Blue Beetle Review: Likable But Extremely Generic Superhero Fare

RATING : 6 / 10
  • Strong themes of family
  • Finally some Latino representation in a DC Comics film
  • Seems more focused on kicking off a sequel than telling a good standalone story
  • Nothing — humor, sentiment, social commentary — is allowed to be subtle

There was a time when all you had to do was put a superhero film in theaters and it was basically a license to print money. But after the genre's enjoyed a stranglehold on the entertainment industry for two decades, it's beginning to seem like that's not the case anymore. Enter "Blue Beetle," a humble flick about a superhero no one but comic book aficionados has heard of, starring an actor whose biggest credit is "Cobra Kai." In a landscape where DC is having trouble getting their big hitters to perform, what hope does this scrappy little hero have? On the whole, "Blue Beetle" is likable but generic — it doesn't do enough to function as a satisfying standalone film. And although it features a charming lead performance from Xolo Maridueña, it's difficult to overlook the fact that he's saddled with a fundamentally underwritten character.

When Jaime Reyes (Maridueña) returns home from college with big plans to attend law school in Gotham, he's met with a host of bad news. His father (Damián Alcázar) has had a heart attack, and his family had to close their shop and are about to lose their home after their landlord tripled the rent. Determined to help his family, he sets his academic plans to the side and gets a job, where he crosses paths with textbook villainous arms manufacturer Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon) and her niece, Jenny (Bruna Marquezine), the two of whom have an adversarial relationship due to contrasting visions for the family company. One thing leads to another, and Jenny ends up entrusting Jaime with a mysterious blue scarab she stole from her aunt.

What she doesn't expect, however, is for the scarab to physically attach itself to Jaime's spinal column, merging into his central nervous system to turn him into the superheroic Blue Beetle. Under normal circumstances, this would be fine – after all, what 22-year-old kid wouldn't want superpowers, even if they came with a weird blue bug embedded into their back? But we quickly learn that this scarab is actually the key ingredient in Victoria's plans for her new one-man-army weapons system, and she's determined to get it back by any means necessary.

Please stop trying to franchise-build

The biggest problem in "Blue Beetle" isn't actually unique to the film, but more DC's approach to their franchise in general. They have to get out of the mindset of trying to build an epic, decade-long series of films and instead focus on just making a good movie. The way the narrative of "Blue Beetle" plays out is clearly most interested in setting up a franchise, one that will probably never come to fruition. It doesn't do enough to prove itself as a standalone movie, so consistently is it looking to the future. It barely develops the lead character at all, beyond establishing Jaime as a nice, smart guy who cares about his family. "Blue Beetle" often feels like it wastes Maridueña — it's wild to cast someone with martial arts experience and then still resort to goofy, generic CGI for the fight sequences. And as a standalone superhero film without any major ties to other DC characters, it's disappointing that "Blue Beetle" didn't go out on more of a limb creatively. It could have really swung for the fences — after all, what damage is it really going to do to the Blue Beetle character? Instead, in terms of plot and action, the film is unfortunately nothing we haven't seen a dozen times before.

"Blue Beetle" is also a film of little nuance — it's the perfect example of "I know writers who use subtext, and they're all cowards." Everything, from the sentimentality to the social commentary to the comedy, is extremely on the nose. It feels like it wants to have an irreverent sense of humor, but it doesn't quite know how. Case in point: the bug fart weapon featured on the Blue Beetle Bug aircraft, which comes complete with fart noises as it creates a cloud of smoke to incapacitate enemies. The film's statements on class and race relations are also spectacularly unsubtle — why show the inherent inequities in society when you can put your two lead characters on a rooftop waxing poetically about how all the technological innovations of the nearby city aren't meant for them? But interestingly, it doesn't seem to mind the fact that the two upper-class figures in the film — Victoria and Jenny — both turn POC characters into weapons to further their own agendas, seemingly without concern for the fact that they're doing real damage to their lives. Yet Victoria is the only one who's considered villainous for this, and Jenny (as the love interest) gets off scot-free, barely needing to apologize for her actions.

The love and support of family

But all of this is not to say that "Blue Beetle" isn't fun in its own right: There's a lot to like in the scrappy superhero film. The themes of the importance of family play out well on screen, as the Reyes clan proves its willingness to go to the ends of the Earth to protect one another. It's refreshing that "Blue Beetle" allows so much of the dialogue to be spoken in Spanish and subtitled, whereas so many other films would have had the characters speaking English. And the initial transformation scene, where the scarab forcibly implants itself into Jaime's body, is genuinely gruesome, selling us on what a painful process it would understandably be.

So summing up "Blue Beetle" is really less a tale of outright dislike and more a disappointment at missed opportunities. With one of the first major Mexican-American lead characters in DC, this is a big moment for Latino representation in comic book movies. But it doesn't do quite as much as it could to make "Blue Beetle" really stand out, instead creating a pretty standard superhero movie with extremely few surprises. Hopefully, this introduces audiences to Maridueña, who really does give his all here, but it's difficult to imagine "Blue Beetle" becoming one of the comic book movies that are remembered a few years — or even six months — down the line.

"Blue Beetle" comes out in theaters on August 18.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the film being covered here wouldn't exist.