‘Blue Beetle’ Is a Superhero Film for the Family
Aug 24, 2023   •   Mikhail Lecaros
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Aug 24, 2023   •   Mikhail Lecaros
Following the drama-laden debacle of Black Adam and The Flash’s theatrical failure, Warner Bros. returns to the DC Universe with the arrival of Blue Beetle.
Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña, Cobra Kai) returns from university to find his hometown being reshaped by Kord Industries, led by CEO Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon, The Lovely Bones, Enchanted). With his family being evicted from their home in the name of progress, Jaime searches for work, eventually crossing paths with Jenny (Brazilian telenovela star Bruna Marquezine), the daughter of Kord Industries founder Ted Kord. That chance encounter puts Jaime in possession of the Scarab, an alien artifact that Victoria needs to create an army of super soldiers. Unbeknownst to her, the Scarab’s A.I., Khaji-Da (played in the Philippine version by voice talent extraordinaire Inka Magnaye), has selected Jaime to be the bearer of its power, transforming the young man into the superhero known as the Blue Beetle!
Familiar to Netflix audiences for his role in Cobra Kai, Maridueña is well-suited to the part of an up-and-coming superhero. With superheroes becoming dangerously close to old hat with moviegoers at this point, Jaime is made infinitely more interesting by his interactions with his la familia, who provide the emotional framework needed to ground the superheroic shenanigans their number one son gets up to. When Jaime’s father tells him it’s probably his destiny to listen to the (soon-to-be) Blue Beetle when the latter has an existential crisis, it drives home the fact that this superhero movie has a beating heart under its high-tech exterior.
It’s grown increasingly common to cast A-list actors as villains in these films, yet infinitely less so for them to be given material worthy of their talents. Susan Sarandon is no stranger to offbeat genre fare, having famously starred in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1995), rendering her formulaic turn as Victoria Kord as altogether disappointing. There is literally nothing about her evil corporate villain that justifies casting a performer of her stature. Weaving in her storyline with the shameful history of the US government’s infamous School of the Americas program (known for turning out dictators, torturers, and assassins) was potentially fascinating, but it only serves as a half-baked backstory for Victoria’s top henchman.
Storywise, DC Studios isn’t the first to pin their franchise hopes on an armored hero fighting his dark reflection while the usurper to a Fortune 500 company plots to secure their position in the military-industrial complex. The movie makes up for its derivative narrative through its wholehearted embracing of the lead character’s Latin American heritage – from the extended family living under one roof and their love of Mexican telenovelas, to the use of Vicks Vaporub as a cure-all, there were lots of Easter Eggs for Pinoys to be amused by.
Among the best of these, of course, was the inclusion of Magnaye herself, her dulcet tones instilling the Scarab with a touch of bemused sophistication, along with a couple of Filipino references (“Walang anuman!”). And hey, if blockbusters can localize a voice, who’s to say they can’t localize entire characters in the future? Paul Bettany’s MCU tenure began as the voice of an operating system, after all, and it would be a thing to see Magnaye kicking it with Jaime Reyes. Shades of the Scarab as a force for good made their way into the real world when Magnaye and other preview attendees confronted an indignant guest who thought it would be fun to record his favorite scenes on his phone. Aspersions to the latter’s intelligence (or lack thereof) are entirely welcome.
Hands down, the Reyes clan is the most entertaining part of the movie, comprised of Jaime’s doting mother (Elpidia Carrillo, Predator), father (Damián Alcázar, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian), sassy sister (Belissa Escobedo, Hocus Pocus 2), and pious abuela (Adriana Barraza, Drag Me to Hell). They’re joined by Jaime’s rambunctious Uncle Rudy (George Lopez, Sharkboy and Lava Girl), a Toyota Tacoma afficionado whose misplaced bravado drew no end of laughter. The inclusion of the family enlivens the entire film, as their interactions and reactions put fresh spins on scenes we’ve seen countless times before. The story’s Palmera City setting may be imaginary, but the Reyes family feels drawn from real life.
Despite entering production before James Gunn’s (Guardians of the Galaxy, Slither) appointment to DC Studios co-chair, the director has stated that Blue Beetle is the first entry in his upcoming revamp of said studio’s beleaguered cinematic universe. That being said, it’s curious that Warner Brothers chose this particular character to launch their new enterprise. Granted, Iron Man was barely known outside of comic shops before Robert Downey, Jr.’s charisma singlehandedly kickstarted the MCU, but that film didn’t have a decade of failures hanging over it.
A fun, breezy adventure with easy laughs, Blue Beetle’s aggressively generic narrative isn’t the slam dunk WB needed to usher in their universe-wide reboot while proclaiming their franchise’s bold new direction. For all its charms, Blue Beetle simply isn’t enough.
Literally and figuratively, this looks like a job for Superman.
Have you watched Blue Beetle? Tell us what you thought about the film in the comments!
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