This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
The reputation of comic book movies has been in a tough spot lately. Movies like The Flash, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania have left the superhero fandom disappointed as these large-scale stories don’t capture the same feeling as the 2000s-2010s flicks. Most fans miss the isolated storytelling of solo hero films like Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. Luckily, when it came to Blue Beetle, Ángel Manuel Soto delivered with a well-executed foundational story for a hero not many are familiar with.
Blue Beetle follows Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña), who’s just moved back to his family’s home in Palmera City. Looking for a job, he comes across Jennifer “Jenny” Kord (Bruna Marquezine), daughter of genius inventor gone missing Ted Kord. Given the ancient Scarab to protect from Jennifer’s aunt, Victoria (Susan Sarandon), Jaime forms a symbiotic relationship, receiving new superpowers from the Scarab. Now, he must stop Victoria’s plans to weaponize the Scarab all while adapting to his new moniker as the Blue Beetle.
Firstly, this movie has been a long time coming for Maridueña and Soto thanks to its five-year development process. With transitioning changes at DC Studios and troubling affairs with The Flash and Black Adam, it honestly felt like Blue Beetle would be overshadowed by all the drama. However, after watching the movie and seeing all the fandom build-up supporting this film, I’m proud to say that it has paid off big.
In terms of big performances, Xolo Maridueña as Jaime Reyes was definitely the right call to make. He is able to bring a lot of emotion to Jaime rather it be distraught rage, intriguing curiosity, or big bro embarrassment. Maridueña’s performance in this movie enhanced his character greatly as he brought this inexperienced youthfulness to Jaime similarly to Asher Angel and Shazam. In addition, he’s got good chemistry with his co-starring family, especially with Damián Alcázar and George Lopez, who play Jaime’s father and uncle respectively.
However, Maridueña’s not the only one who brings a stellar performance in this movie. Bruna Marquezine’s Jenny Kord was surprisingly impactful, especially during the second-third act of the film. Although not directly involved in much of the action like Jaime, Jenny’s resourceful and has this strong determination. Furthermore, Marquezine has this sweet chemistry with Maridueña throughout the film that mostly felt natural. Watching Jaime and Jenny slowly open up to each other about their families and share this innate compassion was very great to see, especially in the second act.
On the overarching plot, the movie draws a lot of inspiration from Infinite Crisis, one of DC’s mainline events. It involves Scarab and Kord Industries’ Victoria, who replaces the missing Ted Kord as CEO, and her plan to utilize the Scarab to create her OMAC army. To do so, she has turned Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo) into her prototype, disregarding Jenny’s wishes to cease weapon development.
The movie incorporates many elements from this story to emphasize the distant familial connection between Jenny and Victoria in a way that supports Jaime’s personal journey rather than sidelining it. In fact, it plays into the film’s integral themes and ideas of family, class, and Latino culture, using subtle and personal scenes to drive its points home.
Jaime’s family isn’t as well-off as the Kords and the figurative (and literal) divide between Kord’s shining skyscrapers and the lowly suburbs of Palmera City makes this clear. Even though Jaime has this diploma, the social rules of Palmera doesn’t really accept him. However, with this opportunity presented through the Scarab, Jaime and his family might finally escape their old lives. However, this isn’t on their minds: they’re more concerned with Jaime’s safety and vice versa with Jaime. In a way, it adds more personal stakes to Blue Beetle while establishing an expository foundation to build upon.
Finally, the action sequences in this film felt more powerful and energetic than the previous DC films. Particularly around the final act, it pulls a lot from Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, almost mimicking the Metropolis bout between Superman and General Zod and Superman’s first flight. However, there are also some great choreographed sequences between Jaime, Carapax, and whatever Victoria’s throwing Jaime’s way. The punches, kicks, and blows are a lot more realistic because of this and luckily, Maridueña gets to go all out thanks to his martial arts experience on Cobra Kai. I’ll give props to Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography, which made all the action really impactful.
However, even the best this film has to offer can’t outfly its troubles. The main problem mostly resides in its humor, which can often go into “too adolescently crude” territory for my liking with its rectal and sex jokes. Surprisingly, Lopez isn’t the one who’s contributing to most of this type of humor. Another problem I had was the near-end of the final act between Jaime and Carapax felt somewhat contrived due to its reliance of the the solo-superhero movie trope formula. Fortunately, it didn’t take away from telling a great story!
Out of all the DC films that released this year, Blue Beetle is the resounding success that the new age of DC needs right now. After watching all the multiversal-scale comic book movies this year, it’s very refreshing to have a film with a more linear story. Moreso, it’s even better when that story has a strong emotional and thematic core with an overlooked hero at the center of it all.
Soto, Maridueña, Marquezine, and the rest of the team behind Blue Beetle certainly deserve the acclaim for their work here. If the Gunn and Safran-led DC Studios is to succeed, then this film’s basis is a good place to start.
Blue Beetle releases in theaters on August 18.