Blue Beetle (2023) Review
A “BACK TO BASICS”
SUPERHERO ORIGIN TALE
In today’s world, superhero movies are still quite a hot commodity and a lucrative business in box office results, translating comic book heroes and villains onto the silver screen and hoping ignite fanboy passion and cinematic excitement for possible sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and blockbuster team-ups . Within the realm of DC Comics, the established “super staples” have become quite the marquee lineup of both popular and well-known characters throughout the years, including the likes of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, and several others. These “main players” have (throughout the past few decades) have dominated the spotlight on both the big and small screen, producing a long-running media franchise from animated cartoons and movies to big tentpole motion pictures. In addition, various interpretations of some DC superheroes have graced the limelight in many different perspectives, with different actors and actresses producing distinct and memorable performance in encapsulating their iteration of these popular comic heroes. With the major roster have had their time in the cinematic sun, lesser known and / or secondary supers have begun to emerge from out of the shadows of their comic book forefathers and (by extension) demonstrating their prowess of standing on their own, yet still able to speak to the modern era of superhero blockbuster business moniker. Now, Warner Bros. Pictures and director Angel Manuel Soto present the latest comic book film adaptation of the lesser-known superhero in the movie Blue Beetle. Does this movie find the strength and superhero integrity to reach comic book glory or is this a standard “one and done” entry that’s too derive of greater cinematic endeavor?
Hot off the heels of college, Jamie Reyes (Xolo Mariduena) has come back home in Palmera City, but the young man quickly finds out that things aren’t the same. His family has been evicted from their home by Kord Industries, his father, Alberto (Damián Alcázar) facing medical issues, and job opportunities are minimal, leaving Jamie in panic about his future for him and his loved ones. Taking a position at a posh resort with his sister, Milagro (Belissa Escobedo), Jamie soon encounters Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), who manages the Kord empire, struggling to make a connection with her niece, Jenny (Bruna Marquezine), who is cautious around her aunt after her father, Ted, has gone missing. Jenny makes a connection with Jamie, happy to explore the various jobs at the company, but when the young man makes a jaunt to Kord’s facility, he finds Jenny escaping, handing him a hamburger box for safekeeping. Back at home, Jamie opens the container and is exposed to the power of the Scarab, a device that fuses to his host’s body, giving him superhuman abilities of protection and energy at his command. Not knowing what to do with this newfound power, Jamie experiences the power the Scarab has to offer, turning him into a one-man war machine that Victoria wants to possess and sends her bodyguard, Ignacio Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo) to retrieve what was stolen.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I do love superhero movies. Are they big-budgeted endeavors? Yes, for the most part as they usually are, but a few do offer some smaller scope and can still achieve greatness. Are they meant for mass appeal? Most definitely and, while that isn’t a bad thing, it does cater to a very broad audiences (i.e., young or old, casual moviegoer or diehard fan) and certainly makes sense for studio to offer this as well paving the way for them (the studios) to pay for their other projects in the works that year. In the case of DC Comics, they have indeed had a long celebratory run on the silver screen. While they have experience (and triumphs) on their smaller screen venues and mediums, film adaptations on the big screen have been “big business” for the comic book company and have seeing a wide variety of superheroes that have appeared in theaters and spanning multiple franchises continuities. Of course, the various Batman movies are perhaps the biggest cinematic franchise that DC / Warner Bros has pushed out, with several actors (Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney, Bale, Affleck, and Pattinson) as well as the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman. There have been others (of course), but the main roster of the so-called “main players” have always been the staples of the franchise…. the faces of DC Comics. Thus, it was kind of interesting to see some “new blood” surface on the small screen, with the CW’s Arrowverse and how it expanded from one show to multiple shows. Of course, not all of those shows were created and well-received equally (I think that it expanded too quickly), but I guess it was “striking gold” while it lasted. Yet, it also showed that viewers wanted to see more “lesser known” DC characters, which may have prompted the studio to generate interest for other projects.
