Let’s face it: it’s been a rocky year for the DC Comics brand on the big screen. Ever since the release of Black Adam nearly a year ago, it seemed as if negative headlines have been dominating the internet when it comes to the franchise. It doesn’t help that given the upcoming DCU reboot spearheaded by DC Studios’ co-chairmen and CEOs James Gunn and Peter Safran has brought much uncertainty, deeming much of the 2023 slate as lame ducks. Shazam! Fury of the Gods, the sequel to the delightful 2019 film fell flat on its face both critically and financially, and although early buzz indicated that The Flash would be a much-needed win for the brand, audiences ultimately rejected the film, which has since become one of the biggest box office bombs in history. As the summer winds down, and the overwhelming critical and commercial success of Barbie gave Warner Bros. Pictures a much-needed win, Blue Beetle, hopes to be a step in the right direction following a rough year for DC.
Set in Palmera City, college graduate Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) reunites with his family as he struggles with starting a new career. He unwittingly becomes the symbiotic host to the Scarab, an ancient biotechnological relic that turns him into the newest iteration of the Blue Beetle superhero. This conflict leads to a life-threatening journey that brings both Jaime and his family into uncharted territory.
As the first live-action superhero film centered on a Latino protagonist, Blue Beetle is undoubtedly a culturally significant moment for the genre. Director Angel Manuel Soto’s passion is on display throughout the film, and despite its obvious ties to the typical superhero tropes that can sometimes come off as a bit tired in this story, his realization of Jaime Reyes and his family is what makes this film stands out in a lovely way that is ultimately a win as what looks to be the first canonical entry in the DCU.
For those entrenched within the comic book movie genre, especially of the recent era, Blue Beetle evokes the small-scale personal stakes of the first Ant-Man, mixed with the coming-of-age charm of MCU’s Spider-Man films and the original Shazam! movie. It’s a film that’s refreshingly self-contained, and with the exception of its mid-credits sequence, doesn’t reek of the typical storytelling missteps that many entries in cinematic universes fall into that often prioritizes setting the table up for sequels.
As for the film’s charm, much of that is thanks to the film’s titular lead played by Xolo Maridueña. The Cobra Kai actor takes full advantage of this moment and soars with flying colors. As Jaime Reyes, Maridueña is charismatic and effortlessly likable. Right off the bat, you feel for the plight that he and his family are going through, given that financial troubles are plaguing them. Because their personal stakes are easy to relate to, it’s hard not wanting to see them succeed, especially given how authentic they feel in their reflection of their Mexican culture.
As for Jaime Reyes’ family, audiences are immediately attached to them thanks to their loving and supportive nature. Jaime’s mother and father are portrayed by Damián Alcázar and Elpidia Carrillo respectively, while his sister Milagro is portrayed by Belissa Escobedo, his grandmother is portrayed by Adriana Barraza, and his scene-stealing Uncle Rudy is portrayed by George Lopez. The family dynamic brings an equal amount of laughs and heart, especially as the film’s third act kicks in.
In regards to the film’s superhero elements, its highlights include some action sequences that according to director Angel Manuel Soto, are often inspired by the fight choreography as seen in the Injustice video game series, which leads to perhaps the biggest visual highlight of the film: the Blue Beetle suit itself. In recent years, superhero suits akin to Iron Man have done away with practicality and embraced the nanotech CGI approach – which has grown extremely tired and in some cases, visually unappealing. Here, the filmmakers opted to give Jaime Reyes a practical suit to wear on set, and the finished product does wonders. It helps that Xolo Maridueña brings such a brilliant physicality to the suit – so much so that even when masked up, one can immediately sense his presence. In relation to the Blue Beetle suit, perhaps the most visually inventive aspect of it is in how Jaime Reyes transforms. We get glimpses of it in the trailers, but the transformation process in the film is so memorable thanks to its use of body horror and Xolo Maridueña’s committed performance.
Blue Beetle is at its height when it focuses on Jaime Reyes and his family, but where it falls short is in regards to how it explores the antagonistic dynamic. Raoul Max Trujillo portrays Conrad Carapax/The Indestructible Man, and the character feels mostly disposable until the third act climax where much of his background is revealed via exposition dump. While what was revealed seems interesting at face value, in overall execution, it comes off as a bit sloppy. But perhaps the film’s biggest weakness is in Victoria Kord, portrayed by Susan Sarandon. Sarandon gives such a puzzling performance that lacks passion, and it’s further bogged down due to her use of monotonous exposition, much of which is due to her character’s ties to the history of Blue Beetle – particularly that of her brother Ted Kord.
Exposition dumps are more common than one would want in Blue Beetle. It’s understandable why it’s in the film, given that it’s introducing audiences to the history of the superhero before the Scarab took on Jaime Reyes as its new host, but this screenwriting shortcoming often gives short shrift to both Victoria Kord and The Indestructible Man. The main saving grace in the antagonists’ storyline is their ties to Jenny Kord, portrayed by the wonderful Bruna Marquezine. Jenny Kord’s conflicts with her aunt Victoria and her troubled past connected to her father Ted Kord are perhaps the only source of any narrative tension that justifies their involvement in the story.
Despite its use of some sloppy exposition and uninteresting antagonists, Blue Beetle succeeds the most at where it needs to: in introducing Jaime Reyes as his own superhero. Ultimately, Xolo Maridueña is the biggest reason why audiences should come in droves to see this film, and when paired with the authentic Mexican family dynamic, adds to what helps elevate this movie from standard superhero fare to something more substantial. It’s a sweet and sincere film that will hopefully signify a more optimistic path for the future of the DCU, which will hopefully have Jaime Reyes as a major presence.