If you’ve been keeping track of the goings-on at Warner Bros. Pictures over the last few years, their handling of the DC Comics live-action properties has been wildly mismanaged. In their race to build their own interconnected universe akin to rival Marvel Studios, they forgot to world build first and get the audience invested. While opinions may vary on which the better films are in the catalogue, the one thing that can be agreed upon is that the whole things been whiffed, which is why even good films are labeled as “poor” via the box office. Such is the case with director Ángel Manuel Soto’s (Charm City Kings) entry into the DCEU (but also newly labelled DC Universe we think?), the big screen adaptation of long-running character Blue Beetle in a film of the same title based on the third bearer of the name. Having had no power dynamic shift after Black Adam (2022) and the expected gale-force fury being more of a wisp in Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023), the box office shows that no one really turned out for Soto’s Blue Beetle — perhaps due to feeling underwhelmed by the prior two films or the current chaos of the DCEU/DCU under the new James Gunn/Peter Safran oversight — which means that home release is the newest and best opportunity for folks to see what they missed out on: a family-focused rollicking good time that feels as inventive as Shazam! (2019), but with a specific perspective that makes it as bold as Gunn’s own The Suicide Squad (2021). Whether this is a first time watch or one of many, thanks to the bonus features included with the home release, enthusiastic viewers can take a deep dive into what it all took to bring this version of the Blue Beetle to life.
Though this is an initial release review for EoM, in order to be better dive into the cosmic world of Blue Beetle, we’re going to need to get specific. Consider this your only spoiler-warning.
Recent Gotham Law graduate Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) returns home to Palmera City to find out that his family has been keeping secrets: the family business is gone, local weapons manufacturer and city developer Kord Industries is buying the land their house sits on if they can’t pay their mortgage of which the monthly payment was tripled, and father Alberto (Damián Alcázar) is recovering from a heart attack. Suddenly, the weight of pitching in to help care for his family feels heavy and intense, but Jaime feels as though having a pre-law degree should give him a leg up on the job market. The reality is that it doesn’t, but, as luck would have it, it places him in the right place at the right time to meet Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), who offers Jaime a job opportunity when his attempt at white-knighting gets him and his sister Milagros (Belissa Escobedo) fired from their jobs. However, that right place/right time turns into wrong place/wrong time when Jaime interrupts Jenny’s attempt to steal an alien artifact only known as “The Scarab” from her aunt and operator of Kord Industries, Victoria’s (Susan Sarandon), lab and ends up taking it home. Not heeding her advice not to look at it, Jaime discovers that The Scarab has a will of its own and chooses him as its new host, giving birth to the newest iteration of a forgotten (and now reluctant) hero: the Blue Beetle.
Of the many aspects of Blue Beetle worth exploring, there’re two this home release review is going to focus on. The first is the major difference between Blue Beetle and the other films throughout the DCEU; this is a hero with a support system from the beginning. Unlike Arthur (Jason Momoa) who has to go on a journey of self-actualization, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who must learn that found family is sometimes better than blood, or Clark (Henry Cavill) who’s not sure about his role in a world from which he is an alien in all senses of the world, Jaime is surrounded by love and support before the scarab chooses him and after. Borrowing from the various incarnations of Jaime Reyes in the comics, screenwriter Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer (Miss Bala) ensures to keep the closeness of Jaime to his family intact, thereby making it a collective experience rather than a solo one. So often the hero of the tale is isolated, only finding themselves with a team by the near end of the film (ex. Birds of Prey (2020)), making the story within Blue Beetle much more entertaining and heartfelt due to this connection. It also serves as an interesting counter-balance for Jenny’s story as she works to dismantle the efforts of her warmonger aunt, a task she is literally executing alone because both of her parents are gone (though the script ensures we know that Ted (uncast at this time) is only missing). The result of this is that when Jaime goes through something difficult, even traumatic, such as the body horror that is the symbiotic activation between scarab and Jaime, the event becomes lighter thanks to the Reyes family and their reactions. It’s a lot less frightening, for instance, for the hero to find themselves stark naked post-transformation when their sister, parents, uncle, and grandmother are mocking them for having their testicles flapping in the wind. While I can’t speak to the cultural accuracy of the Reyes home (I’m Jewish, not part of the Latine community), this aspect imbues the whole of Blue Beetle with love and heart, a necessary aspect in order to survive the undercurrent themes which propel the action and reaction of the characters.
The second thing is the inclusion of the very important backstory shared by Ignacio Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo) as it relates to the version of Kord Industries that Jenny (in honor of her father’s views of what the business should be) fights to restore and what’s hinted at with Nana. In Dunnet-Alcocer’s script, the expectation would be that Carapax would be Jaime’s villainous antithesis, the longtime fighter who’s allied with Victoria in order to be a living weapon via the One Man Army (O.M.A.C.) suit. He would be who Jaime *would* become if separated from his family and allowed to give into the urges rage and pain create. It’s not until the turn comes and the voice inside the scarab, Khaji-Da (voiced by Becky G), reveals that Carapax is as much a victim of imperialist and colonizing ideals as the Reyes family, confirms that Victoria Kord is the person responsible for all of his forgotten pain and trauma. His entire backstory is kept from us until the end, but, until that moment, the film uses all the usual things to identify Carapax as hungry for power and bent on revenge, as well as a willing partner to Victoria. The reveal that the necklace with photos he keeps on him is not of his wife and child, but of his mother and himself, the only lasting keepsake from his life before a Kord missile killed his mom and destroyed their home before he was forced into a life of armed service and forced military experiments brings with it emotional heft as our expectations are upset. It also speaks to the structure script in how, upon learning the truth, Carapax concludes the fight with words not weapons, just as Jaime sought to do in their first fight, preferring to kill himself and take Victoria with him than live another moment with the responsibility that being in possession of an O.M.A.C. suit creates. His is a noble sacrifice, bitter with the knowledge that if only Victoria and her father hadn’t sought to preside over the world, growing wealthy over the subjugation of others and through the pilfering of natural resources (something happening *right now* in countries, like the Congo, that are rich in minerals that are used for technologically-advanced tech), but had lived as Ted wanted, to help and enhance lives, then Carapax would’ve had a chance to grow up as something other than the tool of a racist white woman with colonizing tendencies.
