Blue Beetle

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The DC Extended Universe’s lowest-grossing movie of all time, as I write, is Blue Beetle, which is a slightly unfair way to look at it, since it was originally intended as an HBO or HBO Max or Max (or whatever it’s currently called) release, but got bumped up to theatrical as a result of musical chairs at DC HQ.

It’s clearly not had movie money spent on it and you can see that in the special effects, which are used more sparingly than is normal in a superhero movie. Whose plot, you’re wondering, is what?

Jaime, a Mexican kid just back from college and hanging out with his struggling family, is physically invaded, hijacked, taken over by a blue scarab beetle which not only gives him super powers but also comes with an onboard consciousness – an inner voice which actually runs the techy back end. So, a little bit Spider-Man and a little bit Iron Man.

Up until it welded itself to Jaime, the scarab had been in the possession of mega-tech billionaire Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), who wants it back. Standing between Jaime and Victoria is her niece, Jenny (Bruna Marquezine), whose father started the ethically conceived company which her aunt has since turned into a weapons conglomerate. Jenny is as hot as she is principled and is soon in deep with Jaime. Meanwhile, in the wings and acting as Victoria’s muscle is Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo), a grizzly warrior tricked out with plenty of Kord hardware, a nemesis that’s the big bad corporation in human form.

The Jaime/Jenny thing is a little bit Romeo and Juliet – two star-crossed young people from either side of a divide. And the whole Unprincipled Victoria and Jenny’s Principled Dad thing is an echo of the Bad King John/Good King Richard dynamic at the back of the Robin Hood legends. But what this is first and foremost is the first Latino superhero movie (live-action division – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse got there first if we’re counting animation), and it wants us to know that your average Latino’s real super power is the family bond. Jaime’s entire brood are involved in his graduation from milquetoast to Blue Beetle, including his feisty sister (Belissa Escobedo), voluble parents (Elpidia Carrillo, Damián Alcázar) and doughty grandmother (Adriana Barraza) but most of all Rudy (George Lopez), his truck-loving, conspiracy-theorising unconventional uncle.

Bruna Marquezine as Jenny
Bruna Marquezine as Jenny

Blue Beetle overdoes the family stuff, to the point where it starts to get a bit patronisingly stereotypical, but it’s undoubtedly meant in the right way, so…

Ángel Manuel Soto you might remember as the director of a movie called Charm City Kings, a guys-and-motorbikes drama which was both charming and full of good action. So is Blue Beetle. Soto marshals his resources well and directs the action sequences with flair. He gets big bangs for his relatively meagre bucks, and he delivers a finale – the inevitable “two guys beating the shit out of each other” – with an understanding that we’ve all seen this sort of thing before.

There is nothing to be said about the acting. It is Big Superhero Acting. Strike a pose and say your lines for the most part, though Barraza gets a couple of good smirks as she reveals that Granny wasn’t always a nice old dear and Lopez is engaging and fun as Rudy, source of much of the movie’s feelgood vibes.

Personally, I didn’t buy the Jaime/Jenny relationship, though they’re both good-looking people, but it doesn’t in the end matter too much. The big deal in this movie is the family bond, not whether Jaime and Jenny get into each other’s pants.

It’s a good fun movie that serves up action with some flair and whose only major claim to specialness is its sentimental take on ethnicity. There are worse superhero movies, worse ones in the DCEU even. Take 2016’s Suicide Squad.

Blue Beetle – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2023

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