FEATURED MOVIE REVIEW: Blue Beetle
NEW YORK. The resilience of the indestructible loving family, in this case, a Mexican American clan, forms the heart and soul of “Blue Beetle” (PG-13, Warner Bros.). Even as the DC Comics-derived adventure occasionally lapses into cliches, moreover, this solid core endures — and helps to make the film built around it acceptable for a fairly broad audience.
The arrival on screen of the titular character (Xolo Maridueña) constitutes a landmark in cinematic history since he’s the first Latino superhero. Although Blue Beetle, like Superman, has been around in print form since 1939, it wasn’t until 2006 that he was given a specific ethnic identity by way of his current alter ego, Jaime Reyes.
Director Ángel Manuel Soto and screenwriter Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer frame their fantasy elements within the story of Jaime’s all-too-realistic travails and those of his struggling relatives. Although they believe in the dignity of work and will accept any available employment to get ahead, the Reyes are about to get kicked out of the house they rent due to gentrification.
On the brink of homelessness, they can only gaze from afar at the gleaming skyscrapers of Palmera City, the wealth of whose upper class is not trickling down to them. As Jamie’s sister, Milagro (Belissa Escobedo), ruefully observes, “We used to have the other side of the tracks. Now they want that, too.”
Yet, in the midst of it all, dad Alberto (Damián Alcázar) reminds Jaime, the first Reyes to graduate from college, of the fundamentals: “The familia, that’s what lasts. Everyone has a purpose.”
But enough social realism, at least for now. As an opening sequence has shown us, Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon) — the scheming CEO of the Palmera City-based conglomerate founded by her late brother, Ted, and named for her family — has recently unearthed a powerful artifact for which she had long been searching, a blue scarab from outer space called the Khaji Da.
Victoria intends to use the magical amulet to build a world-conquering army. But her niece, Jenny (Bruna Marquezine), Ted’s daughter, has other ideas. Jenny steals the curio and, as she makes her escape, hands it off to Jaime, who is trying to get a job at Kord Industries.
It turns out that the scarab has a mind of its own, and attaches itself quickly to Jaime in the midst of one of his family’s many crises. He’s instantly clothed in an azure-highlighted outfit that, among other things, enables him to fly and makes him impervious to bullets. The suit, however, melts away the moment danger has successfully been averted.
A comedy-lightened struggle against the forces of evil, fought in alliance with Jenny, ensues. Some of the humorous detours, however, seem disappointingly out of place in a work that aspires to be viewed as pioneering.
Thus Jaime’s slogan-spouting Uncle Rudy (George Lopez) has a Tacoma pickup truck he calls the Taco, with a horn that plays La Cucaracha. In a similar vein, the lad’s Nana (Adriana Barraza) unexpectedly proves to be a dab hand at weaponry, based on her hidden past as a south-of-the-border revolutionary. Can you hear the drums, Fernando?
While the mayhem along Blue Beetle’s path is too strong for little kids, teens will handle it easily. The smattering of vulgarity in the dialogue is doled out with equal restraint, though parents may regret that it’s present at all.
Still, commendable basic values and a positive, if flawed, portrayal of Hispanic life make this debut for Jaime Reyes — whose true superpower, it turns out, is familial love — an attractive choice for moviegoers.
The film contains stylized but intense action, fleeting crude and crass language and a couple of scatological references. The OSV News classification is A-II — adults and adolescents.
(Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for OSV News.)