The absolutely dire state of the DC Extended Universe is no secret to movie buffs, the general public, and even the head honchos at Warner Brothers. James Gunn and Peter Safran were tapped earlier this year to basically tear down the existing franchise flop and head up the new DC Universe, and let’s just say the transition hasn’t been smooth. A few months ago, The Flash, starring career criminal Ezra Miller, became Warner Brothers worst flop of all time and was panned by both critics and fans; it’s a safe guess that Miller will not be asked to return to the role in the new DCU next year. So, what’s next? Enter our D-List Superhero you’ve never heard of: Blue Beetle.
Xolo Maridueña, star of Cobra Kai, takes the lead in his first theatrical film as Jaime Reyes. Jaime is from a lower-class Mexican immigrant family in Palmera City (the DC universe’s version of Miami) and is returning home after becoming the first person in his family to earn a Bachelor’s Degree. Proud to start a new chapter for his family, his luck runs out when he finds his father is recovering from a heart attack, can’t work, and is about to lose the house. Jaime and his younger sister Milagro attempt to support the family with part-time jobs, but keep running into the obstacles that most ethnic lower-class families face in this country. He happens to meet a businesswoman who may be able to get him a real career job, and shows up to the interview supported by his entire family comically piled into a truck outside.
We are now 45 minutes into the film, and you may have noticed something – none of this is about a superhero origin story. In fact, Jaime doesn’t become the Blue Beetle until close to an hour in, and spends almost no time on screen as the hero until the third act. Blue Beetle is not the kind of superhero movie I have come to expect from DC, or even from Marvel in the last few years – it’s not about being a hero. This film is about a poor but loving, functional Mexican family struggling to support each other in the face of crushing capitalism. Overt themes of gentrification and more subtle themes of colonization are rampant in this movie, with Jaime at the center of it all. The challenge Jaime faces is not whether he can save the world, or save the city, or even save the neighborhood – it’s whether he can save his family. Blue Beetle is one of the most personal comic book films I’ve ever seen.
I recall after the release of Disney’s Encanto, many of my friends would say “Oh, they remind me so much of my own dysfunctional family, none of them get along or talk much.” I could not relate to this. I am lucky enough to come from a very loving, close-knit, and functional family. I grew up with my mother, brother, grandfather, and grandmother all working to support each other. I talk to my mom and grandparents every few days and my brother once a week for a long phone call. We’ve always been this way, obviously with ups and downs, but mostly ups. If Encanto was a film about a dysfunctional family that manages to come together in times of crisis, Blue Beetle is a film about a functional family that have been there for each other every day.
I think where Blue Beetle shines is that every member of the Reyes family is played so, so believably; every one of the actors plainly loves being in this movie. This shines through in the humor, as nearly every joke hit and hit hard. And they hit Though my theater wasn’t exactly packed, every joke got got at least a hearty chuckle out of the audience. As I said, I saw my own family many times in the very believable characters in Blue Beetle, and it touched me personally to see how close this family was. I think that will be true for many people. I am not Latino myself, but I’ve seen nothing but positive impressions of how Blue Beetle presents Latin-American home life, and I’m happy the first live action Latino superhero seems to have nailed the representation.
George Lopez shines here as Jaime’s eccentric paranoid uncle, providing both comic relief and wisdom to his nephew as he tries to navigate the dystopian nightmare the family finds itself in. I was a huge fan of The George Lopez Show as a teenager, so it’s great to see him back on screen in a role he absolutely nails. If you’ve watched the excellent Cobra Kai, you’ll know that star Xolo Maridueña’s best acting skill is his down-to-earth charm. While it’s not award worthy, I loved his earnest performance here and am thrilled that this rising star is getting a chance to shine. Belissa Escobeda as Milagro was the breakout performance to watch here, as her comedic timing and tone are top notch already. Disappointingly, Susan Sarandon as the villain was the only outright bad part of the movie – she delivered her lines with all the suave and charisma of Hillary Clinton’s “Pokemon Go to the Polls” speech. Hope she collected that paycheck.
I haven’t talked much about the Blue Beetle suit, or the ancient goddess Khaji-Da, or Jaime’s love interest, or the bad guy’s big plan because ultimately, it doesn’t matter that much. Jaime’s family and their safety, security, and happiness is the only thing on his mind. All of the DC Universe stuff, of which there’s very little, is accessory to this. Director Angel Manuel Soto managed to make a very competent and extremely heartfelt film about a lower-class family trying to stay alive and to the end of the movie – it’s all about family. I hope Vin Diesel sees Blue Beetle so he can maybe get a better idea of how to show, not tell, your themes. Blue Beetle is probably my favorite DCU movie so far, and I’m thrilled that James Gunn confirmed he’ll be part of the new DCU as well. This movie made me very happy, and I think if you can relate to it the same way I did, it’ll make you very happy too. I recommend Blue Beetle for families of all shapes and sizes.