicate with it and start to deal with the real problems caused by Victoria and her crew including Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo), who is a template for the kind of fighter Victoria envisions. As Jenny soon realizes, Auntie is up to no good and must be stopped. Jaime aka Blue Beetle has met his match and, with the Scarab by his insides, sets out to save the world.
Where this film really gets its heart and soul is not with the typical genre tropes but rather with the family dynamic created here, a real Latino lovefest that includes ailing dad (Damian Alcazar), mother (Elpidia Carrillo), sister Milagro, very funny Uncle Rudy (a wild George Lopez) and scene-stealing Nana (the great Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza of Babel), whose revolutionary past comes in handy when push turns to shove and the fireworks begin.
Like most of these movies, the final third turns into all-out carnage and loses a bit of its fresh style, but for the most part Blue Beetle is highly entertaining thanks to its irresistible family at its center and its protagonist played with grit and heat by Mariduena. Sarandon summons up a boatload of evil but never sails over the top in a role that could have drifted into complete stereotype. Harvey Guillen (What We Do in the Shadows) as Dr. Sanchez, always by her side to help in her quest, brings some dimension to his role.
With DC headed into new announced directions, there might not be a future for this charming family, but hopefully audiences will catch on to it and make another edition possible in the emerging David Safran/James Gunn universe. It has more heart and humor than most in this well-worn genre. That ought to count for something. Producers are John Richard and Zev Foreman, and Warners releases it Friday.
Title: Blue Beetle
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Release Date: August 18, 2023
Director: Angel Manuel Soto
Screenplay: Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer
Cast: Xolo Mariduena, Adriana Barazza, Damian Alcazar, Raoul Max Trujillo, Susan Sarandon, George Lopez, Elpidia Carrillo, Bruna Marquezine, Harvey Guillen, Belissa Escobedo
Running Time: 2 hrs, 7 mins
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