This brings me back to talking about Blue Beetle, a 2023 superhero film and the latest offering in DC comic book character being adapted into a motion picture. Given the natural state of everything going on with DC’s film adaptation and the recent “shake-up” of Gunn / Safron as the new “overseers” for the DC movie lineup, the future for the established DCEU looks ambiguous and tough road ahead. With 2023’s Flash resetting the board and changing around (translating from the DCEU to the DCU), everything was being shuffled around, including the release of Blue Beetle, which was scheduled to be release on Max (or rather the former HBO Max streaming service). At the time, I wasn’t so interested in seeing the movie as there wasn’t a whole lot of news and tidbits, especially with a relatively unknown superhero character that wasn’t a part of the mainstream lineup. However, it was soon decided that the film project would be upgraded and moved from the streaming platform to get an official theatrical run-in cinema. After that, while there was a whole lot of marketing campaign made for this movie (a criticism that was made by many), I did see a huge amount was the film’s movie trailers. I mean…. I saw it every time I went to the movies, and it didn’t matter what film I saw. It could be an action, drama, comedy, horror, animated, period piece, etc. I always saw the previews for Blue Beetle, which definitely got me more intrigued by this movie.
It didn’t strike me as something new or original (from the previews alone), but I was interested to see how this particular superhero character (narrative, story, characterizations) would differ from the already established DC characters of late. Thus, I was interested to see how this movie would ultimately pan out and so I decided to check it out during its opening weekend. I waited a week or so to get my review done for this superhero feature, for I did have several other small non-movie projects to complete first. So, with those done, I’m finally ready to share my personal thoughts on this movie. And what did I think of it? Well, it was somewhat good. In truth, the Blue Beetle is a “return to basics” formula that is rooted in the classic superhero origin tale that both works and doesn’t at the same time. It gets more right than it does wrong (and that’s a good thing), but lacks the cinematic pedigree that other endeavors were able to achieve and ultimately reach. Overall, it’s not the best DC film adaptation of late, but with plenty of charm, representation, and a simpler story, it definitely works better than say something like Black Adam, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, or even Wonder Woman 1984.
Blue Beetle is directed by Angel Manuel Soto, whose previous directorial works include such films like The Farm, Charm City Kings, and Bashir’s Dream. Given his previous past work on these projects (as well as directing several short films), Soto makes this particular movie his most ambitious endeavor to date. With that in mind, I think that Soto certainly succeeded in doing a pretty decent job in helming this superhero film. Perhaps the most interesting one that immediately comes to mind is how everything about Blue Beetle feels like its going “back to basics”, which (in hindsight) is kind of a good thing. With so many superhero movies nowadays going for a much grander and elaborate blockbuster feel in both scale and scope, Soto does something quite different from the status quo and goes back to the basic fundamentals of what makes a superhero movie. It’s a bit of a “double edge” sword at times (more on that below), but Soto manages to make Blue Beetle feels like a more “grounded” superhero film. Everything about the project is stripped down to the primary aspects, which is quite refreshing, with Soto staging events in a fun way that doesn’t feel like dower situation. What do I mean? Well, the movie doesn’t revolve around global destruction or a villain on claim the universe (or multiverse) for his own, the story is pretty straightforward, which compliments the classic superhero origin tale of a young man. The action in the film I thought was good for the most part. Yes, some of the film’s visual effects were a bit mudded and didn’t have an incredible standouts like other endeavors out there, but, given the movie’s production budget, I felt it achieved some decent moments. What’s presented works and gives us (the viewers) plenty of superhero fun and action sequences, which certainly do make for some highlighted moments of the movie. Personally, I liked all the different weapons that suit was able to create, which provided some unique action that I loved.
One of the more interesting aspects that Soto does with Blue Beetle is found within its cultural representation and how it becomes part of the film’s “pedigree” throughout. With so many superhero endeavors coming out every single year, it’s a bit refreshing to see that a film (like this) taking a particular stance for some representation on the big screen and not just have a Latino main lead character, but also showcases other members of his family, who are also a part of the cultural familiars. Yes, some dialogue moments and scenes are a bit “on the nose” in stereotyping (to a certain degree), but it definitely plays a part of the film’s genetic make-up that makes it worthwhile. With so many studios out there pushing for inclusion and representation, Blue Beetle takes the step forward and shows the importance of family (as a unit) as well as anyone can be a hero…. regardless of ethnicity race or social class. All in all, I felt that Soto did a pretty decent and good job in helming this project. He gets some things wrong, but what he gets right proves to be quite effective; making Blue Beetle an enjoyable ride that is a tad refreshing in the grand scheme of this cinematic universe shake-up.
