‘Blue Beetle’ was initially scheduled for a straight-to-streaming release before David Zaslav announced that the film would actually get a cinematic release back in August 2022. And this streaming origin shows in the final product, with a lower-stakes movie for a lesser-known character in DC’s pantheon.
This made-for-streaming quality also shines in the film’s superhero story that audiences have seen countless times, with little twists or deviations from what has been done before. But while the superhero origin formula remains the same as ever, it’s when the film delves into Jaime Reyes’ family that it manages to stand out what came before.
Starring Xolo Maridueña as the titular Blue Beetle, the film shows Jaime Reyes getting to grips with a symbiotic scarab that’s bonded to him against his will. Meanwhile, the villainous Victoria Kord, played by Susan Sarandon, wants to take it and apply it to her O.M.A.C. (One Man Army Corps) program at Kord Industries. Jaime must protect his family from Kord’s power and learn the secrets of the scarab.
It features the same origin beats previously shown in many other superheroes films – the hero unwittingly gets powers, learning to accept that power, the one-note villain wants the power for evil reasons, and the hero fighting a villain who has the the same powerset. With ‘Blue Beetle’, it feels like it’s a mix of ‘Iron Man’, ‘Venom’ and a dash of ‘Spider-Man’. It’s at these points the film feels the most played out, covering the same ground as many others.
Nowhere is this familiar ground more clear than in its villain. Victoria Kord is as one-note and as forgettable as they come, playing an American imperialist at the head of a tech company. She and her company share some unique parallels with Tony Stark, but the character herself is rather dull. She and Carapax are unlikely to be remembered in the future.
But where ‘Blue Beetle’ manages to stand apart from the rest of the superhero crowd is in its family. The film has rightly been lauded for its Latino representation, and it doesn’t shy away from that fact either. Jaime’s family gets to shine at several points during the film, with all of them playing important roles, and not just being token parts of the movie. If the character returns, this aspect could be expanded to the wider community, as the end of the movie hints a tight neighborhood, but this isn’t clear beforehand.
Xolo Maridueña is a natural in the role, showing earnestly and likeability as Jaime. He also gets to show some emotional range a few times when the script allows him to, hinting at his future potential. Hopefully he will stick around, and not get swatted aside by James Gunn’s purge. The same goes for his family too. The film is a celebration of latino culture and talent both in front of and behind the camera, which shouldn’t be lost.
The film sets itself apart from the rest of the DC by having some color to it, with Palmera City being full of colorful lights, Kord Industries’ bright lights on its technology, and of course the Blue Beetle suit itself. This colorful palette manages to translate into a largely upbeat film too, and there isn’t much egregious use of slow motion, as past DC films have fallen victim to.
‘Blue Beetle’ also avoids tying itself to the larger DC mythology that’s about to get rebooted. There are namedrops to Batman and Superman, but they’re only that. This independence from the larger universe means it could be easily slotted into the new DCU going forward. What this means for the film itself though is that it feels like an early attempt at a superhero film, and contributes to its low-budget feel. But while it’s a far cry from the complex beings comic book movies have become, some may appreciate that simplicity.
For those who haven’t seen many superhero films, ‘Blue Beetle’ may surprise and delight. But for anyone familiar with the comic book genre, it’s hard not to shake the feeling that this film has been done before. When the movie returns to its familial roots and proudly wears it on its sleeve it shines, an aspect that’s hopefully kept and expanded on going forward.