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Blue Beetle (Film Review)

3 min read

Warner Bros.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.

comes saddled with an inordinate amount of pressure; it's the first solo film for a Latino superhero with representation both in front of and behind the camera and it's ushering out the old guard while soft-launching James Gunn's new DCU, as well as just generally restoring faith in comic book movies. But with superhero fatigue at an all-time high and DC in particular, kicked to the curb, that's no small feat. It's a lot but, rest assured, director Angel Manuel Soto and star Xolo Maridueña rise to the challenge and then some.

Jaime Reyes (Maridueña) returns from college only to find out that gentrification is forcing his family out of their home. When Jaime botches a job at Kord Industries – the big wigs ruling Palmera City, run by megalomaniac Victoria (Susan Sarandon) – he ends up in possession of the Scarab. This beetle-shaped artefact picks Jaime as his host in an unsettling ‘suit-up' scene that uses some brilliant body horror, and gives him the powers of flight, invincibility, and more. Victoria sets out after Jaime and his family to retrieve the Scarab so they must work together to stop her. 

It may be well-trodden material — most evident in the thinly-sketched and perfunctory villain Victoria and her cybernetic henchman Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo) — but Blue Beetle thrives due to its heart and humour. Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer's script is refreshingly small-scaled and personable, a nice change of pace from the multiversal, world-ending stakes of late. It allows for a real focus on character and the familial dynamic with the Reyes family very much a part of ‘team Blue Beetle' in the fight against Kord. Despite having comedic sidekick sensibilities, they provide the film's emotional core thanks to a deft handling of arcs and the commitment of the film's cast. George Lopez as conspiracy theorist Uncle Rudy is a particular highlight, as is Jaime's moving relationship with his dad (Damián Alcázar).

Of course, the standout is Maridueña who brings a gleeful, boyish charm to Jaime with such ease that you'd be mistaken for thinking he's a seasoned blockbuster star by this point — though fans of Cobra Kai will no doubt already be clued up on his acting abilities. There are shades of the Spider-Man franchise and The Flash in how Reyes navigates the newfound responsibility of being a superhero but Soto's darker tone in the latter stages of the film provides Maridueña with a lot of emotional and moral heft to sink his teeth into. He's even excellent with the , which is mostly taut, hand-to-hand combat that feels like an Injustice game come to life. Regardless of Blue Beetle's commercial outcome, it would be a disservice not to see Maridueña return in some form or another in the DCU.

While it may follow a boilerplate origin story template, once Blue Beetle gets all of its superhero-isms out of the way (the first flight; getting to know the suit's abilities; testing his strength and powers etc…), there's a lot to like about Soto's spirited take. There's some excellent sociopolitical commentary on gentrification and Latinx culture seamlessly woven into the more comic-book-y action and the story's intimacy is a breath of fresh air. Its visual palette indicates this may once have been destined for a streamer-only release but the CGI is mostly faultless, especially compared to bigger fare like The Flash and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. There's a real underdog feel to Blue Beetle that you can't help but root for and perhaps it's a sign that DC can still return to its former glory after being obsolete for so long. Even though it's a tried-and-tested recipe, if it's seasoned this well, and with this much care, then it's an absolute win.

Blue Beetle releases in UK cinemas on August 18th