REVIEW: Blue Beetle (2023, dir. Angel Manuel Soto)

Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 127 mins

UK Distributor: Warner Bros Pictures

WHO’S IN BLUE BEETLE?

Xolo Maridueña, Adriana Barraza, Damián Alcázar, Raoul Max Trujillo, Susan Sarandon, George Lopez, Elpidia Carrillo, Belissa Escobedo, Bruna Marquezine, Harvey Guillén, Becky G

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Angel Manuel Soto (director), Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer (writer), Zev Foreman and John Rickard (producers), Bobby Krlic (composer), Pawel Pogorzelski (cinematographer), Craig Alpert (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A young man (Maridueña) fuses with an alien scarab and becomes a superhero…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON BLUE BEETLE?

You’d be forgiven for not having the highest of hopes for Blue Beetle. Beyond the fact that it’s about a much lesser-known superhero next to Superman, Batman et al, the character could not be making his big-screen debut at a more complicated time (to say the least) for DC. Not only is the entire cinematic universe about to hit the reset button under the watch of James Gunn and Peter Safran, but after the middling sequel Shazam! Fury of the Gods and the astoundingly awful The Flash (not to mention the controversial cancelling of Batgirl’s release, as well as the lack of hype surrounding the upcoming Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom), few seem willing to give what remains of the current DC Universe even the slightest benefit of the doubt.

Recently, Gunn has attempted to salvage the character’s feature-length introduction by declaring him the first proper character in the DC Universe going forward, and if you indeed look at Blue Beetle as the blueprint (no pun intended) for what both he and Safran have in mind from hereon out, then that was a pretty smart move on Gunn’s part, because this is a fun and good-hearted movie that follows its own path without needing to set up multiple other movies all at once.

The film introduces us to Jaime [pronounced “high-may”] Reyes (Xolo Maridueña), a recent college graduate who returns to his family home in Palmera City, where he struggles to find work to help support his family, including his parents Alberto (Damián Alcázar) and Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo), his younger sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo), his Nana (Adriana Barraza), and his uncle Rudy (George Lopez). Whilst seeking a job at tech company Kord Industries, he is suddenly entrusted with protecting an alien Scarab after it is stolen by Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), the niece of ruthless CEO Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon). However, the Scarab soon fuses with Jaime, giving him an exoskeleton suit of armour that can help him fly and fight, which soon puts him and his family in the devious crosshairs of Victoria and her ruthless henchman Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo).

Yes, it’s another superhero origin story that follows many of the regular beats – young and impressionable hero, several montages of him discovering his powers, the evil business CEO who wants the technology for themselves, and the villain with similar powers as the hero – but Blue Beetle still feels fresh in that its focus isn’t so much on the hero himself, but more so on the family that surrounds him and always has his back. We spend a lot of time with each family member before young Jaime even comes into contact with the Scarab, and in that time we get more than enough of a feel for their individual personalities and how they unconditionally love one another as well as the lives that they lead, whether it’s what they had in mind or not. They feel like a real family unit as a result, one that’s a lot of fun to be around and have some legitimately funny back-and-forths with each other that solidify their incredibly likeability, to where it is genuinely sad when they come under threat or even when something truly terrible does end up happening to them.

However, Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer’s heartfelt script still remembers to not let the family completely overshadow the main hero, and in Xolo Maridueña – previously best known for a lead role in Cobra Kai – director Angel Manuel Soto has found a lead actor with effortless charm and an engaging screen presence to give his Blue Beetle a boyish charisma that has been sorely missing from the vast majority of DC’s recent on-screen heroes. While it may be true that his Jaime Reyes is, on paper, perhaps not as interesting of a character as any one of his family members, or even the baddies who go above and beyond to display their evilness (especially Susan Sarandon, who’s having fun going full boo-hiss as the main villain), Maridueña still makes him an endearing person to root for as he goes through the standard tribulations of a young superhero, including one heart-breaking development that seems to be a Canon Event for most if not all superheroes ever, with a relatable edge that also gives him the feel of someone who could exist in the real world.

As for the rest of the typical superhero stuff, Blue Beetle doesn’t reinvent the narrative wheel by any stretch, but does at least make it enjoyable enough to watch. The fact that it’s a predominantly Latinx cast and crew working on this film does give it a cultural significance that is vital for mainstream representation going forward, and it’s great to see the culture be respected and embraced all throughout. Beyond that, the film incorporates some bright cinematography by Pawel Pogorzelski that accentuates a lot of the neon colours to mostly pleasing and, indeed, colourful effect, and decent CGI which doesn’t look completely seamless but for the most part serves the visuals well. They especially come in handy when it momentarily goes into body horror mode during a sequences where Jaime fuses with the Scarab for the first time, as well as a climactic scene that, without giving anything away, recalls some of the giant insect movies of the 1950s. Whilst we’re on the topic of visual effects, I’d just like to briefly point out that this much smaller and more self-contained DC movie has far, far better visual effects than The Flash, a movie that cost at least $100 million more to make and still had CGI that, to this day, still haunts my nightmares with how eerily underdeveloped they felt (those babies, man, those babies…).

It’s safe to say that Blue Beetle is undoubtedly DC’s best film so far this year, and indeed the strongest movie within this particular universe since Gunn’s The Suicide Squad (and before you ask, The Batman doesn’t count, as it takes place outside both the old and new DC movie canons). Whether or not the character does indeed continue to make appearances in DC movies and shows going forward is yet to be seen, but even if this is the one and only time we get to see this superhero in action, it is a very pleasing dive into a familiar formula that hopefully promises more heartfelt stories to come under Gunn and Safran’s new leadership.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Blue Beetle is a very enjoyable big-screen introduction to DC’s lesser-known hero, which firmly focuses on the heartfelt family dynamic as much as its charming title character, and incorporates some pleasant visuals and a vital Latinx representation that gives it a plentiful and entertaining new flavour.

Blue Beetle is now showing in cinemas nationwide

Click here to find showtimes near you!

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