Humor, heart and Hispanic culture highlight DC's latest.
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I’m not the critic who often covers superhero flicks for Film Yap, but I count myself lucky that I was the one selected to review “Blue Beetle” (now in theaters) as it was simultaneously familiar (it is an origin story after all) and fresh.
Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña of “Cobra Kai” … super-likable there, super-likable here) is a recent pre-law graduate of Gotham University who’s returning home to Palmera City and the loving arms of his family comprised of his mother Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo, the lady from “Predator” … a sight for sore eyes), father Alberto (Damián Alcázar), sassy sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo, “Hocus Pocus 2”), Nana (Adriana Barraza, a Best Supporting Oscar nominee for “Babel”) and conspiracy theorist uncle Rudy (George Lopez, surprisingly funny and effective).
The Reyes family has fallen on hard times. Alberto had a heart attack. The clan lost their auto repair shop and are in the process of losing their home. Milagro gets Jaime a job alongside her tending to a palatial estate belonging to Kord Industries CEO Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon). Jaime promptly gets them both fired when intervening in an argument between Victoria and her niece Jenny (Brazilian actress Bruzine Marquezine). Jenny, impressed with Jaime’s chivalry, invites him to Kord Tower the following day with the promise of a prospective job.
Jaime arrives at Kord Tower at an inopportune time as Jenny’s stealing an ancient artifact known as the Scarab from Victoria. Her aunt was planning on using it to develop militaristic technology known as One Man Army Corps (OMAC). As security’s closing in, Jenny passes the Scarab onto Jaime who escapes the building unscathed. Upon returning home the Scarab affixes itself to Jaime resulting in him being wrapped in a sentient armored suit. As the suit’s calibrating it sends Jamie into orbit and on an accidentally vandalistic trip through Palmera City.
Jaime’s exploits draw Victoria’s attention so she sends her henchman Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo, late of FX’s “Mayans M.C.”) and Stormtroopers after him, his family and Jenny. It’ll be up to Jaime to harness the Scarab’s powers in order to protect them all.
“Blue Beetle” as directed by Puerto Rican filmmaker Ángel Manuel Soto (“Charm City Kings”) and scripted by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer (he penned the 2019 American remake of “Miss Bala”) is a fairly rote superhero origin story. Where it’s elevated is in its wholehearted embrace of Hispanic culture. The soundtrack is almost entirely comprised of Latin music. There’s a recurring joke referencing a telenovela. I imagine the movie will be empowering to Hispanic audiences (especially those who are youthful or young at heart) who will likely see themselves in Jaime and the rest of the Reyes family.
(Conservative folks’ feathers may get ruffled as there’s plenty of critical imagery calling to mind U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as embodied and overseen by noted Hollywood ultra-liberal Sarandon’s character.)
There isn’t as much action here as there is in some other superhero flicks, but what’s here is rousing. The Scarab suit sports powers that play like a hybrid of Iron Man (it flies and there’s a sentient voice inside the suit known as Khaji-Da voiced by singer-actress Becky G), Green Lantern (it can materialize whatever weapons Jaime thinks up) and Venom in that it’s parasitic. This array of abilities results in a cool collection of skirmishes.
Brimming with heart (family is at the forefront of everything – ham-handedly at times, but it feels far more authentic and sincere than Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and his Corona-swilling cronies from “The Fast and the Furious” franchise) and humor (some of it juvenile … there’s a farting beetle plane … kids will love it), “Blue Beetle” will provide those who often feel unseen their moment in the spotlight and from where I’m sitting there’s value in that. Here’s hoping we get to see the further adventures of the Reyes family.