by Dwight Brown film critic for DwightBrownInk.com and NNPA Newswire
It’s a start. One day Latino superheroes will be everyday marvels. Not a rarity. This is the beginning.
Blue Beetle first appeared in a comic book back in 1939, in a story about an archaeologist who found a magical blue scarab in Egypt that gave him superpowers. It could eventually become a part of DC comics. Ninety years later the blue scarab is still formidable, and it chooses a new host.
Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña), a recent college graduate, returns home to his loving family in Palmera City. He’s dismayed when he discovers that his dad has lost his business and they may lose their home.
Jaime and his sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) get a job as pool attendants and housecleaners at the estate of the very wealthy, snooty and sociopathic Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), CEO of Kord Industries. Under Victoria’s guidance, the company is developing weapons that can be used for good or evil. Mostly evil. She runs a company that was once co-led by her late brother Ted Kord. The two siblings were diametrically opposed. Ted’s daughter Jenny (Bruna Marquezine) is all that’s left of the good side of the Kord dynasty.
After haphazardly meeting Jaime, Jenny entrusts him with a blue scarab beetle, and he has no idea what it is. It is in fact, an ancient artifact with amazing powers. It enters Jaime’s body, giving him the ability to fly, fight and create new weapons. The former pre-law college student is not sure how to handle his new skills. His evolution as a crime fighter fuels this story’s momentum.
Normally in a superhero movie the protagonist’s powers are the lynchpin. However, as written by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, directed by Ángel Manuel Soto and with visual effects by Kelvin McIlwain (The Suicide Squad), none of Jaime’s new abilities are astoundingly unique. They’re generic. In fact, some of his superpower effects look cheesy, like a low-budget Robert Rodriguez film (Spy Kids). Also, the look of fight scenes, bomb blasts and rescues are ho-hum at best. The reason action scenes seem dire is because Jaime is so innocent, and the family is so loving you don’t want anything bad to happen to them. So, it is a great relief when the Reyes family finds the will to battle Victoria and her henchmen.
Soto doesn’t establish a directing style that makes his footage distinctive. But fortunately, he has the presence of mind to let the grandmother Nana (Adriana Barraza, Rambo: Last Blood), mother (Elpidia Carrillo), father (Damían Alcázar, Narcos), sister Milagro and wacky Uncle Rudy (George Lopez) showboat. Once the relatives enter the picture and put their fate back in their hands the film takes off. Equally exhilarating is Jamie’s ascension from innocent befuddled victim to superhero in charge of his destiny. Uncle Rudy: “The universe has sent you a gift, and you have to figure out what you are going to do with it.” Jaime’s new attitude as Blue Beetle comes in handy as he fights Victoria’s killing machine, Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo, Sicario). In fact, Maridueña may be the wide-eyed, photogenic lead, but Barraza and Trujillo are the ones who leave a lasting impression.
Production designer John Billington (Bad Boys for Life) authentically creates Palmera City and the Reyes’ home. The surroundings are typical of places in Florida, Texas or California and the homes and interiors look very working class and lived in. Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski (Midsommar) deftly captures the action scenes and the simple times when the Reyes congregate around their dinner table. While Craig Albert’s editing keeps everything crisp as it builds to the finale. Hints of reggaeton on the soundtrack (composer The Axon Cloak) make what’s on view feel current.
There is a crucial scene when Jaime looks like he won’t make it. Stranded in a netherworld, he meets someone who helps him finds his bearings. It’s a very heady and mystical scene. Quite touching. More of these moments would have made this film stronger.
Now that the premise and characters have been established, Blue Beetle has room to grow. Certainly, if it upgrades its visual effects (VFX) it could compete with the best superhero movies. The kind kids, tweens and young teens like.
This is a nice start. The beginning of a Latino franchise that can only get better. Especially if it learns from its imperfections and builds on its strengths.
Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.