After dominating pop culture for nearly two decades, superheroes seem to be at a turning point. The genre is by no means dead. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is the living proof. Between Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and The Flash, though, audiences are becoming more selective with which superheroes they give the time of day. Blue Beetle is another DC film that some might be inclined to sleep on, especially since James Gunn will be hitting the reboot switch after Aquaman: The Sequel later in December. Those who do seek out Blue Beetle will likely be pleasantly surprised, however.
In terms of writing, Blue Beetle by no means revolutionizes superhero movies. The film is your standard “kid gets super suit” story. The cast and director Ángel Manuel Soto bring a fair deal of charm to the formula, however. Blue Beetle is being promoted as the first live-action superhero movie with a Latino lead. The live-action part should be stressed with Miles Morales being part Latino, but it’s still a milestone worth celebrating. However, diverse casting is just one step. The execution is what will leave a lasting impact. Blue Beetle authentically captures the Latino experience, delivering a hero that the community deserves.
Xolo Maridueña of Cobra Kai is Jaime Reyes, a recent college graduate who finds that four years away hasn’t prepared him for the film’s true villain: capitalism. His family is about to lose their house and, despite having a degree, the best job he can find is scrubbing gum off the bottoms of tables. Susan Sarandon plays his ice queen employer Victoria Kord, who doesn’t pay attention to Jaime until she finds a reason to fire him. Her niece Jenny (Bruna Marquezine) offers to get him another job, but Jaime doesn’t realize what he’s signing up for. Doing a favor for Jenny, Jaime is accidentally fused with an alien scarab that basically turns him into a blue Iron Man.
That’s just one of many superhero movies that Blue Beetle calls to mind. What sets this film apart is an effective story of family. That might sound trite. Vin Diesel has said “family” so many times that it’s practically lost meaning. Shazam! Fury of the Gods even made fun of this. It’s hard not to love the Reyes family, however. Rocio Reyes is a warm maternal figure, Belissa Escobedo gets the best lines as Jaime’s sister, and Adriana Barraza’s badass Nana almost feels like somebody out of a Robert Rodriguez picture. Come to think of it, the film’s mix of family and action is almost reminiscent of Spy Kids, but with more of a teen edge. The Robert Rodriguez references keep coming with George Lopez going from Sharkboy and Lavagirl to playing Jaime’s uncle.
As colorful as the action and family banter are, Blue Beetle isn’t without its moments of grounded realism. There’s a scene where Jaimie’s house is raided that feels eerily real. It’s intense enough to be in a Kathryn Bigelow crime thriller, but the shift in tone doesn’t feel out of place. Far too many people can identify with the sudden jolt of hanging out with your family one second and looking down the barrel of a gun the next. The rest of the movie never quite reaches the same level of gravitas, instead opting for safe comedy. This, coupled with a straightforward villain and predictable plot, prevents Blue Beetle from being one of the greats. Nevertheless, this is a film that should leave an impression. Many will walk out feeling seen. Others will walk out feeling satisfied.