For its presentation, Blue Beetle looks pretty good, yet also meets the industry standards for a superhero film. That’s not to say what’s presented (and displayed) works, which it does, but since the project is kept on a much smaller scale and with a smaller production budget (roughly $104 million) there is nothing groundbreaking and / or pushing the boundaries of superhero endeavors. That being said, what’s is given still looks good, especially how the movie (like the story) is a bit more of a “grounded” and has a more sense of that old school realism throughout the feature’s background aesthetics, which was mostly notable in the community where the Reyes family live. In conjunction with that, the movie still has that little bit of “fantastical” superhero future-tech nuances within its setting, which is featured in some of the wider shots of Palmera City. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” main players, including Jon Billington (production design), Jennifer M. Gentile (set decorations), Mayes C. Rubeo (costume designs), and the entire art direction department should be commended and noted for their efforts on this project. In addition, the cinematography work by Pawel Pogorzelski does gets some moments to show off some cinematic shots in the film, including some clever usage of camera angles and some sequences that help build upon some of the dynamic / dramatic pieces. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by The Haxan Cloak (Bobby Krlic), is pretty good and does provide plenty of solid compositions pieces throughout the feature, including the classic superhero sweeps and motifs (a few 80-esque synthesizers) as well as a few tender moments within dialogue driven scenes.
Unfortunately, Blue Beetle, while carrying its own superhero swagger, isn’t quite as palpable as other recent hits, with the project faltering within several areas. How so? Well, perhaps the biggest problem that the movie can’t overcome is that it isn’t quite as polish as other DC comic film adaptations. What do I mean by that? It’s kind of hard to say, but I’ll try to put into context that you (my readers will understand. For starters, the feature (as stated above) was meant to be released on a streaming platform and it definitely feels like that. That’s not to say what’s presented feels genuine in how it wants to convey certain aspects and nuances within representation and superhero action, but it’s quite clear that the feature does not share the same type of cinematic pedigree that other DC films had of late, including the likes of recent endeavors such as Shazam! Fury of the Gods, Black Adam, and Batman. It’s a wide combination of things that contributes to this “lacking” shine that the feature is missing, but (in general) the greater end result is a project that, while enjoyable, still feels somewhere between a TV movie and streaming movie. It is the reason why I think that the movie should’ve remained on the streaming platform instead of being released theatrically.
One of the biggest components that the movie falters on in contributing to that “lack of polish” is found within how predictable the story is and how the character play a part in the feature. This, of course, derives from the film’s script, which was penned by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, and doesn’t really challenge the movie in any way of originality or storytelling ingenuity. Perhaps the movie could’ve worked more than it was originally intended if the script had more substance rather than the usual fanfare. What’s presented sort of works, but it’s all rather formulaic to the touch, which causes a lot of predicable moments that happens throughout. Everything from the how the story progresses and how it is presented has been done before many times in superhero origin narratives….and sadly, while this “back to basics” method is refreshing, it comes at the cost of creative ingenuity. Familiar cliches and tropes are quite visible, twists and turns are easily telegraphed, and revelations and conclusions felt lackluster from the get-go. In addition, the movie, which runs a pretty breezy runtime, does feel like it could have utilized more substance in several crucial areas, especially in the middle act. Again, if there was more to the feature’s script and how everything plays out, Blue Beetle could’ve been a lot more intriguing, but, for what’s presented, Soto and his team go the safe route and don’t really color outside the lines with the film’s story. If this movie was released like in the early 200s, I think it would’ve been well-received, but, in this day and age of superhero films that are far more complexed and better handled, I feel like Blue Beetle is too “run-of-the-mill” with its narrative and character execution.
In addition, while I did mention that the movie has more of comedic level, some of the feature’s humor feels rather shoehorned in and forced. That’s not to say that the movie has a unique swagger about, which it does, but the humor-based jokes and sight gags get a tad bit excessive as if the feature’s is just trying to pad out its story with comedy instead of humor. I definitely get where the script was going for (a much lighter tone), but when there is more comedy antics than a storytelling substance…. you know there is a bit of a problem within the staging / executing of the feature. Plus, I do have to mention that the comedy is a bit more juvenile than what I was expecting. That’s not to say that some of the jokes and gags made me laugh, but I felt that some were meant for a more “lowbrow” type of humor and didn’t exactly stick their landing, which translates to missing their target rather than hitting them.
