Blue Beetle review: DC gets a new hero in this week’s superhero film

Xolo Mariduena as Jaime Reyes in Blue Beetle.
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Director Angel Manuel Soto puts a fun twist on the superhero formula – although Blue Beetle is also quite a generic DC film.

With an armoured suit like Iron Man and the youth and insectoid theme of Spider-Man, you could be forgiven for thinking that Blue Beetle is a character – and therefore a film – that’s highly derivative of superhero movies past. You wouldn’t be entirely wrong. At many points the young hero, played by Cobra Kai's Xolo Maridueña, comes across as DC’s Spider-ManBut director Angel Manuel Soto’s insistence on including real latinx representation and making this a tale about family give his Blue Beetle something a bit special.

A recent graduate returning to his family home in Palmera City, Maridueña’s Jaime Reyes is stunned to be hit with several bouts of bad news. The upshot is that he needs to find a job to be able to help his family, which is full of truly wonderful characters. Unlike other superheroes, Jaime has a big, close-knit family that aren’t afraid to be silly and embarrassing around each other. His Nana (Adriana Barraza) and Uncle Rudy (comedian George Lopez) are as likely to make scathing jokes at his expense as they are to be fiercely overprotective.

With Belissa Escobedo as his sharp-tongued sister and Elpidia Carrillo and Damián Alcázar as his parents, the movie quickly establishes a very realistic and likeable family unit, and that’s part of this story’s strength. They’re also often hilarious.

In his search for work, Jaime ends up turning to the wealthy Kord Industries, helmed by CEO Victoria (Susan Sarandon). They’ve recently unearthed a strange scarab-like artifact that’s supposed to have great power, but we don’t know what that is until it chooses Jaime to receive them. When he ends up in possession of the scarab it fuses with his body, granting him a carapace-like suit of armour that will automatically act to protect him when he’s in danger.

The cast of DC's Blue Beetle.

Danger, of course, follows, as the capitalists obviously don’t want their valuable artifact, which they’re using to make super soldiers, in the hands of a young guy who has no idea what’s going on. Xolo Maridueña is very likeable in this, as his character is inexperienced and a little bit socially awkward. His genuine fear and confusion at what’s happening to him comes across very well. It’s no wonder, considering that his transformation – the initial one especially – contains shades of body horror that haven’t really been seen in a superhero film before. That’s one of the few really interesting things that Blue Beetle does differently.

Unfortunately, there’s not much of that ingenuity to go around. Blue Beetle is baffling in places, in that it takes some of the worst parts of by the numbers superhero films, but enhances some of the best parts as well. On one hand, you have the increased inclusion of his family in the story, which is great fun and gives the tale real emotional depth. On the other hand, Sarandon’s villain is flat, and we’ve seen the billionaire tech CEO-turned-villain various times before.

Her left hand man, too, is painfully generic. The clock has been turned back to the days when the villain was simply the same as the hero, but evil and dressed in an opposing colour scheme. He’s also called Carapax, which is about as close to ‘carapace’ as you can probably get without simply naming him that.

Weak villains aside, the action itself is incredibly fun. Jaime’s suit has a variety of powers and each new one he discovers is exciting. Some of the fighting is also quite well choreographed, despite the fact that it devolves towards the end into the typical CGI fest.

Jaime’s journey towards becoming a proper superhero is more gradual and believable than most, and that’s mostly because he gets more help than most heroes do. That’s what makes Soto’s film stand out. It can be a generic superhero tale, but it makes one truly brilliant change to the formula. It’s also about a silly, funny, and really close family all working together.

The new DC Universe, headed by James Gunn and Peter Safran, will include more of Jaime Reyes. With a strong, fun introduction like this, that’s certainly a good thing.

Blue Beetle is in cinemas on 18th August.

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