This, of course, is where Nana comes in. As presented by Adriana Barraza (Thor), she is a grandmother who loves her family, helping out where she can, and guiding in the traditions of their home and culture. But when tragedy strikes, Barraza transforms the naturally supportive, joyful figure, into something equal in focus but dangerous in direction. “Now is not the time to grieve,” she says when her son and Jaime’s father dies of a heart attack after the battle with Carapax that sees Jamie kidnapped. From here, we learn that Nana herself was a freedom fighter in her youth, something her daughter-in-law and sons knew, but the grandchildren did not. For one, it’s a lovely reveal as it demonstrates that children rarely see their adult family members as people but only the roles they fill and, two, that secrets are hard to keep and are easily understood within the family. When Nana just starts blasting the bad guys, not only does the family roll with it, so do we. But, again, there’s that undercurrent beneath Nana’s character of pain and loss and still choosing to be joyous, to raise a family, to turn away from violence as the only answer for life. Nana is a badass not just because she knows how to invade a heavily-fortified fortress, but because she didn’t allow her past trauma to define who she would be or to infect her family. That takes an incredible constitution.
As with other recent DCEU releases Black Adam and Shazam! Fury of the Gods, the bonus features included with the home release of Blue Beetle are fantastic and well-produced deep dives into both the making of the film and the lore of the source material. Through roughly 64-minutes across three distinct featurettes, excited audiences get the opportunity to learn about everything from facts about the three heroes who’ve gone by the moniker Blue Beetle to the genesis of the script concept/approach to the screen test for the suit to the first script reading with the cast, the costume concepts, production design, where they shot on-location and from, where Palmera City gets its inspiration, and plenty more. The energy and excitement for the project, the sincerity and love the cast and crew feel for this comes off as more than just your average promotional tool, but as the words of artists who see this iteration of Blue Beetle as an opportunity to do something that audiences really haven’t seen in their superhero films since Robert Townsend’s The Meteor Man (1993). My personal favorite is the focus on Barraza’s Nana whose performance is joyous at every appearance (even when wielding a Gatling gun) while also serving as the emotional anchor for the Reyes family in times of grief. The way in which Barraza tells her family when it is and isn’t time to cry is neither condemnation or permission, but the words of a leader who’s seen troubled times not too unlike the sci-fi hysteria before them. Between the focused featurette on Nana and the little pieces we learn throughout the rest, if one was not already taken with Barraza’s performance, they will be now. If there is something bothersome, it’s the slight (and likely unintentional) erasure of Jaren Brandt Bartlett who portrayed Jaime Reyes/Blue Beetle in a single season 10 (2011) Smallville episode titled Booster. (Nerd note: that episode was directed by Clark Kent/Blur performer Tom Welling.)
For all the things the film does well, it is still a fairly straight-forward “first film” for a character audiences may be less familiar with. This means that the script has to slow down a lot in order to introduce characters, establish the world and its rules, give the characters time to engage with one another without warfare, as well as get to the expected action. This sometimes hurts the relationships as the loss of Alberto doesn’t hit nearly as hard as we’d like since the film spends more time with Jaime and his uncle Rudy (George Lopez), and the time spent with Escobedo’s Milagros made me more aggravated by her lack of responsibility and othering than perhaps was intended. However, that it all manages to come together, sticking the landing wonderfully and creating a sense of wanting to spend time in the world, that’s a win. It’s ok for superhero stories to be fun, creative, and inviting, all things Blue Beetle is, suggesting that a future outing, should this film not be a oner in the new DCU, would not only be absolutely welcomed, it would shoot up to hotly-anticipated.
Blue Beetle Special Features:
- Generations: Blue Beetle – Four-part documentary: Told in distinct chapters, explore the journeys of actors and filmmakers bringing Blue Beetle to the big screen for the first time ever. Audiences will be immersed in the POV of filmmakers who showcase their experiences on set and in their creative studios making the story of this DC character a reality.
- Origins (7:27)
- Production Begins (16:11)
- In Full Flight (9:03)
- A Hero’s World (13:23)
- Nana Knows Best: Witness Nana’s transformation from an adorable ‘abuelita’ into a machine gun-wielding revolutionary, and stop in for a few of her most fun moments on set throughout production. (4:20)
- Scarab Vision: Xolo Maridueña hosts this series of scene study walk throughs that showcases how the scarab works and the role it plays in some of Blue Beetle’s most epic moments.
- Initiation (6:34)
- Mastery (6:50)
Available on digital September 26th, 2023.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD October 31st, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Warner Bros. Pictures Blue Beetle website.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
This piece was written during the SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.