Friday, August 18, 2023


 by Rob DiCristino

Straight outta 2009.

“It’s good to be in something from the ground floor,” opines Tony Soprano in the first episode of his eponymous television series. “But lately, I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.” Tony saw the writing on the wall when it came to organized crime in the new millennium, and had he survived to see the last decade of superhero cinema — or even the rest of that night at the diner — he’d get the same feeling from Blue Beetle, a comic book adventure that feels less less like the start of something new and more like a fraying highlight reel from the Marvel and DC of yesteryear. It’s earnest enough in its best moments — it certainly lacks the ill-advised smugness of Black Adam and the hopeless incoherence of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania — but it’s made the fatal mistake of being born in the wrong era (era). The shared multiverses that once felt so bold and ambitious are now tangled and tiresome; The corporate Hollywood that grew fat on IP is now bumbling and top-heavy. In short, Blue Beetle is suiting up for a game that was lost before the season even began.
The adventure kicks off when young Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña, whose Disney Channel energy never quite meets the challenge of the big screen) returns to his native Palmera City, a Miami analogue buckling under gentrification by the Kord Corporation, an industrial monolith headed by the ruthless Victoria Kord (a sleepwalking Susan Serandon). Victoria wants to develop supersoldier technology with the Scarab, an ancient alien artifact discovered by her brother, previous CEO Ted Kord. Ted’s daughter Jenny (Bruna Marquezine) attempts to stop her by stealing the Scarab and giving it to Jaime for safekeeping. The Scarab, however, bonds with Jaime and turns him into the Blue Beetle. With these new powers, he can defeat Victoria — whose lackey Conrad Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo) has a super suit of his own — save his family (including George Lopez as fast-talking Uncle Rudy) from eviction, and launch a new Warner Brothers IP that will definitely still exist after James Gunn reboots it all next year.

Helmed by Ángel Manuel Soto (2020’s Charm City Kings), Blue Beetle skips playfully through the collected archives of superhero tropes: Jaime is a warm-hearted underdog (remember Peter Parker from Spider-Man? It’s like that) who must grow into a hero capable of wielding advanced technology against an agent of the military industrial complex who wants to use it for nefarious means (remember Iron Man and/or Ant-Man? It’s like that). The insectoid suit is equipped with voice-activated A.I. (remember the Iron Spider suit from Infinity War? It’s like that) and can conjure up weapons purely from the wearer’s imagination (remember Green Lantern’s ring? It’s like that). He’s not alone, though: Jaime’s family uses analog weapons from the archives of the original Blue Beetle (remember the Batcave? It’s like that), including a bug-eyed airship (remember Night Owl’s hovercraft from Watchmen? It’s like that) and other exciting laser weapons (remember those hologram shields from Black Panther? It’s like that).
And on and on. Blue Beetle has zero interest in breaking new ground, preferring instead to assert its hero’s place in the comic book movie pantheon purely through imitation and homage. “You know these guys, right?” it seems to ask us. “Well, our guy is one of them!” Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer’s screenplay approximates the shape and weight of a hero’s journey when necessary, throwing the occasional nods to Sage Mentors and Refusals of the Call. None of it works on a character level, unfortunately, as Jaime is never as layered or conflicted as his Friendly Neighborhood counterparts. There’s no actual growth or change to speak of (perhaps the recent college graduate may have forgotten — thus having to relearn — his commitment to his family?) that might have paralleled his super-heroic transformation, nor is that family’s foundational cohesion ever seriously challenged. They’re good people who love each other from first scene to last, and the audience is given little else to do but cheer them on with reverence and glee.
And we will! Blue Beetle clearly revels in its opportunity to tell the first major Latino story in superhero cinema, giving us Lopez’s wonderfully conspiratorial Uncle Rudy — whose beloved “Taco” pickup is the star of the second act — Adriana Barraza as a badass abuela with a revolutionary past, and Belissa Escobedo as Jaime’s sardonic little sister, Milagro. Though they ultimately feel cloying and fall thematically flat, images of shocktroopers raiding a Mexican household and flashbacks of Carapax as a child soldier in Central America at least give Blue Beetle a bit of necessary texture and pathos. It’s all too little, too late, however; the uncomfortable reality is that is took almost two decades for Latino characters to be allowed into the superhero space, and Blue Beetle’s deeply underwhelming execution only serves as a (perhaps intentional) reminder that oppressive majorities wouldn’t give up that space if it had any value. The best is over, Mr. Soprano, and Blue Beetle isn’t nearly strong enough to bring it back to life.

Blue Beetle is in theaters now.


  1. The trailers made it look like DC was doing a Marvel movie. I'm not sure if it's a good or bad thing yet, but from your review, it doesn't look good