Superhero films have grown stale thanks to assembly-line productions with familiar narratives, CGI effects, and a rotating cast of the same recognizable actors. Many of those tropes are present in “Blue Beetle” based on the titular character who first appeared in 1939 comic books. What sets this film apart from all the others, is the fact that it’s based on DC Comics’ first Latino superhero (played by Xolo Maridueña), and under director Ángel Manuel Soto, it’s a sincere representation of the culture. Anyone who grew up in a Hispanic household as I did, can attest to the genuineness of Nana played by Adriana Barraza; a kind and loving grandmother who, when forced, can handle a futuristic weapon just as well if not better than Private Vasquez in “Aliens.” Gather the family for this fun-filled adventure chock-full of laughs and plenty of heart.
The film moves the DC Comics setting from El Paso to the fictional Palmera City (an amalgamation of California, and Florida). That’s where we first meet college graduate Jamie Reyes (Maridueña) back at home after studying pre-law. Jamie’s plans to attend graduate school are on hold as he works to bring in money for the family who is at risk of losing their home; Patriarch Alberto (Damián Alcázar) had to close the auto repair shop due to health reasons.
Jamie is working at a hotel alongside his sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) where he meets future love interest Jenny Kord (played by Brazilian telenovelas star Bruna Marquezine) whose MIA father Ted founded Kord Industries which has become a leader in the tech defense industry, focused on building weapons. She is not happy that the company’s new CEO, her aunt Victoria (Susan Sarandon), is working on new tech that turns humans into futuristic soldiers. Under Ted, the company focused on clean energy, not weapons of mass destruction.
Jenny steals Victoria’s latest project, an ancient scarab shaped like a beetle known as Khaji Da (voiced by singer Becky G), that attaches to a symbiotic host transforming its human counterpart into a cyborg fighting machine complete with a suit that’s a cross between Iron Man and The Fly. The bad news, the transformation can be frightening for small children. The good news, the end result is closer to Robert Downey Jr.’s superhero than Jeff Goldblum’s Brundlefly.
“Guard that with your life but don’t open it” instructs Jenny as she hands the scarab to Jamie for safekeeping. Of course, he opens it at the family dinner table and is transformed into Blue Beetle. Despite the scene’s dark overtones (think John Carpenter’s “The Thing”), it’s a funny moment thanks to George Lopez’s Uncle Rudy who screams his head off in one of the many scene-stealing moments by the veteran comedian-actor. Elpidia Carrillo, who plays Mother Rocio, joins Rudy in the Reyes family scream-off.
The storyline concentrates on Jamie learning to harness his new superpowers while Victoria sends scores of gun-toting baddies to recover the scarab. Her right-hand man, and top henchman Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo), is a cyborg or OMAC (One-Man Army Corps) developed at Kord Industries. He resembles a Transformer who becomes stronger leading to a CGI-laden finale as Carapax and Blue Beetle battle it out. There is a great emotional scene that lets the audience feel empathy for the supervillain. It’s one of the frequent instances in the superhero film that reflects on the emotional side of the Latin culture, heavy on family and love.
Ángel Manuel Soto and writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer (“Miss Bala”) invigorate the superhero genre by delivering a spirited entry in the DCU filled with action, fun, and humor (traits that keep moviegoers coming back for more). While some may view the characters in “Blue Beetle” as Latin stereotypes, they are more cultural generalizations, true representations of the personalities that anyone of Latin descent grew up with. My Hispanic grandmother didn’t tote a futuristic M134 Minigun as the film’s grey-haired Nana, but she could take out just as many baddies with her proficient broom skills. She also spoke predominately Spanish while the rest of us spoke English.
When Uncle Rudy tells Jamie “You’re a superhero cabrón” it’s authentic to the culture, and when he states, “Batman is a fascist!” it’s a “just ignore your Uncle” moment; we can all relate to those. And that’s another special aspect of the film. Apart from the language, the familial bond theme relates to all cultures.
Xolo Maridueña (Netflix’s “Cobra Kai”) as Jamie Reyes-Blue Beetle has the right amount of looks and charm to carry the role. George Lopez is so good that an Uncle Rudy spinoff isn’t such a bad idea. Music from Selena, Calle 13, Cypress Hill, plus references to Guillermo del Toro’s “Cronos,” telenovela “Maria la del Barrio,” Cheech and Chong, and superhero parody “El Chapulín Colorado” reinforce the film’s authenticity.
The score by Bobby Krlic, aka The Haxan Cloak, brings a heavy 80s vibe to the film as pulsating synths drive the action. The composer who’s worked with Ari Aster and Goldfrapp, gives the film a nostalgic ambiance as does some of the clunky special effects like Ted Kord’s bug-shaped craft. Who’s driving that thing? Carmen and Juni Cortez?
Susan Sarandon is a great actress, but her character Victoria is the film’s weakest link. It’s the sort of role that usually goes to someone less familiar, an interesting choice for sure. I will say that Raoul Max Trujillo’s Carapax (not a fan of the name, I keep hearing CARFAX) overcompensates in the villain department and the storyline is nothing new (greedy, power-hungry baddie builds a superweapon to take over the world).
“Blue Beetle” is loads of fun with plenty of laughs and thrills to satisfy the whole family. “¡A huevo!”
(3 ½ stars)
Now showing in theaters