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BLUE BEETLE (2023) review

August 22, 2023


written by: Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer
produced by: John Rickard and Zev Foreman
directed by: Ángel Manuel Soto
rated: PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence, language, and some suggestive references)
runtime: 127 min.
U.S. release date: August 18, 2023


If it wasn’t for all these other superhero movies, “Blue Beetle” would be a safe bet in adding something different to a genre that’s gotten quite crowded in recent years. Since only die-hard DC comics fans of a certain age actually know what the Blue Beetle character is (not who, mind you, since their have been more than a couple characters who’ve donned the title), there’s a lot of freedom in bringing him to the big-screen. Most moviegoers won’t even realize that this is a DC property. That can be a good thing and it also could hinder audience draw. After all, when it comes to putting butts in seats, viewers run to what they know.

Still, the marketing has done its best to promote the movie and it could be a draw for those out there interested in taking a chance on a character that no one has seen in live-action before.

While the character of Blue Beetle has been around since 1939, traveling from Charlton Comics to DC Comics, inventor Ted Kord was the one who brought the most popularity to the title of Blue Beetle character, when he became the hero during and after the classic Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover storyline back in 1985-1986. Although as Blue Beetle, Kord was a B-level character and a member of the Justice League, he was still fun to follow and would often team-up with another lesser-known character, Booster Gold, with the two becoming BFFs.

Then in 2006, after another Infinite Crisis (there’s always more than one) crossover, Mexican-American teenager Jaime Reyes of El Paso, Texas, finds himself unexpectedly bonded by a sentient battle armor suit, which transformed from the mystical Egyptian scarab (it’s blue and shaped like a beetle!) used by Kord and the Blue Beetle before him. When this iteration (still the current iteration in comics) debuted, it became a fun and fresh take on the Blue Beetle mythos for a new generation. So, it makes sense that Warner Bros/DC decided to use this version of the character for his first trip to live-action.



When we meet Jamie Reyes (Xolo Maridueña), he has returned to his family in fictional Palmera City (think Miami) after graduating from Gotham Law University, the first in his family to ever get that far in education. He is embraced by all – save for his contentious younger sister, Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) – Jaime soon learns that things for his family. The auto body shop his father, Alberto (Damián Alcázar), ran has closed down and Jaime learns that his father has health issues as well. In addition, the home they’ve shared with his mother (Elpidia Carrillo) and his Nana (Adriana Barraza) is now being threatened by Kord Industries. Jaime vows to land a job that will help them all out of the dire straits they are in, but he’s not finding anything.

While working with his sister as part of the cleaning crew at the seaside mansion of Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), Jaime meets her niece, Jenny (Bruna Marquezine), who’s cautious around her aunt after her father, Ted, has gone mysteriously missing. Jenny responds to Jamie’s kindness, by asking him to “come by the office” with a hint that she may have a job for him there. Why he’d want to explore any opportunities at the company that is threatening to level his family home is a mystery. Maybe it’s just because Jenny is easy on the eyes and actually acknowledges Jaime, instead of looking past him.

When Jaime visits her workplace in downtown Palmera City, he finds Jenny exiting the building and discretely handing him a fast food container, asking him to take it and not to open it, but most of all to keep it safe. That’s strange. Stranger still is what he finds inside when he inevitably opens it back home in front of his family – including his eccentric inventor uncle, Rudy (George Lopez, chewing through just about every scene he’s in) – to find a metallic blue Scarab. To the surprise of everyone, the
device automatically comes to life when in contact with Jaime and fuses itself to his body (and spine, in a scene that pushed the boundaries of the movie’s rating), giving Jaime an armored exoskeleton that offers him protection and superhuman abilities, as well as an interactive AI sentient program that goes by Khaji-Da (voiced by Becky G).

The armored exoskeleton is something that Victoria Kord was aware of and it’s why she wanted possession of the Scarab with the goal of creating an army for her OMAC (One Man Army Corp) project. It’s unclear how she became aware of the alien artifact (maybe from her brother, Ted?), but the movie established her knowledge of it in a prologue that finds her checking in on a Kord research team in Antarctica, where the Scarab is covered by a seemingly impenetrable dome. Right away, it’s clear Sarandon is out-of-place here and woefully miscast. Of course, the Oscar-winner is a great actor, but not only does screenwriter Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer give her predictable “villain” dialogue, but her role here is so one-dimensional it almost seems like Sarandon knows it and is only showing up for one reason. It becomes glaringly obvious she was the wrong choice for the role.



There is an attempt to go a little bit deeper with the antagonists with Soto and Dunnet-Alcocer, giving Kord a bodyguard named Ignacio Carapax (Raoul Trujillo), a Guatemalan lieutenant who has endured experiments which left him as half OMAC. At first, this character seems like the kind of stereotypical strong and silent loyal brute we’ve seen before, one that will eventually see the cruelty of his boss within the running time of the movie. But, in the story’s third act, something that was hinted at flourishes and we’re given a backstory that’s designed to humanize Carapax. Unfortunately, such a revelation feels too little too late and overall quite predictable. Ultimately, the character just feels like another big brute in an armored suit for out armored protagonist to lock horns with.

Despite the weak antagonists, the real conflict of “Blue Beetle” is quite similar to other teen-turned-superhero stories: concern for family and friends close to the teen protagonist. Jaime is a good kid who shows genuine concern for the well-being of his family. It’s refreshing to see such a proud and close-knit family unit, since most of the time the teen we follow has to deal with just the opposite. Sure, the theme of “family” has been used ad nauseum over the years in franchise films, but this is probably the most relatable representation of a functional family.

How Kord Industries is impacted the Latin communities of Palmera City is also another relatable conflict in “Blue Beetle”. Large corporations forcibly moving in the name of “progress” certainly touches on themes of gentrification and imperialism, which are interwoven throughout the feature. Jaime has much on his mind even before the Scarab latches onto him, concerned with his family’s well-being and figuring out what part he can play in helping them. Of course, Jaime’s pulled into something totally unpredictable and, similar to the two “Shazam” movies, so is his family. Rudy and Nana in particular get their hands dirty helping Jaime as he tries to navigate his new armor, supplying the film with some comic relief that feels a bit like overkill at times.

In all the requisite noise and CGI that came with the fights and montages of Jaime getting acclimated to his new blue suit, the standout in “Blue Beetle” is no doubt Xolo Maridueña. The actor has a natural presence and certain charm that stands out amid the cacophonous action, yet the movie as a whole is somewhat hindered by formulaic familiarity, despite a solid cast, good protagonists, and some fun laughs. It says something about the state of these superhero movies that “Blue Beetle” is the best of the bunch (so far) this year. Plus, if it can get viewers to start reading comic stories of a second-tier character, all the better.








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