NOC Review: ‘Blue Beetle’ is Genuinely One of DC’s Finest Films

Yeah. You read that right. And look, I know the bar seems pretty low. When your past three releases include Black Adam, Shazam: Fury of the Gods, and The Flash — one of which was sold as allegedly “one of the best superhero movies of all time,” when it actually was a complete mess of obnoxiousness and bad VFX — it may not seem like high praise. But genuinely and truly, Blue Beetle is actually a really terrific film.

It’s certainly the best DC movie of the year. The third best superhero movie of the year. And the best DC movie since The Suicide Squad or The Batman. And a movie that deserved the hype the aforementioned other DC films from this year received.

Yes, the film delivers something you don’t often see in most superhero films; a truly authentic Latino experience, that puts the spotlight on a Latino family that feels beautifully genuine. And we’ll circle back to this later in the review. But this isn’t a situation where we love this movie solely for that fact. No. Blue Beetle is just genuinely good.

What makes it so good? Simple. It’s endearing without ever being annoying. Mostly funny without being super trite. And its sincere heart is stronger than even the somewhat overtly emotionally manipulative moments from The Flash. Representation or not (and make no mistake we’re thrilled to see it), it’s fun, emotional, and incredibly enjoyable.

Blue Beetle does introduce the world to Jaime Reyes, But more than that, it also introduces the world to the mythology of the Blue Beetle mantle, and most of all The Reyes family. The story starts with the discovery of an ancient scarab that’s being excavated out of a mountain by Victoria Kord, the sister of famed tech genius Ted Kord of Kord Enterprises. Ted, secretly the original Blue Beetle disappeared years before. And Victoria has taken over the company, and is intent on using the energy of the scarab to power a series of OMACs (an acronym for One Man Army Corps); mindless armored soldiers of unlimited strength and weaponry. In an attempt to save her father’s company, Ted’s daughter, Jenny, steals the scarab and delivers it to recent college graduate Jaime Reyes, who is desperately looking for a job to save his family’s house and garage from being bulldozed by Kord Enterprises. The scarab ends up choosing Jaime as its host, turning him into a high-tech superhero with a very cool suit of armor.

Blue Beetle is of course an origin story. But it’s a well done origin story. Yes it touches on the typical tropes already explored in movies like Iron Man, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man: Homecoming. I’ll call out the story right now for not being original. But the thing is, it’s executed in a way that still manages to make all of the cliched elements feel fresh and fun! And it all starts with the strongest element of the film: its heart and the family dynamic.

Unlike many superhero movies, the Reyes family and their involvement in Jaime’s superheroics is essential to the story. Not only are they his motivation for becoming the hero we want him to be, but they also play an active part in aiding Jaime on his hero’s journey — particularly George Lopez’s Uncle Rudy, and Jaime’s father, Alberto, Damián Alcázar. His sister, Malagro (played by Hocus Pocus 2’s Belissa Escobedo) and grandmother, played by Adriana Barraza, are also especially delightful. But long story short, this movie wouldn’t feel as fresh or as heartfelt if it weren’t for the fact that The Reyes family feels real. And the relationship between them is incredibly poignant, allowing us, as the audience to get close to them, and share in their laughs, joy, and pain. That’s what makes this film incredibly special compared to most offerings from the superhero genre.

This sense of closeness, however, is only achievable through terrific performances. And leading the pack is the incredibly charming and charismatic Xolo Maridueña.

Maridueña gives a performance on par with Tom Holland’s debut as Peter Parker; a sweet underdog hero with a heart of gold. Many have said how incredible he is in Cobra Kai, and guilty confession, I’ve never seen it. But having seen his performance here, he’s just an endearing and likable presence. You instantly care about this character, and are invested in the love he has for his family, as well as his mission to do right by them no matter what. You believe he’s a good person through and through, so when he bonds with the scarab, you don’t question it one bit. And that’s because Maridueña has that type of good-natured, well-intentioned spirit. And it comes across in the sweet, innocent, “aw shucks” delivery of his lines. Trust me, the kid was born to play a superhero. It also helps that Jaime is a likable character. He’s never in-your-face obnoxious (take notes Flash writers), and he just seems like a solid everyman you can root for.

Additionally, the aforementioned Alcázar, Lopez, Escobedo, and Barraza do stellar work here. Barraza and Lopez provide, laughs, but Lopez tunes down his typical jokester persona to give a more heartfelt performance as Jaime’s “guy in the chair” and moral support coach. Barraza provides a fun and spirited chaotic energy, mixed with the strength and heart of a true matriarch. But it’s Alcázar’s tender performance that allows us to understand where Jaime’s conscience and sense of justice comes from. Alcázar is arguably the heart of the movie, providing a sweet and emotional performance that really leaves the biggest impact in the film.

