For reasons that are almost certainly very upsetting to unpack, my grandfather loved Westerns. He could watch them from high-noon to sunset, barely caring which one was which. Their problematic homogeneity was a comfort to him, regardless of their wildly varying quality. I’m so happy I got “problematic homogeneity” in before “The Reader” shut its doors forever…
Anyway, the point is that, like it did once with Westerns, Hollywood is now projectile vomiting a steady stream of superhero material. “Too much!” scream the same people who probably acknowledge recommended serving sizes on Doritos bags. For folks like me, comic book movies are what Westerns were to my grandpa: Varying degrees of pleasing to watch. If “The Flash” and its CGI baby juggling drags the floor, and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” scrapes the ceiling, “Blue Beetle” is hanging out on the couch, just glad to exist.
It’s good that it does, if only because it seems fairly insane that it has taken this long to have a Latino lead in major superhero flick. “Blue Beetle” commendably centers familial and cultural elements, albeit in a clunky, obvious way. Vin Diesel’s ears were likely burning, not just because this big-budget action blockbuster kept verbally stressing the importance of family but because the Rock probably recently twisted them. Their feud is supposed to be adorable, right?
Writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer and director Angel Manuel Soto deliver an origin story that has been repeated only slightly less often than a Taylor Swift chorus: Good kid stumbles into crazy powers and reluctantly becomes a hero. Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) returns from college to find his dad (Damián Alcázar) and mom (Elpidia Carrillo) are losing their house. His sister, Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) hooks him up with a cleaning job to help make ends meet. There, he meets evil billionaire Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), who is using an alien scarab to create military weapons.
Her niece, Jenny (Bruna Marquezine), is applaudably anti-mass murder. She steals the bug, which accidentally bonds to Jaime and gives him what is basically Iron Man’s suit. With the help of his Uncle Rudy (George Lopez), who delivers many a joke about bugs crawling in B-holes, Jaime at first tries to find a way to remove the insect before deciding to use its powers to stop evil doers from doing evil. “Oh no, I’ve got weird powers, maybe I should be a superhero” shouldn’t take over two hours at this point, but at least “Blue Beetle” is punctuated with PG-13 body horror and a genuinely silly sense of humor.
A thousand blessings upon comic book content that acknowledges how legitimately goofy it is. The wacky beats, like an assault-weapon abuela and everything Sarandon says or does, are delightful. But dancing on the line between silly and stupid is challenging, with “Blue Beetle” frequently fumbling its way from the former to the latter. But are you really going to stay mad at a movie that features a climactic fight scene set to Cypress Hill? I didn’t think so.
Am I ever going to watch “Blue Beetle” again? Almost certainly not intentionally. But in the same way that my grandpa watch/slept his Westerns, it wouldn’t bug me to have it on during a lazy Sunday. My first review ever was for “Blade II,” back when superheroes were a sometimes food. Decades later, now that they’re served every meal, I just hope someone somewhere finds what they were hungry for.
Grade = B-
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Alejandra Martinez at the Austin Chronicle says “For this Chicane critic, ‘Blue Beetle’ is at its best when it grounds itself in real-world stakes and culture, creating a movie that feels thoughtful and lived in. It gets flattened because it has to be both specific and broad in its appeal – an inherently impossible task. For the young Chicane or Latine person seeing this movie, though, they might just feel a little more powerful after recognizing themselves onscreen.”
Pablo O. Scholz at Clarín says “The movie may produce ecstasy, but it’s also true that more is sometimes less, and the jokes and references to La Familia are almost overwhelming.”
Lupe Rodriguez Haas at CineMovie.tv says “For Latinos, particularly Mexican-Americans, ‘Blue Beetle’ captures the essence of who we are, which may inspire a few tears. The family dynamic feels very real, and the references will have audiences roaring with laughter such as including El Chapulin Colorado in the mix.”