Home » ‘Blue Beetle’ Review – An Electric Start to the New DCU

‘Blue Beetle’ Review – An Electric Start to the New DCU

by Ben Rolph
Blue Beetle prepares to shoot energy beams from his hand blasters in the new DC movie.

Director Ángel Manuel Soto excellently steers Blue Beetle, an action-packed and emotional debut for the first character in James Gunn and Peter Safran’s new DCU franchise. Best known for the 2020 Sundance Film Festival breakout hit Charm City Kings, Soto making the jump into a superhero blockbuster was always bound to be a daunting task. Yet, he manages to instantly ground this latest DC film by celebrating family and the eternal connection among our relatives and ancestors. This is a fantastic introduction to Blue Beetle, establishing his origin story while offering unique thrills and plenty of heart along the way.

Having just finished college, Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) returns home to Palmera City to begin the next chapter of his life. The script, written by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, switches Jaime’s hometown from El Paso, Texas like in the comics to the new original creation of Palmera City – a futuristic, neon-lit oceanside metropolis that features a mix of different Latin American inspirations. It’s here that both Jaime and his younger sister Milagro Reyes (Belissa Escobedo) get a job as cleaners for Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), a rich scheming billionaire, in one of her estates. They soon get fired for their antics but not before they meet Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), who offers Jaime a job if he shows up at a certain time at Kord Industries’ headquarters in downtown Palmera. 

Jaime’s life is forever changed the next day as Jenny Kord finds herself in a life-or-death situation that leads her to entrust him with a Big Belly Burger box containing an ancient scarab with alien biotechnology. As he reveals the scarab to his family, the device seemingly attacks him and instantly takes over his body. The scarab chooses him to be its host and they are symbiotically linked, sealing their new bond as eternal. Using the powers bestowed upon him by the entity that lives inside and controls the scarab, Khaji-Da (global pop star Becky G), Jaime becomes the next incarnation of the Blue Beetle in an attempt to stop Victoria Kord’s dangerous plans for the future of Palmera City and the world.

For those who have been fans of Blue Beetle for years, especially since Young Justice, seeing the character finally thrive in live-action is like a dream come true. Xolo Maridueña seems like he was born to play Jaime Reyes, not only is he picture-perfect for the role but he also embodies the true essence of Blue Beetle’s youthful persona perfectly. The film is intrinsically linked to Jaime’s Mexican American upbringing, celebrating his family in a non-traditional way to most superhero films, barring Shazam, whereby they are all fully involved in Jaime’s journey to becoming a superhero.

Blue Beetle looks down at the Earth's atmosphere from space during his first flight sequence in the new DC movie BLUE BEETLE.
‘Blue Beetle’ courtesy of Warner Bros.

The whole cast of Blue Beetle boasts dynamic chemistry, including Harvey Guillén in a small yet memorable part. Each member of the Reyes family brings something new to the table, such as Jaime’s overbearing mother Rocio played by Elpidia Carrillo. George Lopez as Jaime’s uncle Rudy steals the show though. Rudy Reyes is hilarious, quirky, and fully committed to aiding his nephew in becoming a superhero that Palmera City can look up to. Xolo Maridueña and Lopez are an absolute joy to watch together. Adriana Barraza is instantly iconic as Nana, Jaime’s grandmother; everyone will love her tongue-in-cheek performance as the family’s loving, gun-wielding matriarch with a revolutionary past. However, it’s Damián Alcázar who gets the tears flowing with his portrayal of Alberto Reyes, Milagro and Jaime’s loving father.

Where cracks begin to show in Blue Beetle is with the main villain Victoria Kord. Susan Sarandon is very weak here, she is fairly robotic in her line deliveries and interactions. She never really comes off as a true threat beyond the amazing technology at her disposal. The set-up for the secondary villain in Kord’s right-hand man, Conrad Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo), is lackluster and entirely forgettable as well. Having a one-dimensional antagonist is remarkably common in a lot of superhero movies, and Blue Beetle is no different in this regard. Sarandon is a walking-talking plot device and nothing more than that. It’s a shame because the futuristic technology that the story plays with is inherently fascinating but Sarandon fails to elevate the material she’s given. 

Otherwise, Ángel Manuel Soto’s film is an electric ride that zips by with a relatively breezy 2-hour runtime, by comic-book movie standards. Blue Beetle also flaunts a great, toe-tapping soundtrack – filled with a wide variety of recognizable Latin American hits, both new and old. The lively soundtrack and synth-infused score by Bobby Krlic (Midsommar, Beau Is Afraid) pair incredibly well with cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski’s anime-inspired action sequences.

The fight scenes are all hyper-real, with less glossy CGI than most recent superhero films, and feature practical hand-to-hand combat which gives Blue Beetle an extra boost of adrenaline. Every punch feels painful. There is real jeopardy for Jaime Reyes and his family, and the stakes are always high. In addition to this, Soto still finds space for fun, imaginative moments as he explores the infinite arsenal of Blue Beetle’s scarab, throwing in nods to Final Fantasy, Dragon Ball Z, and even The Fifth Element.

Belissa Escobedo, Elpidia Carrillo, Bruna Marquezine, and Adriana Barraza open up a vault of futuristic weapons to use in battle in the BLUE BEETLE movie.
Elpidia Carrillo, Bruna Marquezine, & Adriana Barraza in ‘Blue Beetle’ courtesy of Warner Bros.

Blue Beetle is the beginning of a whole new DC universe. James Gunn has previously stated that Xolo Maridueña’s Jaime is the first DCU character to debut on screen. The prospects of Blue Beetle as a returning character have hopefully been decided with what’s teased in the film, but like all Hollywood productions, it all depends on how well it performs at the box office (which the last DC movie The Flash bombed at). One can only hope we get to tag along on more adventures with Blue Beetle as his superhero journey is only getting started.

Director Ángel Manuel Soto delivers a thoroughly engaging and emotionally impactful film. Blue Beetle has its flaws but manages to overcome the dullness of its villains by having a great core cast of loveable characters, while also highlighting the bonding facets of Latino culture within Jaime’s family. Xolo Maridueña is undoubtedly a star in the making, he was born to play Blue Beetle and knocks it out of the park with his personable and charming performance. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Blue Beetle hits theaters August 18!

Follow Senior Film Critic Ben Rolph on Twitter: @THEDCTVSHOW

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