If my memory serves me right, the first time I got to know the existence of the Blue Beetle character was during one of the episodes from Season 10 of ‘Smallville.’ That episode introduced Jaime Reyes, played by Jaren Brandt Bartlett, a teenager who was struggling to get the mechanized scarab removed from his body. The scarab eventually took control of his body and transformed him into a weaponized full-armor suit.
That was more than ten years ago and fast-forward to today, Jaime Reyes/Blue Beetle finally gets his own movie version. Puerto Rican director Angel Manuel Soto, working from a screenplay by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer (‘Miss Bala’), treads familiar ground with a typical superhero-origin story: Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña, best known for his role as Miguel Diaz in Netflix’s ‘Cobra Kai’ series) recently returns home to (fictional) Palmera City after graduating from college and can’t wait to reunite with his family – father Alberto (Damián Alcázar), mother Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo), younger sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo), grandmother Nana (Adriana Barraza), and uncle Rudy (George Lopez).
But despite being the only college graduate in the Reyes family, Jaime’s hope for landing a well-paying job is more of a pipe dream. Instead, he has no choice but to end up working with his sister as part of the cleaning crew for the Kord company. Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), sister of the late founder Ted Kord, who oversees the company, has been working on a military-based project that involves harnessing the power from a blue scarab. If successful, it would allow her to form the next generation of a high-tech superhuman army.
However, Victoria’s plan doesn’t sit well with her niece, Jenny (Bruna Marquezine), who is more interested in shifting her late father’s company direction that helps the people. So, to stop Victoria from succeeding in the project, she decides to sneak into the company’s lab and steals the scarab. She quickly chose to hide it in a fast-food box and hand it over to the unsuspecting Jaime, who happened to be in the lobby at the time he was here for an interview.
“Guard that with your life, but do not open it!” That was Jenny’s specific order to Jaime, but of course, things do not go well as planned when he brings the box back home, and his family urges him to open it to see what’s inside. Next thing you know, the scarab suddenly comes alive when it detects Jaime and melds itself to his spine.
At first, it looks as if the scarab controls him like a puppet, with Khaji-Da (singer-actress Becky G) serving as the voice in Jaime’s mind, granting him various superpowers that he didn’t ask for and even suggested him what to do in certain situations. But the previously reluctant Jaime starts to get the hang of it after learning how to control the scarab attached to his body and embraces his unlikely destiny as the superhero known as Blue Beetle.
The been-there, done-that superhero angle is undeniable. But what separates ‘Blue Beetle’ from the otherwise archetypal zero-to-hero origin story is the distinct Latino representation rarely seen in Hollywood big-budget superhero blockbusters (the movie reportedly cost $120 million to make).
And, more importantly, the close-knit family dynamics that are deeply rooted in its culture. Angel Manuel Soto anchors the story by focusing on the bonding between Jaime and his family. Despite Reyes’ poor background, they value the importance of family, protecting and supporting each other no matter the hardship befallen them.
Jaime may have been the primary focus in the movie, but Angel Manuel Soto gives way for the rest of the actors with equal opportunities, who play the Reyes family members, to shine as well. George Lopez, who previously had a brief experience appearing in a superhero genre back in 2005 in ‘The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D’, delivers most of the comic relief in his scene-stealing supporting turn as Uncle Rudy. The same also goes for Adriana Barraza, whose performance as Nana is given an interesting character arc far from just a beloved-grandmother role.
‘Blue Beetle’ is also fun and lighthearted, with the director embracing the comedy aspect of the movie without turning them into something cringey or desperately evoking some laughs. Back to Jaime, this is undoubtedly Xolo Maridueña’s breakthrough lead performance. His likable charm and everyman persona made me root for his character’s zero-to-hero origin story. He pairs well with his co-star Bruna Marquezine, who delivers a feisty turn as Jenny Kord, and they sure share wonderful chemistry together.
The effect-laden action sequences are reasonably entertaining, and I’m glad the CGI isn’t as cartoony as the mega-budgeted ‘Flash.’ Angel Manuel Soto has an eye for intricate choreography no matter when Blue Beetle takes down the army or Victoria’s main henchman, Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo), with his combination of superhuman strength and ability to transform any kind of weapons imaginable (at one point, there’s a cool scene that pays homage to Cloud Strife’s iconic Buster Sword from ‘Final Fantasy VII’ video game). In other words, the fight scenes are crisply edited minus the shaky-cam aesthetic and incomprehensible quick cuts, allowing us to enjoy the choreography.
Credits also go to the director’s eclectic choice of soundtrack (the Argentine rock band Soda Stereo’s 1985 guitar-laden song ‘Nada Personal’ comes to mind), while Bobby Krlic’s synth-heavy score deserves equal mention as well, giving the movie a retro-cool ‘80s vibe of the soundscape.
It’s nice to see Susan Sarandon back in a major Hollywood production, having a field day playing the scenery-chewing industrialist Victoria Kord. Although Raoul Max Trujillo looks the part of the remorseless henchman, Carapax, his subsequent backstory feels more like an afterthought, with Angel Manuel Soto somehow choosing to dump it all together in a weird exposition-heavy approach.
Personally, I have no expectations upon watching ‘Blue Beetle,’, especially after this year’s so-so results seen in ‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’ and ‘The Flash.’ But it turns out to be a better-than-expected superhero movie, thanks to Xolo Maridueña’s charismatic lead performance along with the strong family dynamics and its Latino culture. Do remember to stick around since there are mid-credits and post-credits scenes.
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