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It has been a complex time for DC on the big screen. In the face of James Gunn’s newly named DCU, the existing DC Extended Universe is currently seeing out its time on the big screen. And things have been far from easy. Starting earlier this year with the unfair critical mauling of the well intentioned and fun (if inferior) sequel Shazam! Fury of The Gods and arguably one of the most turbulent film productions and promotions of recent times in the very enjoyable The Flash, which went on to become a monumental box office bomb. These last days of the DCEU are proving very rough, so perhaps what is needed is a colourful blast of good old fashioned hope in their latest offering (which is set to have ties to the new universe to come) Blue Beetle.
Director Ángel Manuel Soto’s superhero origin tale brings Jaime Reyes (Cobra Kai star Xolo Maridueña) to the big screen, in a story that sees the young man return home from higher education, to find his family are in a tough financial spot. Determined to help, he takes any jobs he can, which takes him to Kord Industries, overseen by its ruthless CEO Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), whereby he is unexpectedly exposed to an ancient alien artefact known as the scarab, which seemingly chooses him to become the Blue Beetle. But Jaime will soon realise that with this power, comes a great many dangers, not only to him but to his beloved family.
Blue Beetle is a really fun superhero origin tale that gets back to basics in many respects. Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer’s screenplay escapes some very over-familiar structural elements by staying true to its very genuine and refreshing heart, and the pride in its Latino-American heritage and passionate representation of it. This is a film that is powered not by its visual pyrotechnics, although they are fantastic and of an impressive calibre, but by the very real underlying humanity and love on display.
The characters are a joy, especially the central family at its core, all of whom have fully realised arcs and stories, and parts to play in the overall fabric of the story. From Belissa Escobedo’s feistily funny sister Milagro Reyes, to Adriana Barraza’s show-stealingly badass Nana and the heartfelt performances of Damián Alcázar and Elpidia Carrillo as mum and dad Alberto and Rocio Reyes, the latter of whom is particularly important to the story.
As well as George Lopez’s outspoken and zany uncle Rudy and Bruna Marquezine as Jaime’s love interest with a twist Jenny! While there is adopted family of sort in Becky G, as the voice of Khaji-Da, a sentient being that powers the scarab. Like our loving and likeable central character Jaime, a part that Maridueña relishes in every moment, and gives his all too, this family unit is so strong, so caring and so powerful. It is really an ensemble that powers the film and adds that extra layer to it.
Sarandon does her part in playing an evil corporate baddie but I especially appreciated the attempt at adding tragedy and pathos to one of the other villains of the piece in the merciless Ignacio Carapax (played with grit by Raoul Max Trujillo), and in the process, this really spices up the final act clash and the character, who already was quite a cool kitted out villain.
Blue Beetle may have familiarity in its DNA, feeling like Iron Man meets Shang-Chi at times, with the “becoming a hero” vibes of Shazam at others, but is still a funny, occasionally poignant and enjoyable blockbuster with some great vibrant imagery and special effects assisting its spectacle, a cool new hero of endless possibility and his family assisting its emotional connection, and an overall energetic world it would be great to return to. As well as a rather surprising soundtrack.
A film that certainly deserves more love than it is getting. True it may not re-invent the formula but a heart as big and genuine as this counts for a lot. Hopefully this beetle will fly back to the big screen down the line.