I know what you’re thinking. Not another DC superhero movie! There’s been three of them already this year and frankly they weren’t very good. But don’t let that steer you away from Blue Beetle, quite simply the best DC movie in years, and should be the blueprint for James Gunn as he moves forward with the new DCU.
After years of jarring multiverse movies, Blue Beetle arrives with a simple, down to earth formula that should be appealing to audiences of all ages. Cobra Kai actor Xolo Mariduena plays Jaime Reyes, who gains a powerful suit of armor when he comes in contact with an alien scarab, becoming like the big blue version of Iron Man. Susan Sarandon stars as Victoria Kord, your classic corrupt corporate villain with sinister plans to use the scarab to launch an army of super soldiers.
Blue Beetle is the first major comic book movie featuring a Latino lead, and wisely it is inextricably linked to Jaime’s character and strength as a hero. A heavy focus on family introduces us to the colorful Reyes clan, whose hard work and devotion to faith and culture has taught Jaime everything he knows, but also put them in the crosshairs of Kord’s imperialistic motives.
Directed with verve by Angel Manuel Soto of the terrific Baltimore motorcyle drama Charm City Kings, Blue Beetle is also an arresting and deeply emotional story. Jaime learns that to be a hero requries sacrifice, and while a lot of his origin story has echoes of Spider-Man, we’ve not seen anything quite like the closeness of the Reyes clan. This might be a solo superhero story for Jaime Reyes, but it is most definitely a family affair.
Soto does a brilliant job of giving Blue Beetle his own city to protect, and much like Metropolis and Gotham, it has a personality all of its own. The divide between the haves and have-nots is clear, with one portion of the city resembling sporting furturistic elements (almost like San Fransokyo in Big Hero 6) and the other similar to migrant communities in East L.A. Immediately, giving Jaime a home to watch over puts him on the same tier as DC’s top heroes, but more importantly he feels like a part of that community and not just someone who exists in it.
This being my first exposure to Xolo Mariduena, I think the kid is the real deal. He’s got charisma, presence, and while most of the laughs are saved for George Lopez as his resourceful uncle Rudy or Belissa Escobedo as Jaime’s sister Milagro, Mariduena is no slouch himself. Things get very heavy emotionally and it’s all spread among the talented supporting cast, which includes Damian Alcazar as Jaime’s hard-working father, Elpidia Carrillo as Jaime’s mother, and Adriana Barraza having the most fun of her life as Nana, Jaime’s grandmother who has some really fun secrets in her past. When are we getting the Nana solo series on MAX, huh?
DC Comics enthusiasts will go nuts for the way they weave in much of the Blue Beetle lore, with references to the original holder of the mantle, and also Jaime’s predecessor, Ted Kord. While I personally could’ve used more of Raoul Max Trujillo as Carapax, as well as better use of the devastating OMACs, it’s hard to argue that Blue Beetle isn’t put through the paces here. He gets a Hell of a fight that, when it’s over, we truly see him as worthy of the scarab and being the new Blue Beetle.
My concern is that the DC franchise has been soured to such an extend that it doesn’t matter what any of us says. All of the recent movies that have flopped (including Black Adam) were praised prior to release, only to have audiences largely turn up their noses. Warner Bros. has done a good job in targeting the Latino community in their marketing, and my hope is that they will turn out in droves to support such a great and deserving film. And if that’s the case, then the good buzz will drive others to check out Blue Beetle and get on the bandwagon, too.
Blue Beetle opens in theaters on August 18th, and be sure you stick around through the credits.