A fresh college graduate gets more than he bargained for when he chases down a job offer at a high-tech film in Blue Beetle, which opens in Prague cinemas and worldwide this weekend. Ahead of December’s Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, the is the next-to-last adventure in the current iteration of the DC Extended Universe, and we can feel sense the brakes being slowly applied.
Blue Beetle looks and sounds great (especially in IMAX), and is bolstered by a charismatic lead turn from Xolo Maridueña (Cobra Kai), but ultimately stumbles under the weight of its soppy storyline, largely comprised of elements lifted from other, better-known superheroes. With James Gunn taking the reigns of the comic book franchise moving forward, this one feels like little more than a splat on a passing windshield.
Set in Palmera City, this DCEU’s version of Miami, Blue Beetle stars Maridueña as 22-year-old Jaime Reyes, who returns home to his family after graduating from college to some bad news. The city, represented by mega-corporation Kord Industries, is about to evict his family from their home unless they can come up with some quick cash.
With Jaime looking to help out his family, including Mom (Elpidia Carrillo), Dad (a standout Damián Alcázar), Nana (Adriana Barraza) and Uncle Rudy (George Lopez), sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) gets him an easy job as a cleaner at the spacious estate of Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon). But when Jaime oversteps his bounds following an argument between Victoria and niece Jenny (Bruna Marquezine) about the war-focused future of their family’s company, the elder Kord literally tells him to ándale.
Feeling bad for her aunt’s treatment of Jaime, Jenny promises him a potential job at their downtown office. But when he shows up unannounced, she instead thrusts a burger box into his hands and tells him to guard it with his life. It contains the titular Blue Beetle scarab: a piece of alien technology that bonds with Jaime and transforms him into a super-powered bug.
After a compelling setup that embraces the films’s hispanic influence while never turning too stereotypical (we can give Uncle Rudy’s La Cucaracha car horn a break for at least being thematically relevant), Blue Beetle devolves into a most unfortunate hodgepodge of superhero movie cliches. We’ve seen the second half of this film dozens of times over the past two decades.
Blue Beetle features, just to name a few elements: a relationship between the main character and his murderous alien symbiote lifted from Venom; a suite of super-powered suits stolen from Iron Man, with a nod to RoboCop; and a second-generation superhero setup borrowed from Ant-Man (Jenny’s father just happens to be the original Blue Beetle, with a mid-credits gag setting up a sequel that we all know isn’t coming.)
Worst of all: Blue Beetle cribs an Uncle Ben-like backstory from Spider-Man, but robs it of its impact and meaning. Because the movie wants its hero to be altruistic from beginning to end, Jaime doesn’t learn that ‘with great power comes great responsibility,’ or even that ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ (as Spidey found out in No Way Home). Instead, a family member dies here just because Spider-Man did it first.
The mi familia storyline is intended to reflect Blue Beetle‘s hispanic heritage, and it does work to some extent, especially in heartfelt scenes where the upper-class Jenny comes to understand that this scrappy low-income family shares more love than she ever had. But we just saw this same thematic material trotted out months ago during Fast X. As villainous Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo) barks “your weakness is your love for family” at Jaime, it’s an almost word-for-word echo of Jason Momoa saying the same to Vin Diesel.
The storytelling inadequacies in Blue Beetle are a shame, because the film is more than competently put together by director Angel Manuel Soto, who has a great feel for the material. Palmera City looks great, and the entire film has a striking neon blue-and-purple color scheme backed by a fantastic synthwave score from Bobby Krlic (a.k.a. The Haxan Cloak) that represents the best thing to come out of the movie.
Blue Beetle isn’t exactly a disappointment at this stage in the DCEU, and apart from the by-the-numbers nature of the storyline there’s actually a lot to like here. Ignore the dialogue and narrative and let the visuals and soundtrack soak in, and you might even get some TRON: Legacy vibes.