Blue Beetle flies into cinemas nationwide on August 18.
Blue Beetle has taken many forms since Charles Nicholas Wojtkoski created him for Fox Publications in 1939. It wasn’t until the 80s that Blue Beetle would arrive in the DC Comics Universe following buy-outs and acquisitions. DC’s Blue Beetle was initially Ted Kord, a student of the original Dan Garrett who paired with an ancient Scarab to obtain his superpowers. However, Ted couldn’t get the powerful Scarab to pair with him and instead used his scientific and mechanical genius to create his Batman-inspired world of gadgets. When Kord died, the Scarab ended up in El Paso, Texas, where young Jaime Reyes would join with the Scarab, unlike Kord and become the modern-day Blue Beetle. It’s here where Angel Manuel Soto’s delightful, fun, energetic and vibrant movie opens as he introduces us to the recently graduated Jaime (Xolo Maridueña), his close-knit and loving family and a shiny blue Scarab that is about to change his destiny in ways he couldn’t imagine.
Jaime is the first in his family to graduate from University. But on returning home to the ethnically divided Palmera City, he discovers that his family are in crisis and their house is threatened with repossession just as his father, Alberto (Damián Alcázar), recovers from a stress-induced heart attack. In the shining city that towers over the lower-income homes on its fringes, the Kord corporation, run by Victoria Kord (the brilliant Susan Sarandon), hungrily stamps over everything and everyone in its way as Victoria aims to build the ultimate weapon of war using the Scarab. The only person who stands in Victoria’s way is Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), who is determined not to let Victoria and her bionic henchmen (Raoul Max Trujillo) harness the power of the ancient alien tech.
Apart from Sony, who would appear to hit gold with every Spider-Man outing, the superhero genre has hit the rocks over the past year. Marvel’s offerings have been lacklustre, while DC has struggled to grab the public imagination with both Shazam! Fury of the Gods and The Flash, despite the entertainment value of both films. Much of the blame for this sits with the studios. While Marvel obsessively created a shared universe where all movies were interlinked, they forgot that characters are more than mere connective tissue in your broader money-making plans.
Meanwhile, DC decided to scrap one vision in favour of another before realising it needed to change again, confusing its audience. Marvel and DC were arrogant in both cases, forgetting to mix the magic potion that creates a damn good superhero movie as they focused on financial spreadsheets. Audiences want fun, exciting, story-driven, and creative films – they want studios to care about the comic book characters they bring to the screen.
Thankfully, Angel Manuel Soto understands that creativity, fun and diversity sit at the heart of a good superhero movie, not overblown budgets and an overload of CGI. As a result, while Blue Beetle sticks to the classic origin story with more than a few nods to Spider-Man, it also offers us something that feels decidedly fresh in the landscape of recent superhero movies.
Blue Beetle offers more heart, love and charm than a vast array of the far more expensive multiversal outings that have bogged down the genre in recent years. Soto easily handles the action, humour and romance as he pays homage to the decade of Jaime’s comic book birth, the 1980s. From its Latin-inspired synth score to its neon colour palette and belief in pure escapism and entertainment, Blue Beetle offers us a rollercoaster of comic book thrills as it smashes the glass ceiling of Latino representation. Add to this themes of racial oppression, gentrification and the dangerous march of AI in modern warfare, and Blue Beetle soars.
That brings me to the performances at the heart of this fun big-screen adventure. While the brilliant Xolo Maridueña sits centre stage, Blue Beetle is undoubtedly a family affair. From Jaime’s sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) to his dad Alberto, mum Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo), Uncle Rudy (George Lopez) and his gran (Adriana Barraza), Blue Beetle revels in themes of family, love, hope and protection.
Proudly Latino, defiantly different and delightfully fun, if Blue Beetle marks the start of the new DC Universe, we are all in for a treat. Angel Manuel Soto’s film wears its heart on its sleeve while embracing pure comic book escapism and adventure. It is an ode to the power of the classic origin story and a love letter to a character that has never received much attention. I, for one, hope that this beetle scutters into more adventures alongside his adorable family soon.
Proudly Latino, defiantly different and delightfully fun, if Blue Beetle marks the start of the new DC Universe, we are all in for a treat. Angel Manuel Soto’s film wears its heart on its sleeve while embracing pure comic book escapism and adventure.