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In Fun “Blue Beetle,” Family Is Key

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | August 16th, 2023

Film poster: Blue Beetle”

Blue Beetle (Angel Manuel Soto, 2023) 3 out of 4 stars.

As always with certain superhero films, I find myself at an initial disadvantage given my ignorance of most comic-book lore. Other than some early childhood experiences reading mainly DC volumes at random, the bulk of what I know stems from a period in my early twenties when I was roommate to folks with a vast collection. Desperate to avoid writing my master’s thesis, I manically devoured those slim tomes, some of which have since become classics (Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series, Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta and Watchmen, and a sprinkling of Marvel treasures).

I am therefore genuinely happy whenever the latest DC or Marvel franchise episode arrives that neither demands expertise in the mythos nor revels in excessive fan service. Such is Blue Beetle, which is no doubt rich in Easter eggs (including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to Guillermo del Toro’s 1992 Cronos), yet proves enjoyable for the layperson. Director Angel Manuel Soto (Charm City Kings) delivers the narrative with a light touch that keeps the comedy and action moving along at a briskish clip (the movie is nevertheless a little over 2 hours long), and the jokes land as effectively as many of the punches. Combine that with the charisma of the stars and it’s a fairly winning formula.

Xolo Maridueña in BLUE BEETLE, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures™ & ©DC Comics

Xolo Maridueña (Netflix’s Cobra Kai series) plays Jaime Reyes, the first college graduate in his family, who returns home post-commencement only to find that things are going poorly for the household. Father Alberto (Damián Alcázar, El Poderoso Victoria) has just recovered from a heart attack, and despite the efforts of the rest—mother Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo, Madres), sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo, Hocus Pocus 2), Uncle Rudy (George Lopez, North of the 10), and Nana (Adriana Barraza, Bingo Hell)—they have already lost their business and are about to lose their house. It’s definitely not the welcome Jaime hoped for.

Their situation is made worse by living in Palmera City, a fictional place where (not so fictionally) gentrification is pushing many longtime residents (many of them hardworking immigrants like the Mexican American Reyes clan) towards destitution. The production-design team does a great job placing billboards and other signs in the background as constant reminders of what late-stage capitalism looks like. Hint: it’s not pretty for the bulk of us.

l-r: Harvey Guillén and Susan Sarandon in BLUE BEETLE, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures™ & ©DC Comics

The avatar of this ruthless, not-so-brave new world is Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon, The Jesus Rolls), who in an opening prologue uncovers a long-buried blue-scarab device of mysterious origin. She’s the CEO of Kord Industries, a tech firm on the verge of completing a cutting-edge armed-forces system, the O.M.A.C. (One Many Army Corps). This contraption involves implanting high-end gadgetry into a soldier’s body that can both amplify strength and skills and morph into armor and weaponry. Her right-hand man, Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo, The Last Manhunt), is already outfitted with a beta version of the O.M.A.C. All they need now is to decode the secrets of the scarab to make it perfect.

Opposing Victoria’s plans for the company is her niece, Jenny (Bruna Marquezine, Ophelia’s Death), the daughter of her deceased brother, Ted. His placement as CEO (before his death) ahead of Victoria has left her with a big chip on her shoulder. Jenny wants Kord Industries to abandon arms manufacturing and turn to something more peaceful. And so she steals the scarab, hoping to stymie her aunt’s plans.

l-r: Belissa Escobedo, Elpidia Carrillo, Bruna Marquezine, Adriana Barraza, and George Lopez in BLUE BEETLE, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures™ & ©DC Comics

One thing leads to another, and the beetle ends up in Jaime’s hands, from which it quickly leaps and joins with his body in symbiosis. It has an artificial intelligence and a name, Khaji-Da (and is voiced by singer Becky G) and soon takes over many of Jaime’s motor functions, sending him up into near orbit (protected by a suit that emerges from within) and careening in all sorts of directions as he struggles to learn control. In a sequence straight out of the 2018 Upgrade, Khaji-Da also offers, with Jaime’s permission, to do all needed fighting for him (since Kord’s goons are after him, wanting the scarab back). Much mayhem and destruction follow.

The rest of the film is a straight-up battle between good and evil, as Jaime and his relatives (with Jenny along for the ride) struggle to keep Victoria and Carapax from getting want they want. This really is a family affair, much to the betterment of the story. Not only does Blue Beetle offer great Latinx representation, but it dives deep into the values of family and community. There’s a lot of love onscreen, and it proves quite poignant.

Xolo Maridueña in BLUE BEETLE, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures™ & ©DC Comics

Still, there are certain overlong sequences that bog the action down, and the CGI, beautiful at times, is sometimes less than spectacular at others. It would also be nice to learn a little more about Khaji-Da (expect a sequel, therefore, for sure). The trajectory of the hero’s journey is by now also well-known, and it is difficult to make all aspects of it feel fresh. Nonetheless, Soto enlivens the spectacle with many an exciting detail, creating in Blue Beetle a fine piece of late-summer entertainment. Sit back and fly high.


Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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