Movie Review: Blue Beetle
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Studio: Warner Brothers
Starring: Xolo Mariduena, Bruna Marquezine, George Lopez, Belissa Escobedo, Raoul Trujillo, Susan Sarandon, Damian Alcazar, Adriana Barraza, Elpidia Carillo
Director: Angel Manuel Soto
Reviewed by: Matthew B. Lloyd
A mysterious scarab of alien origin bonds with new college graduate, Jaime Reyes giving him powers and abilities he has to learn to control. With his family behind him, he learns about the Blue Beetle legacy and that of the scarab and the history of Kord industries and a sinister plot to take over the world.
Like so many things that are good, Blue Beetle is a lot of fun and has a lot of heart. And, the heart leads to the fun. That heart can be found in the cast as well as the story that relies on the idea family. The movie gives us two families, the Reyes family and the Kord family, and they couldn’t be more different. However, it’s the intersecting of these two families which brings about Jaime’s turn into the Blue Beetle.
The cast brings these families to life, and there isn’t really a weak performance in the lot. Xolo Mariduena turns in a great job as the lead and it’s easy to imagine him in future appearances as Jaime Reyes. He brings energy, believability and the right amount of self doubt. The rest of the cast is equally good. Mariduena has a real chemistry with Bruna Marquezine who plays Jenny Kord. George Lopez’s Rudy is the humorous outlet, but he also has a genuine emotional connection with his nephew Jaime. Susan Sarandon, while a well known experienced actress for nearly five decades fills the villain role of Victoria Kord effortlessly.
While Jaime’s family rallies around him, Jenny’s aunt, Victoria has no redeeming qualities and is literally out to get Jenny, pushing her closer to the Reyes family. This contrast is subtle, but a well executed use of the family theme. The importance of the family shakes out differently than in most superhero fare, Jaime’s family knows his secret and it becomes essential to Jaime’s character.
The presence of the Kord family in this movie is more than just an Easter Egg for comic book fans. Ted Kord is the second person to use the Blue Beetle moniker in the comics, (although there are arguable two separate Dan Garrett characters, making Ted the third!) and his shadow looms large throughout Blue Beetle. Victoria is Ted’s sister and Jenny is his daughter, and we learn that Ted is missing. The filmmakers do a great job of incorporating the Blue Beetle legacy into the story and Jaime’s turn as the hero. It would have been possible to make a Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle film and ignore the history of the character, but making it integral to the story goes a long way for comic fans. The appearance and use of Ted’s Bug ship is absolutely fantastic, as well. Well done!
I’ve never been one to get hung up on CGI to the point that it’s going to ruin a good story and character if not done well. There isn’t a moment in this film that seemed the least bit wonky. This summer’s The Flash (even if it was purposeful) had lot more questionable CGI oddities. Additionally, using a practical suit for Meriduena works really well. He has a real presence in scenes that just feels better than a full CGI character. He’s able to interact more believably with other characters especially in the action scenes.
There are some real stakes in this film as Jaime’s family is imperiled and not all of them survive. There is some nuance to Victoria Kord’s muscle, Carapax, and you won’t believe what Nana was doing in her teenage years! Additionally, there is a throwback feel to some of the film that in-story seems to stem from Ted Kord’s turn as the Blue Beetle. The music by Bobby Krlic gives a Stranger Things vibe and at the same time the script leans even harder into the family theme in the thrid act. Jaime’s family (and Jenny) exhibit the same kind of camaraderie and commitment to each other that we’ve come to expect from Will, Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Eleven.
There is a great deal of world building in this film that is tied to Jaime’s family, their personal stories as well as Jenny Kord and her father’s heroic legacy. La Palmera City feels unique, as well. While Blue Beetle ostensibly takes place within the DC Universe, the film is far enough removed from what we already know about that world that it feels like its own place. One of the reasons it works is that Blue Beetle is not an original DC character. He has a long comic book tradition going back to the Golden Age with his debut in Mystery Men Comics #1, August 1939. DC bought the character from Charlton Comics in the mid-1980’s. It makes sense that he has his own world, and it’s not hard to imagine the other Charlton Action Heroes popping up along side Jaime- take that Watchmen!
It would be easy to start rattling off inconsistencies with the comic book, and the most glaring is the absence of Jaime’s friends Paco and Brenda. This may bother some fans, but the connection to the Blue Beetle legacy feels like a more important comic book aspect to get right. Along the same lines, when Jaime is first introduced in the comics, he lives in El Paso, TX. The movie gives us a fictional city, La Palmera City. It’s first appearance in the comics is Blue Beetle: Graduation Day #2, and it seems to come from the movie. DC has a long tradition of fictional cities, but La Palmera City, while supposedly in Texas feels like Miami, and seems to inform the feeling of Hispanic influence on the city.
I’ve spent time in both Miami and El Paso, and the feeling of the cultures is very different. Jaime’s family is identified as Mexican and some of the slang used in the film is recognizable as such. Yet, the city itself looks and feel like Miami which creates a bit of an inconsistency in the representation in the film. You know it’s supposed to be Texas and a Mexican immigrant family, but it looks and feels more like Miami and Cuban culture.
Some will say there are derivative elements to Blue Beetle, but comics have been doing that for years. The uniqueness in Jaime’s story comes from his heritage, family and the legacy of the Blue Beetle which he will hopefully get to investigate in another outing. Furthermore, this film gets these familiar elements right and makes them fun and enjoyable. The tease in the early credits scene is expected, but still exciting.
Even if you feel like you’ve seen some of this before, Blue Beetle is a fun film that is done well. Blue Beetle has something unique to offer in its use of the family theme which gives it a lot of heart. It’s a significant step up from recent DC movies and genuinely comes across as the start of something new and exciting.