Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Blue Beetle (2023)

My notes on Blue Beetle (2023)

Every iteration of Blue Beetle – three at least get ticked off in this movie – has ridden coattails.  The first Blue Beetle (Dan Garrett) got his silly name because he was a radio ripoff of The Green Hornet … the second (Ted Kord) was Charlton Comics’ sort-of Batman (a funny line here has even his fans admit he’s like Batman but not as good) then got bought up by DC Comics and nearly played the wet liberal superhero role in Watchmen (to be turned into Nite Owl) only to be genially a part of a light-hearted version of the Justice League which was counterprogramming to the grim and gritty supehero sagas of the 1980s … and the third (Jamie Reyes) was handy minority representation in that he became DC’s first high-profile solo hispanic hero but had an orgin/situation/setup essentially lifted from the manga mutant-buster the Guyver (who had a couple of direct-to-video outings in the 1990s).

The Reyes BB has had some animated workouts – the excellent Batman: The Brave and the Bold series worked hard to push him – and arrives as a standalone live-action movie perhaps tailored to latinx audiences the way, say, Black Lightning, Black Panther, Luke Cage, Ms Marvel and Shang-Chi were tailored to black and Asian audiences … lots of community-based stuff (affirmative and amusing) and insider ethnic material (telenovela references) but a very basic sit-com-like family superhero narrative with all the origin movie boxes ticked off.  Newly graduated nice guy Jamie (Xolo Maridueña) has an extended family – all of whom register well onscreen with solid casting (George Lopez, Adriana Barranza and Belissa Escobedo especially as paranoid inventor uncle, ex-revolutionary grandma and cynical sister) – and strikes sparks with Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), daughter of the vanished previous Blue Beetle Ted, who worries that her family firm is controlled by her evil aunt Victoria (Susan Sarandon), who is using alien tech, a mystery scarab object and a mangled ex-child soldier (Raoul Max Trujillo) to create a deep cut Jack Kirby project, the One-Man Army Corps.

However, thanks to destiny-led plotting, the scarab fixes to Jamie and turns into sentient armour (voiced by Becky G).  Elements of the origins of Marvel’s Nova and Venom are notable, but there’s a bit of Green Lantern DNA in it too – the point of the comics reboot and this film version is almost not to be original, offering the high concept of a typical superhero of a particular sub-genre (human with alien tech/magic) but hispanic.  Fair enough.  The plot runs of predictable rails and the action scenes offer the usual clashing pixellage, though director Angel Manuel Soto and writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer bring a sweetness to the enterprise reminiscent of the first Shazam film … Jaime Reyes is, if anything, a bit bland and upright, which is why his sister is a troublemaker and his gran handy with a mass murder gun (don’t worry, she only kills masked goons).  Even Carapax, the anti-Blue Beetle, is given an affecting backstory, and a few things we’re told about Victoria suggest she might initially have had a legitimate grievance, though Sarandon plays her as a Disney villainess with a limitless arms budget.

The opposition of poor but honest (Clark) vs rich but rotten (Lex) was a part of the superhero formula at the beginning, though it tended to be blurred when the likes of billionaires Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark muscled in – like so many characters created since 1963, Jamie’s situation owes a lot to Peter Parker: he has to worry about his family not making the rent and Dad’s garage going out of business.  Pointedly, there’s a sub-plot about the way gentrification in Palmera City has widened the have/have not divide, with the Reyes home in the lively if poverty-stricked Edge Keys district looking to the towering neon SF skyline of the one percenters.  Soto is the director of Inside Trump’s America and Menudo: Forever Young – which perhaps explains the range of approach and interests which goose this otherwise midlist superhero opera.


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