BLUE BEETLE Review: The Family That Superheroes Together Stays Together

Lead Critic; San Francisco, California
BLUE BEETLE Review: The Family That Superheroes Together Stays Together

It’s taken the better part of two decades for DC’s Blue Beetle, aka Jaime Reyes, to make the belated jump from the comic-book pages to big-screen multiplexes.

Created in 2006 by Keith Giffen, John Rogers, and Cully Hamner, Reyes became the first Latino character to headline his own, albeit short-lived, comic-book series.

The third DC character to adopt the “Blue Beetle” name, Reyes’s origin story diverged significantly from his under-powered predecessors, melding familiar comic-book tropes (alien artifacts, superpowers, a personality-driven AI) with a firmly etched supporting cast of characters. That the characters were Reyes’s extended family and not just a random assortment of friends, acquaintances, and occasional hangers-on added a new, fresh element to comic books at the time.

Working from a surprisingly layered screenplay written by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer (Miss Bala), director Ángel Manuel Soto (Charm City Kings) keeps Jaime Reyes’s (Xolo Maridueña) family front and center through the film. Beginning, but not ending, with Reyes’s Mexican-born, immigrant parents, Alberto (Damián Alcázar) and Rocio Reyes (Elpidia Carrillo), and continuing through his strong-willed, sharp-tongued younger sister, Milagro (Belissa Escobedo), and his slacker uncle, Rudy (George Lopez), and grandmother, Nana (Adriana Barraza), the titular character is all but primed to take on the world of supervillains and super-creeps.

The supervillain in Blue Beetle, however, doesn’t wear a cape-and-cowl. She doesn’t even wear spandex. In fact, said supervillain, Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), prefers mono-colored business suits to suits of armor. 

As CEO of Kord Industries, however, Victoria uses the company’s vast resources to shape, define, and otherwise influence the economic, political, and social life in and around the fictional Palmeras City. As a real-estate developer, Kord uses her power to displace and gentrify the poorer members of the city’s outskirts, including the Reyes family.

The senior Reyes has lost his auto-body business, while the entire Reyes faces eviction if and when Kord gets around to using the local brought-and-paid-for constabulary to remove what and who she considers redundant and/or useless to her needs and aims.

Bringing in a long-circulating idea from the comics, Kord also uses her corporation's resources, pre-transformation Tony Stark-style, to develop tech-driven military weaponry. Her dream project, OMAC (One Man Army Corps), involves leveraging the awesome powers of a particular bit of alien tech, the Blue Scarab, into battlefield advances and advantages that will presumably keep the U.S. of A. along with any other Western or non-Western power among the world’s military leaders. To their credit, Soto and Dunnet-Alcocer present the OMAC project not as a fanciful fantasy meant for teen boys and girls, but as reflective of the real (our) world, if not now, then sometime in the near, not-so-distant future.

The fresh-faced Jaime we meet in Blue Beetle hasn’t given much, if any, thought to the rapacious, never-satisfied greed of capitalistic corporations, instead choosing, like the children of so many immigrants before and after him, on himself, on achieving some small portion of the so-called American Dream. Literally buying into that American Dream, however, has left Jaime and his family with substantial debt and few job prospects. Reflecting yet another part of the immigrant experience, Jaime and his family remain ever hopeful, looking at the future with expectation, not trepidation.

Eventually, though, Soto and Dunnet-Alcocer remember they’re telling a comic-book superhero story after all. Through a series of slightly unpersuasive events, Jaime finds himself symbiotically attached to the Blue Scarab, conversing with the scarab’s resident AI, Khaji-Da (Becky G), and somewhat painfully learning the ins and outs of his new superpowers. As Victoria claims ownership of the Blue Scarab and thus, Jaime’s new superpowers, her niece, Jennifer “Jenny” Kord (Bruna Marquezine), emerges as her younger, mirror image, the “good” billionaire/heir to Victoria’s bitter, grasping billionaire-aunt.

For all the family (melo) drama — and humor — Blue Beetle doesn’t suffer from a shortage of superhero action. Far from it. Once Jaime and the Blue Scarab get together symbiotic-like, events dictate that the Blue Beetle will have to stand (or fly) and fight, mainly with Victoria’s faceless henchmen, but occasionally with Victoria’s right-hand henchman, Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo). A monosyllabic war veteran, Carapax has taken his devotion to Victoria and the OMAC  project to the borderline terrifying conclusion: He’s become more machine than man, willing to sacrifice morals, ethics, and his own free will in service of Victoria.

In a sign of good superhero writing to come, there’s more to Carapax than meets the eye. Just as Victoria represents practically everything bad or negative about sociopathic corporations and their unfettered CEOs, Carapax represents the figurative and literal victim of American foreign policy and imperialism from the mid-20th century to the present.

It’s incredibly rare for a superhero film to take a dig, however tangential and potentially confusing to less informed audience members it might be, at the United States’s policy toward Latin America. That alone makes Blue Beetle stand out among its genre peers.

Ultimately, Blue Beetle leaves little doubt as to why Warner Bros.’s executives in their often finite wisdom decided to give it a theatrical release and not stream Blue Beetle on (HBO) Max as initially intended. With its mix of family-oriented comedy-drama, familiar, if tweaked, superhero tropes, and spectacle-driven action, Blue Beetle deserves to be seen widely and often.

Blue Beetle opens Friday, August 18, 2023, only in movie theaters, via Warner Bros.

Blue Beetle

  • Angel Manuel Soto
  • Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer
  • Bruna Marquezine
  • Xolo Maridueña
  • Susan Sarandon
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Ángel Manuel SotoBlue BeetleBruna MarquezineGareth Dunnet-AlcocerSusan SarandonXolo MaridueñaAngel Manuel SotoActionAdventureSci-Fi

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