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film review
  • Blue Beetle
  • Directed by Angel Manuel Soto
  • Written by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer
  • Starring Xolo Maridueña, Bruna Marquezine, George Lopez, Belissa Escobedo, Susan Sarandon
  • Classification PG; 127 minutes
  • Opens in theatres Aug. 18

There’s a lot of talk about representation in Blue Beetle. We’ve never seen a superhero movie centre a Latinx character before, which I say as a matter of fact. Though that point can just as easily be a disclaimer to any observations made in this review or others. Representation is the crutch this latest limp and derivative comic-book movie leans on – a reason for critics and audiences who want to champion diversity to simply overlook how dull and hideous-looking this latest franchise (of many) is.

Blue Beetle is arriving before an anticipated brand overhaul led by Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn and producer Peter Safran. The DC Extended Universe that recently gave us flops like Black Adam (which I liked), Shazam: Fury of the Gods and The Flash is being scrapped. The supposedly completed Batgirl movie starring Dominican American actor Leslie Grace has been trashed without a release (I guess representation wasn’t enough). Blue Beetle and the upcoming Aquaman sequel are the last gasps before Gunn’s regime attempts a resuscitation, with new takes on Superman and Batman on the way. According to Gunn, Xolo Maridueña will reprise his take on Blue Beetle in the upcoming revamp, which gives him ample opportunity to improve on whatever he’s doing here.

Maridueña is giving YTV host energy as Jaime Reyes, a Mexican-American graduate returning home from college to Palmera City – a lightly futuristic take on Miami that looks designed for one of those techno-styled Y2K-era music videos. Jaime is holding a law degree but can’t land a decent job to help support his family, who are about to lose their humble home due to jacked rents. All the familiar working-class struggles and conditions for immigrant Latinx families are quickly listed off here in huge expository dumps, all while the family, which includes George Lopez as a clownish uncle, maintains a goofy and positive sitcom vibe.

Blue Beetle, like the scrapped Batgirl movie, was originally made to directly stream on HBO Max, which only partially explains the humble aesthetics and terribly clumsy writing. The best and most genuine gag involves Jaime’s little sister Milagro (played winningly by Belissa Escobedo), as she professes her need to drop a deuce on the job at a wealthy hotel. Only a luxury dump will do for the movie’s MVP.

How Jaime ends up with the bejewelled Scarab that gives him his powers involves run-ins with celebrity heiress Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine, trying with no luck to work up some chemistry with Maridueña). Jenny, whose dad Ted is a familiar name to anyone who might have read the Blue Beetle comic books, is trying to disrupt her megalomaniacal aunt Victoria Kord’s scheme to weaponize the alien technology. Susan Sarandon, wearing smart suits and batting evil eyes, leaves an impression as an uber Karen even when phoning it all in.

The Scarab attaches itself to Jaime much like the symbiote in Venom, weaponizing his body to help him do everything Spider-Man and Iron Man can. On his first chaotic dry run as a reluctant Blue Beetle, Jaime jets off into orbit and accidentally Ginsus a public bus in half. Eventually, he’ll get the hang of blasting rays at henchmen during CGI-heavy action scenes that range from overly familiar to just dumb.

The only scene that raises a pulse is a raid Victoria orchestrates on Jaime’s family’s home. Soto shoots the scene – with spotlights creeping through windows and the Mexican family kneeling vulnerably on their front lawn at gunpoint – in a way that recalls the ICE raids on illegal immigrants in the US. But the movie doesn’t deliver any genuine payoff to such opportunistic gestures.

Like Black Panther and Encanto, Blue Beetle attempts to weave culturally specific histories of marginalization and resistance into a narrative about family legacies. But these bits come off as a weak copy of what came before, minus any emotional investment. And they fail to register above the clanking superhero noise.

All that representation – the Latinx sitcom dynamic; callbacks to Mexican telenovela María la del Barrio and superhero spoof El Chapulín Colorado; a “Viva la revolución” gag involving a heavily armed nana – is as distinctive as throwing Old El Paso salsa on a stale hot dog.

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