Admittedly for me, the weakest performances for me were Bruna Marquezine, who was sweet as Jenny Kord, but the line delivery felt off at certain points, and surprisingly enough Oscar winner Susan Sarandon. We know Sarandon to be one of the best actresses working today, but her performance here feels incredibly phoned in. Which is odd, because we’ve seen her perform the scene-chewing villain before in movies like Enchanted or even her vocal work in the second Rugrats movie.

But here she’s just very bland! It doesn’t help that as a villain she’s incredibly one-dimensional too. Thankfully, to counterbalance her are two other more interesting antagonists: the always welcome Harvey Guillén (who doesn’t get nearly enough to do), and the menacing Raoul Max Trujillo playing Carapax, a villain who actually becomes much deeper towards the end of the film.

What makes all of this terrific, however, is certainly the execution. And that’s to shower every amount of praise on director Angel Manuel Soto. His steady hand has afforded this movie the luxury of terrific pacing, evenly distributed amounts of execution, surprisingly fun action scenes, and surprisingly palpable emotional beats. Blue Beetle represents the perfect pace and tone that an origin superhero film about a youthful hero should feel like. And if the lightness of this character will clash with some of the darker elements to come in the DCU, I welcome it fully. Because it’s the right way to lighten up the cynicism; with heart and optimism. That’s what Maridueña’s Jaime represents, and what Soto understands. In fact, this may be the brightest, most optimistic DC movie to be released in years! And it’s because Soto knows that not every DC movie needs to be doom and gloom and darkness. Thank goodness for that!

I will also say the screenplay, while very heartfelt at times, might also be one of the less strong aspects of the movie. While the family aspects are beautifully well done, there were moments where a line or two made me groan a little. But it was never as bad as Black Adam finding a catchphrase, Shazam’s annoying quips, or Barry Allen feeding himself rotten broccoli for no reason. It was just the occasional sour note when you knew a line didn’t really work or came off trite. Luckily, it’s incredibly few and far between.

Now we need to get to the big part of this movie: the representation. Soto has made a movie that is proudly Latino in every nook and cranny of its fiber. From the references to classic telenovelas and Mexican cartoons, the movie is a celebration of the Latino community, and one that never shies away from being so, from the joys of family to the struggles of immigration. The danger of deportation for members of the Reyes family is openly acknowledged as a challenge, and in a sobering scene, we see uniformed guards with weapons forcing these characters out of their homes in the middle of the night.

Yes, within the context of the movie, these are just private security staff members. But obviously Soto is making a statement about the real threat of POC — particularly Latino — families being separated or screwed over by people in positions of power. I was shocked that the movie was brave enough to go there, even though it was never a hard requirement. But in doing so, through the eyes of a Latino director like Soto, it’s able to make a bold statement about what it’s like to be a Latino person of color in a country that’s often openly prejudice and discriminatory towards the Latino community. And yet he does this within the confines of what makes sense for the greater narrative, never once feeling preachy.

More than that, however, Soto has taken good actors, who have appeared in minor supporting roles here and there over time, and given them a film that takes pride in sharing the spotlight between its leading man and its supporting cast. And from a representation standpoint, Soto and the team could have cast the biggest name Latino actors working today. But let’s be honest, putting JLo or Salma Hayek in this movie would detract, not just from the authenticity we get for the family knowing these aren’t the same Latino faces we’ve seen in cinema over and over, but also diminish the potential opportunity to elevate actors like Alcázar, Escobedo, or Barraza into starring roles; which they deserve for their genuine charms and collective talent.

On a technical level, while not flawless, I did find the VFX to be an improvement over several other higher budgeted films we’ve seen in recent years; namely (again) The Flash, but also $300M movies like Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, or even Thor: Love and Thunder. That says a lot about what Soto is able to do on a fraction of the budget that the aforementioned films had. They’re not perfect but they’re far more believable than de-aged Harrison Ford or the awful looking chrono-bowl from DC’s previous film.

After three back-to-back would-be tentpoles, DC has delivered on perhaps its best offering in a long time. Blue Beetle is the movie that they should have been promoting all along, ahead of The Flash and Black Adam. It is a stellar showcase of Latino representation, but more than that, a spectacular, heartfelt endearing superhero story, that feels a lot more genuine than much of what we’ve seen from the studio in a while.

Charming performances from a cast led by Maridueña, in a star-making role, combined with fun heroics and poignant moments, Blue Beetle is the biggest surprise of the year, and the one DC fans have been waiting for!

Overall Score (on an entertainment level): A-
Overall Score (on a representation level): A

*This review was written during the WGA and SAG/AFTRA strike. To support the strike, please donate to the Entertainment Community Fund.*

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