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Blue Beetle Suits Up and Soars

He's the superhero you don't know you love yet.

I did not expect to cry during Blue Beetle. Twice. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect given the recent track record with superhero films in general, and the fact that I admittedly had little knowledge of Blue Beetle himself beyond playing as him in Injustice 2. I figured I would have a few laughs, get a few thrills, and hopefully leave feeling mildly entertained. I was not ready for a film that not only delivers a solid superhero origin story but does so with a tremendous amount of heart and sincerity.

Blue Beetle is Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña), a recent college grad who’s family has fallen on hard times. When he goes to look for a job at Kord Industries, he runs into Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), who gives him a mysterious, symbiotic alien object called the Scarab for safe-keeping. The Scarab chooses Jamie as a host, fusing with him and allowing him to call upon a high-powered arsenal limited only by his imagination. However, industrialist Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon) also wants the Scarab for a dangerous military project, and she and her bodyguard Carapax (Raoul Trujillo) will stop at nothing to get it back. And that includes targeting Jamie’s family.

I’ll be honest, even reading that back, I’m reminded of how the set-up and framing of the film feels very generic. The first trailer didn’t thrill me at all and made me wonder why this wasn’t going straight to HBO Max. In fact, the film was originally intended for a streaming-only life until it was changed to a theatrical release during production. The second trailer, however, gave a better glimpse at the film’s heart and humor, and it made me genuinely excited to see it in a theatre.

And my mind wasn’t clouded by strife about that.

It’s that heart and humor that sets Blue Beetle apart from other superhero films and gives it a distinct identity. The characters in the film might seem on paper to be fairly standard, but in practice they come alive and end up giving the film a surprisingly vibrant pulse. It’s a rare superhero film where you look forward to character interactions almost more than you do to the action scenes.

A lot of that identity comes from the fact that the characters (and almost the entire cast) are Latino. In fact, this is the first live-action solo superhero film ever with a Latino lead character and actor. Jamie’s cultural identity becomes a rather important part of his story, and his family plays a crucial role in his evolution. Jamie never once tries to separate himself from his heritage, and the film doesn’t use his identity as mere window dressing. Jamie’s Latino roots are as much fused to his character as the Scarab is fused to his body.

This also comes into play with the Reyes families’ interactions with the Kords. The family constantly teases Jamie about his flirtation with Jenny, framing it as a gender-swapped version of the classic telenovela María la del Barrio. However, it’s the relationship between the Reyes family and Victoria Kord that gives the story an extra level of complexity and real-world relevance. Victoria is an unabashed imperialist who views even her own Latino underlings as expendable and unworthy of respect. She constantly calls her head scientist “Sanchez” when his last name is de la Cruz, and she views Carapax more as a pet than a person.

The muscle, the menace, the main love interest.

When I initially saw that Susan Sarandon was playing Victoria, I assumed it was a bit of stunt casting. But Sarandon is a fantastic villain here, and she gives a fully-committed performance. There are no real surprises when it comes to her character, but Sarandon digs in. She doesn’t make Victoria any more dimensional than the script does, but she does make her extremely entertaining to watch.

The real stars of the show, however, are the Reyes family who to a person deliver sincere, organic performances that endear every character to the audience. Of course, Xolo Maridueña is the most prominent, and he is simply remarkable here. Naturally charismatic, with strong but measured energy, Maridueña is perfectly cast as Jamie. Regardless of the actual quality of their movies, DC’s films have rarely disappointed with their casting, and this is no exception. Maridueña makes us feel every emotion Jamie does, from panic and rage to love and bravery.

Both Jamie and Maridueña have a lot of support from the other members of the family, most notably his uncle Rudy, an eccentric conspiracy-theorist played by George Lopez and his sardonic sister Mialgro played by Belissa Escobedo. Rudy could easily have been a “wacky comic relief” character, but Lopez infuses him with a lot of grounded heart without losing any comedic edge. As for Escobedo, she’s a lot of fun in general, but she’s also incredibly capable at cutting through the tropes on the page to deliver a strong performance. In fact, during the Act 2 Tragedy Pile-Up, she delivers an emotional critical hit that changes the energy of the film completely (and for the better). I also have to note Adriana Barraza as Jamie’s grandmother, called Nana by the family. I can’t go into her performance much without giving away spoilers, but she emerges as the secret emotional core of the film during the third act.

Abuela: Armed and Dangerous

As I’ve mentioned many times, the narrative itself is pretty standard for a superhero story, and beyond how well fleshed-out the Reyes family is, there really isn’t a single surprise here. However, director Ángel Manuel Soto never lets the film lag and does his best to keep his frame as exciting and fresh as possible. The retro-synth heavy score by Bobby Krlic and a soundtrack full of fantastically-curated Latino hits also helps. While the CGI doesn’t do anything innovative, it’s all extremely well-executed. Soto uses practical effects and real sets whenever possible, giving everything a welcome, tangible, even vintage reality. The Scarab suit itself is a practical creation, which gives the film an endearing undercurrent of tokusatsu hero energy, and Becky G’s dryly comedic performance as the Scarab’s voice adds even more to that.

Blue Beetle has a lot going for it, but it has an uphill climb. Besides general superhero film burnout and the character’s relative obscurity, it’s coming out right when James Gunn is rebooting the DC film universe (although Gunn has expressed interest in keeping the film and cast in the new DCU). But this is a kind of hidden gem of a film, especially for the superhero genre. It’s heart and sincerity help it overcome its cliches, and a uniformly talented and dedicated cast help elevate it and give it a very unique vibe. I came into the film not knowing what to expect and left it with a new favorite DC universe character and an irrepressible crush on Xolo Maridueña. I’d say that’s a success in my book.

FBOTU Score: 8 out of 10 / B+

1 comment on “Blue Beetle Suits Up and Soars

  1. Great peace! Haven’t caught your reviews before. I agree completely. I’m getting a little sick of superhero movies.
    The last two, this one, and flash, were both terrific…..

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