The basic design of “Blue Beetle” in terms of comic book inspired movies ends up being rather standard fare. Every cinematic effort from “Spider-Man” to “Shazam” has featured a young person who suddenly gets super powers.
Once the person has mastered those new abilities – always following a series of failed training attempts – the newly anointed hero accepts his place as a guardian supreme. This all leads to a massive battle (or battles) with a villain just as powerful resulting in numerous high-impact action sequences.
“Blue Beetle” also brushes up enough against the original comic book versions of the character to sufficiently appease those who love to cite chapter and verse. Writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer has opted to go with the most recent of the three incarnations of the comic book character to tell the story.
Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) returns home from college full of hopes and dreams. Those get squashed when he learns the family business has been lost, they have to leave their home because big business is squeezing them out and his father had a heart attack.
There isn’t much time to deal with those problems because during a job interview, Jaime finds himself in possession of an ancient relic of alien biotechnology called the Scarab. This device latches on to Jaime’s spine and their symbiotic relationship creates the super being known as the Blue Beetle.
It would not be a superhero movie if there wasn’t some maniacal leader of industry who wants the Scarab. In this case, that would be Victoria Kord as played by Susan Sarandon.
All of these elements make for a very standard action film. But, there are three major things that elevate the film. It starts with the casting of Xolo Maridueña who makes the human part of the Blue Beetle very likable. He’s not as goofy as Zachary Levi trying to play Shazam and is more grounded than any of the actors who played Spider-Man. Maridueña brings just the right qualities to make the character seem super and real.
The other big bonus is that Jaime is not alone. He is surrounded by a family that loves him so much they will go to war for him. There are a few moments – especially with Jaime’s grandmother – that dance very close to being absurd but Dunnet-Alcocer has created a script that never takes itself too seriously.
At the center of the family support is Jaime’s conspiracy-loving uncle Rudy played with great fervor by George Lopez. He’s described as a Mexican Doc Brown and that gives Jaime both the personal and technical support he needs.
Lastly, the film breaks new ground because of the number of actors and behind-the-scenes crew who are Latino. This is the most diversified film in the DC superhero movie galaxy and has been a long time coming.
The family and diversity elements elevate the film to a very positive level. Sadly, the production is not perfect.
Casting Susan Sarandon as the mega villain doesn’t work. She just doesn’t bring the kind of maniacal evilness this kind of role needs. She does bad things but there is not enough gravatas to her villainous ways to make her come across as a serious threat.
She does have a serious henchman but that is merely evil by association. It is obvious from the secret scene in the closing credits a second movie could be made in the franchise. A more serious threat is needed should that happen.
There haven’t been many home runs with DC superhero movies lately. “Shazam: Fury of the Gods!” suffered from a juvenile performance at the heart of the production while “The Flash” fell apart in the middle and never recovered. “Black Adam” never had any serious punch.
“Blue Beetle” should turn things around. It features an actor who understands how such roles should be played. Toss in a fun supporting cast and the Blue Beetle can save the DC comic book movie world from a serious case of the doldrums.
Cast: Xolo Maridueña, Becky G, Adriana Barraza, Elpidia Carrillo, Damian Alcazar, George Lopez, Susan Sarandon
Director: Angel Manuel Soto
Rated: PG-13 for language, action sequences
Running time: 127 minutes.