First things first, Puerto Rican director Angel Manuel Soto doesn’t break any new ground in terms of exploring the superhero genre in Blue Beetle. He and screenwriter Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer stick to the A-Z formula of a superhero origin story. We have a young, down-on-his-luck protagonist (sounds familiar?). Then, his life takes an unexpected turn when he finds himself unwittingly becoming a superhero. He’s reluctant, confused and has to face a bigger problem compared to what he has experienced in the past.
And yet, the familiarity of the story has the added advantage of being the first Latino-led superhero movie. The good news is, Angel Manuel Soto, doesn’t confine it as a mere, surface-level novelty factor. He treats it with respect by delving deep into the Latino culture, particularly in the importance of family relations and values seen in the Reyes.
The Reyes in Blue Beetle is an immigrant family struggling to make a living in the poor neighbourhood of Palmera City. When the movie first introduced the Reyes, they are already in a dire financial situation. They are about to lose their home after Kord Industries decided to raise the rent to an exorbitant level. The only glimmer of hope right now is their adult son, Jaime (Xolo Maridueña), a pre-law graduate who just returns home to reunite with his family. He finds out about the problem and his dad’s (Damián Alcázar) health condition. He’s eager to ease the family burden by hoping to land a lucrative job, only to end up settling with menial work alongside his younger sister, Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) as a maintenance and cleaning crew.
The family dynamics angle gives the otherwise formulaic superhero movie a much-needed heart and soul. It’s hard not to root for the likeable, tight-knit family like the Reyes such as Jaime’s wacky and eccentric Uncle Rudy (George Lopez in a scene-stealing supporting role) and his beloved Nana played by the equally hilarious Adriana Barraza.
Jaime’s journey from being a nobody to a superhero may have been the same old superhero-movie cliches. But at least his story resonates well, thanks to Xolo Maridueña’s charismatic and sympathetic lead performance. He shares great chemistry with the rest of the supporting cast playing the Reyes family members and so does he and Bruna Marquezine together.
The latter plays Jenny Kord, the daughter of the late Ted Kord who founded Kord Industries before her scheming aunt, Victoria (the long-missed Susan Sarandon, who’s clearly having fun chewing the scenery) takes over the business. Marquezine nails Jenny’s spunky personality while her magnetic charm helps a lot in elevating her performance.
Back to the story, Victoria is the one who found the mechanised alien artefact in the form of a blue scarab. Her goal is to draw an unlimited superpower from the scarab to activate her military-based creation of high-tech supersoldiers. Upon discovering her motive, Jenny tries to stop her by stealing the scarab. She subsequently entrusted the scarab to Jaime, who has no idea the level of trouble he’s getting himself into. The scarab somehow chose Jaime as its host, where it embedded itself into his spine and even have him automatically equipped in a full-body armoured suit. He is also granted various powers and superhuman strength, complete with an inner voice (Becky G) known as Khaji-Da controlling and telling him what to do.
Despite this being Angel Manuel Soto’s first major big-budget Hollywood production, he manages to make good use of its reported US$120 million budget (believe it or not, Blue Beetle was originally slated for straight-to-Max streaming). The CGI isn’t the greatest but decent enough without looking patchy and inferior (here’s looking at you, The Flash). The director also showcased his excellent flair for well-choreographed action set pieces as he successfully brings Blue Beetle’s multiple superpowers to life. Whether it was his impressive physical agility or taking down the bad guys with different types of weapons (one of them includes the heavily-promoted Final Fantasy VII video game reference), it’s hard not to get immersed by Blue Beetle’s superhero abilities.
Blue Beetle also benefits from Bobby Krlic’s catchy, ’80s-style synthesiser score and an equally cool soundtrack. The movie even has a field day with its pop-culture references from the 1995 classic telenovela Maria la del Barrio to the superhero parody series of El Chapulín Colorado. Given the less-than-stellar results of Shazam! Fury of the Gods and The Flash, it’s nice to see a DC movie, albeit an unlikely one like Blue Beetle is back on track. Several shortcomings aside such as Raoul Max Trujillo’s one-note performance as Victoria’s main enforcer, Conrad Carapax and the tedious third act, Blue Beetle remains a surprisingly entertaining, funny and heartfelt little package of a summer-movie blockbuster.
Likewise, don’t leave your seats too soon once the credits start rolling. Stick around for both mid-credits and post-credits stingers.