As a minor complaint, I felt that the movie left a lot of “scarab” lore and the Blue Beetle backstory, including mostly in Jenny’s dad, Ted Kord, out in some vague exposition seems that don’t have much weight and / or left unanswered by the time reaches its conclusion. I’m sure more details and explanations would be revealed in the potential sequels and latter films, but there is a lot left to be desired in those backstory elements that the movie’s script didn’t address properly. It’s almost like the mystical rings from Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, with the ten constructs acting as a catalyst for the feature, yet aren’t given much proper explanations and left a mystery by the end. I do want to know more about the scarab (Khaji-Da) and its origins, but the movie’s script doesn’t seem quite interested in explaining those points….not right away at least.
As mentioned above, the movie is more of a character driven feature rather than a story plot one, with the cast of the Blue Beetle up to the task of making their representative roles a bit more animated, dynamic (in a few areas), and “larger-than-life”, which is both a good and bad thing. While the acting is competent and capable from all the talents involved, I did feel that the characterizations of them were more of the garden variety “cookie cutter”, which hampers them throughout. Leading the charge in the film is actor Xolo Mariduena, who plays the film’s central protagonist character Jaime Reyes. Known for his roles in Parenthood, Cleopatra in Space, and Cobra Kai, Mariduena is starting to become a recognizable actor, appearing more and more in prominent productions on both the big and small screen. Thus, his participation and involvement in this movie is indeed a welcome one as the young actor easily slides into the role of Jaime Reyes with enough charisma and energy throughout. As stated above, the inclusion of a cultural representation is paramount and is the “bread and butter” for the feature, which makes the casting of Mariduena in the lead role of a superhero film all the more enjoyable. To his credit, the young actor certainly knows how to handle himself well in the main protagonist role (probably some credit towards his part in the Cobra Kai series), which makes his performance of Jaime likeable and relatable right from the get-go. Of course, his character’s journey is quite rudimentary and familiar, which makes the character (written character) feel somewhat like a “cookie cutter” hero archetype that many will immediately recognize. Still, for better or worse, I felt that Mariduena did a good job in the role of Jaime Reyes and I would love for him to reprise the role in the near future.
Personally, my favorite character in the movie would have to be Rudy Reyes, Jaime’s uncle, and who is played by actor George Lopez (George Lopez and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl). Been an actor within the comedy field, Lopez knows how to “lay it on thick” without being grating or obnoxious, which makes his characters memorable within his various projects. In Blue Beetle, Lopez does certainly shine and make for a standout presence in the feature, which is why he’s featured heavily in the story, and it’s all for the better. His rantings of Anti-Government paranoia and rather endless jittering about stuff makes for a great character and makes Rudy an interesting side character. Perhaps the weakest character in the movie would have to be Milagro, Jamie’s sister, who is played by actress Belissa Escobedo (Hocus Pocus 2 and Don’t Look Deeper). Why is she the worst? Well, it’s how the character is portrayed in the movie, with Milagro acting very sassy and snarky throughout much of the feature’s duration. It’s quite clear as to what script was trying to make the character of Milagro be like, but it comes off as too abrasive, whiny, and annoying. It’s not so much the fault of Escobedo as she is handed the material that was written for the character, but it also doesn’t help that she doesn’t really make improvements as an actress. Thus, the role is rather bland, contrived, and just downright irritating from onset to conclusion.
The other Reyes family members, including actor Damián Alcázar (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and Acapulco) as Jaime’s dad Alberto, actress Elpidia Carrillo (Predator and Nine Lives) as Jaime’s mom Rocio, and actress Adriana Barraza (Rambo: Last Blood and Babel) as Jaime’s grandmother (Nana) make up some of the supporting players in the film. Alcázar’s Alberto gets more of the heavy lifting scenes in the story as shares more tender moments with Mariduena, which definitely works, while Barraza’s Nana gets some humorous bits of comedic levity towards the latter half. Unfortunately, Carrillo’s Rocio ends up being stuck in the middle of everything and every character and is simply there (along for the ride). It’s not Carrillo’s fault, but rather the script that didn’t know what to do with the character.
