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Blue Beetle Review

August 18, 2023 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Blue Beetle Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics
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Blue Beetle Review  

Directed By: Ángel Manuel Soto
Written By: Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer; Based on characters from DC Comics
Runtime: 127 minutes
MPA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, language, and some suggestive references.

Xolo Maridueña – Jaime Reyes/Blue Beetle
Raoul Max Trujillo – Carapax
Susan Sarandon – Victoria Kord
Bruna Marquezine – Jenny Kord
George Lopez – Uncle Rudy
Belissa Escobedo – Milagro Reyes
Adriana Barraza – Nana Reyes
Damían Alcázar – Alberto Reyes
Elpidia Carrillo – Mrs. Reyes
Harvey Guillén – Dr. Sanchez
Becky G – Khaji Da

For all of the problems Warner Bros. Discovery and DC Studios have been experiencing lately, Blue Beetle still managed to make it into theaters, and it’s one of the summer’s bigger surprises. In telling a simple superhero origin story and hero’s journey, filmmaker Ángel Manuel Soto has managed to create one of the better DC superhero films in recent memory.

Based on the DC comic book character, Jaime Reyes (Maridueña) a young man who returns home, fresh out of college, to his hometown in the Edge Keys of Palmera City. Unfortunately, while Jaime graduated from college with a pre-law degree, he has little to show for it except student loan debt, and his family is months away from losing their home. Feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders, Jaime thinks he’s found a foot in the door at Kord Industries, thanks to a fated meeting with one of the company’s young board members, Jenny Kord (Marquezine). Kord Industries is one of the world’s leading industrial corporations, which also deals in weapons. Jaime had previously attempted to help out Jenny when she was in the midst of an argument with her nefarious aunt, Victoria Kord (Sarandon), who is planning a high-tech weapons project. Jenny’s father, Ted Kord, attempted to steer the company away from weapons and arms dealing before he mysteriously vanished.

In an attempt to perfect her new weapons project, Victoria is utilizing a mysterious, powerful alien piece of biotechnology called the Scarab. Jenny absconds the Scarab from her aunt, unwittingly bequeathing it to Jaime for safekeeping. Of course, Jaime touches the Scarab, activating it, and the Scarab, Khaji Da, turns out to be a sentient alien being named Khaji Da (Becky G) who has chosen its new host. Jaime merely wants to be separated from the Scarab, and he does not realize that with the Scarab, he can become a force for good and the latest individual to inherit the title of Blue Beetle. Unfortunately, Victoria Kord is willing to do anything to regain possession of the Scarab to power her OMAC weapons project, and that could mean danger for Jaime’s family.

Director Ángel Manuel Soto does a fine job focusing the story on Jaime Reyes and his immediate supporting cast. Blue Beetle isn’t bogged down by servicing many other characters, nor over-extending itself by showcasing tons of other cameos to make sure the audience knows they are in the DC Universe. Instead, Soto showcases that Blue Beetle is set within a larger world and universe. It’s a universe where things like Metropolis, Superman, and Batman exist. These characters are mentioned, but the story is not focused on extended cameos and subplots that overburden the plot. It’s rather refreshing how Blue Beetle embraces comic book world-building without bogging down the experience with references, cameos, and the like.

Soto and writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer keep the plot down to a digestible origin story and hero’s journey for Jaime Reyes. As a result, Jaime Reyes gets a proper big-screen introduction, where the focus stays on his backstory of becoming a hero. Soto embraces the heightened comic book reality that comes through visually well through the setting of Palmera City, which also looks like it jumped right out of a comic book.

Maridueña brings his likable, earnest everyman charm, which is necessary for a character like Jaime Reyes. More than anything, he captures the essence and personality of the character from the comics, which is also refreshing. Maridueña and Soto performed an excellent job of translating the character from the page to the screen. Not to mention, the energy that Maridueña and the other actors portraying the Reyes family bring a unique flavor and energy to the film that imbues Blue Beetle with its own style and identity. While Blue Beetle follows many familiar conventions and tropes of superhero films, it dances to its own style of music.

What underscores Jaime Reyes’ journey is his bond and relationship with his immediate family, represented in the film with his father Alberto (Alcázar); sister Milagro (Escobedo); Uncle Rudy (Lopez); his mother (Carrillo); and Nana (Barraza). The family serves as a grounding and centering presence for Jaime, as they are always willing to look out for and protect one another. The modest, blue-collar Reyes family contrasts with Jenny and Victoria, who do not share very much affection, and Jenny has little family left in her life with her parents out of the picture. Meanwhile, for the Reyes family, their bonds and sticking together mean everything to them.

The film lacks what should have been a stronger antagonist. Susan Sarandon is a talented actress, but she’s not very convincing with her performance as Victoria Kord. She is yet another in a long line of evil, greedy CEO villains in a long history of such villains in comic book superhero movies. It’s easy to see why such individuals are often depicted as the bad guys. Her attempt to come off as a Machiavellian, draconian, and ruthless tycoon falls flat. Trujillo fares better in the role of Carapax, a bitter, grizzled soldier who has given up everything in service to Victoria. Carapax has one of the better through-line character arcs throughout Blue Beetle, and he emerges as a decent adversary for Jaime.

Also, while the film looks impressive for the most part, especially Blue Beetle’s suit design, some of the visual effects do look a bit rough around the edges. Blue Beetle originally began as a Max streaming project, and there do appear to be vestiges of that, at least where some of the visual effects are concerned. Not that all of them look bad. Most of Jaime’s suit visuals, Carapax, and the sequences involving the VTOL craft, The Bug, come across well, but some of the CG shots lack a certain extra layer of polish.

The only main drawback is the film is missing that one big moment where Jaime Reyes finally accepts his role and “becomes” the Blue Beetle, officially inheriting the legacy and mantle of a generational hero. In addition, there could have been more to fulfill that strong setup of Jaime representing his hometown and neighborhood of Palmera City, the Edge Keys. A couple of well-placed narrative exclamation points could have truly put Blue Beetle over the top. Otherwise, it’s a strong first effort. It would be a shame if this was the last outing of Blue Beetle because his adventures and stories show the potential to only get more interesting from here.

The final score: review Good
The 411
DC's Blue Beetle is a strong, surprisingly well-done effort and superhero outing from DC and Warner Bros. Xolo Maridueña does a good job in his portrayal of Jaime Reyes, and Ángel Manuel Soto imbues the film with a cool comic book style that honors the source material and with creating a compelling origin story for Jaime and his family. Soto and writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer execute the plot well by keeping a tight, focused origin story without getting too bogged down with the outside DC Universe, which is still visibly at play. Hopefully, this isn't the last Blue Beetle movie because it turned out much better than expected.