Review: Blue Beetle
Blue Beetle – 67%
What can truly be considered the end of the Zac Snyder-led DCEU and the start of the James Gunn DCU is unclear. This summer’s The Flash felt like a send-off, much more than this one, but the future of this character is unclear. Blue Beetle feels very much like Dark Phoenix or New Mutants, which were the death knell of Fox’s X-Men films. It has been left out on the ledge, with little fanfare. It’s a shame, as Blue Beetle is the first Latino-led superhero film, with its entire main cast comprised of Latinos as well as the director, Angel Manuel Soto. There was a clearly hope for this to be a watershed moment like Black Panther, but instead it’s being treated like an also-ran.
There’s also the issue that it’s not really very good. While far from the worst superhero film, Blue Beetle is unfortunately fairly generic, outside of a few directorial flourishes and the aforementioned casting. As has often been the case in the bad superhero films of late, the writing is the biggest flaw. It tells a been-there, seen-that superhero origin tale that feels especially truncated in its storytelling. The film has no real plot or sense of progression. Xolo Mariduena plays Jaime Reyes, a college graduate who comes back home to find his lower-income family even poorer. After a quick flash-forward, matters are still dire, and his college degree hasn’t gotten him a job worthy of his apparent knowledge. This is all decent first-act material, and even sets up some themes of family and what it means to feel fulfilled and have a purpose.
Unfortunately, those themes are never adequately explored as the script doesn’t really know how to advance to a second and third act. Jaime is handed the device that gives him superpowers after a run-in with the estranged niece from a super-powerful corporation. Most of the rest of the film is a meandering chase with Susan Sarandon as the main villain, who has no clear goals until late into the third act. She wants to get the device, the Scarab, back, but it’s not entirely clear why or what she wants to do with it besides vague notions about military weapons. The script attempts to use repeated lines of dialogue as a substitute for the development of themes, but this falls flat due to the lack of plot occurrences or meaningful choices from characters. The film instead limps haphazardly to a third-act action scene that leaves you feeling like nothing happened. There’s no real experimentation or finding out how to use the powers, since the suit’s AI tells Jaime how to do everything. Contrast it with excellent scenes in films like Spider-Man and this feels woefully inadequate.
There is a talented cast and the potential for real pathos. Mariduena is quite charismatic as Jaime and clearly has the power to lead a film. Casting George Lopez as an eccentric tech-head uncle (though that it is a plot point very sloppily established) is also a decent choice, and he’s occasionally funny. Sarandon feels wasted on an extraordinarily bland character who essentially says only four or five sentences and small variations thereof. Raoul Trujillo is also wasted as a blandly muscled character named Carapax, who is given some character all at once in a montage at the end of the film, with the expectation that we’ll suddenly care about him.
Blue Beetle isn’t without merit. Director Soto does occasionally do neat things with the camera, contrasting closeups of characters standing static with cuts to emotional happenings as a way of charging up the mood of a scene. There’s also a certain anime quality to the action, giving it a burst of energy, though it mostly is comprised of rather weak CGI. The direction and acting elevate scenes that are otherwise quite forgettable into something tolerable.
Ultimately, the film does nowhere near enough to stand out. With a multitude of superhero films coming out each year from multiple cinematic universes, as well as a few unconnected projects, the bar is high to avoid feeling like the same thing. Blue Beetle does nowhere near enough to cross that bar, despite some decent qualities. One hopes Mariduena is given another chance with a better script. There is a heart to the film when it focuses on its family unit. It’s a shame that heart is too buried under blandness to gleam like it could.