Looking beyond the Reyes’s family, the rest of the cast is more of the supporting roles and / or villains of the feature, which (again) is more of a mixed bag of generic characterizations. This is made slightly apparent actress Bruna Marquezine (God Save the King and Women in Love) portrayal of the character Jenny Kord, Victoria Kord’s niece and love interest for Jaime. It’s not for a lack of trying on Marquezine’s part as she does a decent job in the role as well as having a likeable chemistry with Mariduena, but the character of Jenny is basically a walking exposition plot point for most of the feature by ways and means of explaining certain things, places, events, and other sequences. It’s a film’s story mechanic within a character, which can be find, but only to a certain degree. There’s a bit of better handling of her towards the end of the movie, but it’s a little bit “too little, too late”. Behind her, actress Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise and Stepmom) as Victoria Kord, head of Kord Industries and the driving villainy force in the movie. Like Lopez, Sarandon acts as the “seasoned” acting talent veteran for the feature and she definitely makes the most of her time in the movie. Her character, however, is written rather generic and streamlined as Victoria is portrayed as the straightforward arrogant and ambitious corporate CEO who stop at nothing to achieve her endgame goal. It’s something that has been done many times before, so it’s rather thinly sketched. Sarandon herself sort of knows this and makes her performance the same equal comic book villainy, hamming it up in a way that walks a fine line being campy and comic book villainy. All in all, Sarandon is fine as Victoria, but she’s not exactly original or creatively dynamic baddie. Perhaps the better bad guy featured in the Blue Beetle would have to be the character of Ignacio Carapax, Victora Kord’s enforcer bodyguard and adversary towards Jaime’s Blue Beetle, and who is played by actor Raoul Max Trujillo (Riddick and Apocalypto). In truth, the character of Carapax, like Victoria, is rather straightforward, but does have a little bit more sympathetic substance revealed towards the latter half of the feature. For his part, Trujillo does quite a good job, with his gruff and no-nonsense demeanor and being more of a man of “action” than reason makes for a terrific bad guy for someone like Jaime to square off against.
Lastly, musical artist / actress Becky G (Power Rangers and Good Mourning) provides the voice for the Blue Beetle suit (Khaji-Da). While the character could’ve been expanded upon a bit more in the story and giving more of a personality in the beginning half, Becky G was still perfectly fine as Khaji-Da, with most of her interactions with Mariduena’s Jaime being delightful.
Also, before I forget, there is a secret Easter Egg ending during the mid-credits portion of the feature. It sets up a potential future plot point for the character to explore and one that would be interesting to explore.
He’s a superhero, whether he likes it or not” is the film’s tagline and something befitting to character Jaime Reyes as he gets entangled into a conflict and must become a hero in the movie Blue Beetle. Director Angel Manuel Soto’s latest film takes the character from the DC comic books source material and brings him to the silver screen, offering up some return to the fundamentals of a superhero origin tale that’s grounded and more character-based nuances. While the feature does run into some problems in its lack of polish, a predictable story, and excessive force humor, the movie still finds purpose and meanings within its grounded origins tale, cultural representations, and some noteworthy performances from Mariduena and Lopez. Personally, I thought that this movie was somewhere between good and okay. It doesn’t redefine or creatively spark in ideas and aspects into the superhero film genre, which is one of the film’s biggest weaknesses, but it still provides a amusing viewing experience and doesn’t get caught up in the greater world building of a superhero universe avenue. Yes, there are a lot of forced humor moments that are handled rather clunky in their staging and execution, but the movie itself was more of a character driven endeavor rather than a grandiose plot. So, it’s both a give and take for me. Definitely better than Fury of the Gods or Black Adam, so I guess that’s a win. Basically, it’s nothing new or original in the genre, but sometimes can be slightly good to go “back to basics” in a way. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a “recommended” one as I’m sure there will be a fanbase for this feature, especially in the comic book fandom as well as in the Latino community, while I might also say as well as a “rent it” for the more causal moviegoers out there. The film’s conclusion leaves the door open for several possible ideas of sequels and spin-offs for the Blue Beetle (one that I would welcome with some minor tweaking in story substance). Yet, given the fact that this movie was to be considered a “leftover” entry from the old DCEU universe and that Gunn’s new DCU universe’s first saga has already been planned out, it seems that it might be a while to see Jamie Reyes returning in the superhero arena. Let’s hope things change on the horizon…. for the better. In the end, Blue Beetle is a fun (yet decent) enough origin tale that gets the job done by giving the feature a very distinct personality and swagger about it, which helps make-up for its formulaic nature, and reconnects in the simpler offerings of a superhero motion picture rather than massive interwoven narratives of heroes, gods, and monsters.
3.5 Out of 5 (Recommended / Rent It)
Released On: August 18th, 2023
Reviewed On: September 2nd, 2023
Blue Beetle is 127 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, language, and some suggestive references