Monday, September 18, 2023

Blue Beetle: A Review



Alas, Jaime Reyes. Your debut into the DC Extended Universe was crushed by a greater villain than the ones you faced in Blue Beetle. The villain is a mix of public indifference and exhaustion. Blue Beetle is an entertaining, enjoyable romp, one that had it been released even earlier this year might have done better. Alas, Jaime Reyes.

Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) has returned to Palmera City after graduating college to find that things at home are hard. The family business is going under, they are close to losing their home and his father recently suffered a heart attack. Determined to help his family, Jaime gets a job cleaning homes with his sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo). Unfortunately, his defense of Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), niece of Kord Industries head Victoria (Susan Sarandon) costs him his job. Jenny offers to help him find something at Kord Industries as compensation.

Dutifully showing up the next day, Jaime gets caught up in Jenny's industrial sabotage. That involves a seemingly innocuous meal box which ends up containing an alien scarab. That scarab, which Victoria hopes to use for the OMAC (One Man Army Corps) super-soldier project, attaches itself to Jaime much to everyone's horror. Jenny, along with Jaime's Uncle Rudy (George Lopez), break into Kord Industries to find a device to help them enter her late father's home. That leads to an encounter with Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo), Victoria's henchman and OMAC prototype.

The trio discover Jenny's father's secret Blue Beetle past, while Victoria discovers Jaime. Whisked away to a secret lair, Victoria is determined to get the scarab back. Whether this Mexican kid gets killed is irrelevant. It will take all the Reyeses, along with Jenny, to rescue the Blue Beetle, though not without losses.

In many ways, Blue Beetle is a perfect superhero movie, but therein lies the problem. It is by no means a bad film, especially compared to such 2023 superhero film horrors as Shazam! Fury of the Gods, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and The Flash. It is just that by now, with the genre so tired out, Blue Beetle had almost no fighting chance regardless of its quality. 

With 2023 being swamped with bad superhero movies after what seems years of bad superhero movies, Blue Beetle cannot fight against audiences exhausted by the genre. It cannot fight against the diminishing returns of the genre. Worse, it cannot fight against the obscurity of the character. Blue Beetle does a good, albeit perhaps rushed, job of introducing Jaime Reyes and his alter-ego, but because he is obscure, few people will by now give either a glance.  

That is a terrible shame, for Blue Beetle is something that many of these continuing episodes for grandiose comic book films have not been for a while: fun. A good way to describe Blue Beetle is that it is a romp, where we can have some admittedly cringe moments but on the whole having a bit of lightness in the proceedings. For example, the scarab's voice (Becky G.) early on says of Jaime, "Host overreacting" to Jaime's frantic and frenetic yelling. It is not that Blue Beetle is playing as a comedy. It is that Blue Beetle allows for funny moments to pop up without winking and mugging for the camera.

Those come courtesy of Xolo Maridueña, who does a fine job as Jaime Reyes/Blue Beetle. A bit like Tom Holland's Peter Parker from the MCU, Jaime is thrown for a wild loop when made into the Blue Beetle. Unlike Holland's take however, Jaime is nowhere near the blithering idiot that the MCU Peter Parker is. Jaime does his best under wild circumstances, but he also is loyal and loving with his family. He also has a surprising take on a potential love interest: he is genuinely interested. Jaime is simultaneously aroused and clumsy around Jenny, giving it a mix of humor and heart. Again, credit to Maridueña's performance.

Blue Beetle has been touted for its predominately Hispanic cast, and perhaps as a Hispanic myself, I am too close to things. However, I think the focus is more on the positive aspects of Hispanic culture, such as the strong family bonds. Unlike past superheroes from various studios, Jaime is from a surprisingly close-knit family. There is no angst or emotional crisis going on. Instead, Blue Beetle portrays the Reyes family as committed, caring, if at times taking too much away from Jaime himself.

I think there is merit in the criticism that Blue Beetle at times undercuts Jaime by shifting attention to his relatives, particularly his Nana or Grandmother (Adriana Barraza). To be fair, I have relatives that resemble some of the Reyeses, so I cannot fault the film too much for showcasing the relatives. I think writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer and director Angel Manuel Soto were trying to make the Reyes family more involved in things. They may have gone overboard, but nothing horrendous save for one thing.

Near the end, Nana is expertly handing alien weapons while shouting, "DOWN WITH THE IMPERIALISTS!". I was highly puzzled by this. Did Nana fight with Pancho Villa? If she is Mexican, what was all that "imperialist" talk? Was she maybe Cuban? It seems a strange thing to throw in for this character. To be fair, I did enjoy her humorous take on Nana.

There is also George Lopez's controversial "Batman is a fascist!" line. In the context of the film, I think it is meant to portray Uncle Rudy as a bit of a nutter, not anything overtly political. That is reserved for when Blue Beetle and Carapax destroy a statue of Christopher Columbus during their first battle. It is not as if Blue Beetle does not have elements of messaging, such as Caparax's tragic past with the School of the Americas. 

In retrospect, there is one point that did bother me. It was when the Kord goons were swooping down onto the Reyes' home. Uncle Rudy says something about how they could be harassed about their "documents", which I interpret as their citizenship proof. That's a bit too much and unnecessary, but not totally horrendous for me.

On the whole, though, that is perhaps overthinking things. 

A lot of Blue Beetle is standard, but I again don't have a problem with that. The positive message of the supportive family is a good one. Marquezine's Jenny balances being a strong woman while still being increasingly interested in Jaime. I can concede that Sarandon was a bit overdoing things as the villain, but somehow I was not bothered by this. The effects were good if not remarkable and the music worked within the film.

Blue Beetle does not break the mold. It is standard superhero fare: introduction of characters, section where superhero discovers his powers (and is a bit inept with them), couple of battles and our new superhero now more confident and competent can be ready for a new adventure. As such, I cannot fault the film for meeting its goals. Sadly, this may be a case of "too little, too late". Blue Beetle would have done better if DC had opted to focus on building him up than asking him to pick up the pieces from the disasters that were Shazam and the Scarlet Speedster. 

Alas, Jaime Reyes...

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