Blue Beetle review

Who is the Blue Beetle? Who cares!

2 out of 5 stars

Who is the Blue Beetle? The real question is, who cares? Not Warner Brothers or D.C. Despite the occasional beacon of hope, the superhero business feels like it’s been on life support for over a decade. Audience goodwill wanes with each new major production for increasingly inane and unimaginative comic book adaptations. If these films ever had any soul, that era has long evaporated — a victim of filmmaking processes that feel increasingly dominated by data, AI and passing studio whims. To pin the failure of Blue Beetle on anyone but the money men feels remiss; the average prominent studio director has little to no impact on the final product.

Blue Beetle is another origin story. On the surface, that makes sense, considering the average non-comic book fan has likely never heard of the still mostly underground DC character. Jaime Reyes (Xolo Mariduena) recently graduated from pre-law and returns home to Palmera City to find his family struggling. The father recently had a heart attack, they’ve lost the family business and are about to lose the house. Jaime and his acerbic-tongued sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) try to help the family by cleaning gum off the bottom of chairs at Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon)’s marble mansion.

blue beetle
Xolo Mariduena

Unbeknownst to Jaime, Victoria has been developing a war weapon based on an alien technology called the scarab. When he interferes in her affairs to defend Jenny (Bruna Marquezine), Victoria’s well-intentioned niece, he loses his job and Jenny promises him a new one. By the end of the next day, he will be embroiled in a theft that will have life-changing implications as the magic blue scarab attaches itself to his spine, transforming him into a superhero.

Does that sound like a lot of exposition? Well, it is. Rather than jumping into the action, much of the film’s first half devotes itself to painfully delivered dialogue that sets the scene. Sarandon is wasted as a villain styled as Hillary Clinton, and the movie’s tone jumps all over the place. Blue Beetle is a half-baked comedy and an even more pitiful melodrama about the importance of family. It feels aimless, as if it were cut down from under the knees before it started.

George Lopez plays Jaime’s uncle, a paranoid conspiracy theorist with a beloved pick-up truck he calls “Taco.” He hints at what the film might have initially been: a broad situational comedy infused with superhero fight sequences. Though his character doesn’t make much sense if you overthink it (he’s both absolutely useless and apparently some tech genius), his presence offers a ray of hope within a film that otherwise lacks personality and ambition.

Blue Beetle
Blue Beetle

Though he’s the scene-stealing star of the film, Lopez isn’t the only actor who brings their A-game. Most of the Reyes family bring heart and soul to their performances. Even if their characterizations are inconsistent in writing and structure within the film, the actors bring charisma and love to their representations. The rest of the cast is less inspired. Sarandon’s characterization lacks specificity, and her performance is light on nuance and variation. The film’s paint-by-numbers cold open feels pasted together with a short minute-long screen-test, a body double and a poorly trained AI aping as the real thing. It doesn’t get much better as the film trods on. 

Similarly unambitious is the voice work of Becky G, who embodies the alien software, Khaji-Da. Unlike something like Jarvis in Iron Man, or Venom, this voice is devoid of personality or affectation. Far from Becky G’s fault, the writing gives her little to nothing to work with. The movie fails on a fundamental level to emphasize the conflict between Khaji-Da and Jaime in a way that would lead to any successful pay-off. Narratively, much of the film falls completely flat. If the first act was all exposition, the final act is a series of tear-jerking montages that fail to land emotionally. The movie feels extremely calculated, even borrowing story beats directly from Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s paradoxically too calculated and too careless, a hopeless combination of over and under thinking.

Despite hitting all the expected story beats, Blue Beetle fails to come together. Though indecently expensive, it ends up feeling cheap. The film feels half-finished, edited not for clarity or style but for length (it’s still too long) and risk-aversion. More than anything, it feels like the studio had lost all hope for the film’s success and, rather than let it thrive, completely undercut any chance it would ever have to be even a minor hit. ■

Blue Beetle (directed by Angel Manuel Soto)

Blue Beetle opens in Montreal theatres on Aug. 17.

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