DC isn’t normally concerned about the small guy. While Marvel has many underdogs who rise to become heroes, DC’s superheroes are more comparable to gods (or, you know, are gods). Even minor characters in the DC Universe, such as Shazam and The Flash, have the power to drastically alter the world on a global scale.
Even while we’ve seen DC try to incorporate lesser-known characters into this world with films like Black Adam and Birds of Prey, it’s evident that DC is still more interested in finding new ways to tell the tales of its primary heroes: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman.
This is why, at first glance, Blue Beetle appears to be a breath of new air. In this narrative about reaching for higher things and, most importantly, family, director ngel Manuel Soto (2020’s Charm City Kings) and writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer (2019’s Miss Bala) purposely introduce lower stakes to the DC world.
Soto and Dunnet-Alcocer prioritise the family as a team in introducing this new hero to the public, while also conveying a tale with a neon-infused flair that sets it apart from most other superhero flicks. Perhaps we’ve just seen too many superhero films in the world, because even while Blue Beetle attempts to add its own flavour to DC—and frequently succeeds—it’s difficult not to perceive this newest entry as a mash-up of too many other heroes we’ve seen before.
Jaime Reyes, a recent college graduate, returns home to Palmera City to learn that his family is losing their house, has already lost their auto shop, and Jaime’s father, Alberto (Damián Alcázar), has recently had a heart attack. Jaime resolves to find work, save his family’s house, and assist his family in any way he can.
Unfortunately, the only work he can obtain is as a cleaner at the mansion of Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), the owner of Kord Industries, a business that manufactures its own weaponry and robot troops. Jaime soon fires himself and his sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo), but Victoria’s niece Jenny (Bruna Marquezine) tells Jaime to come by the Kord offices, and she’ll offer him a new job.
Jenny doesn’t like the path her father’s firm has taken since Victoria took control, so she takes a scarab that powers these new robots to disrupt Victoria’s plans to create super troops. Jenny handed up the scarab to Jaime when he arrives in Kord searching for work. Soon after, and under peer pressure from his family, Jaime touches the scarab, which latches onto him (by entering into his ass) and transforms him into a superhero with a strong exoskeleton that gives him armour, powers, and forces him to battle the scarab for control.
Blue Beetle feels like a mash-up of almost every other superhero-origin narrative we’ve seen before. Jaime’s transformation into a superhero whose body has been transformed by a monster he discovered at a huge business is reminiscent of Spider-Man. The suit, known as Khaji-Da (voiced by Becky G), is quite similar to the one worn by Iron Man.
The discovery of a lair formerly owned by the previous owner of the Blue Beetle seems like a more pop-culture-inspired version of Batman, while a look into the afterlife is heavily influenced by Black Panther, and the emphasis on the family unit feels like a better-handled version of the family in Shazam! It’s not a bad blend of ingredients, but it’s difficult to see Blue Beetle and not think about all the various inspirations from which it was built.
What distinguishes Blue Beetle from its precursors is the emphasis on the family as a unit. Jaime’s discovery of his newfound abilities is accompanied by his family, which includes his father, sister, nana (Adriana Barraza), and uncle Rudy (George Lopez). Each member of the family provides something that Jaime requires, and some of Blue Beetle’s most endearing scenes come from the family working together, whether to shame or save Jaime from Victoria’s prototype robot soldier, Conrad Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo).
If you’re not a fan of Lopez, be prepared to rely on him too much, since his one-liners may get old, especially when they’re repeated over and over. Despite the fact that Blue Beetle sometimes feels like it was cobbled together from bits and pieces of previous superhero flicks, the focus on the family makes it feel unique and imbues this story with heart, despite its familiarity.
While focusing on the family is a wise decision, it also feels like a diversion from a plot that was already taking fascinating turns. Mariduea is a lot of fun, especially in the early act, before gaining the Blue Beetle powers, as he tries to figure out where his character belongs post-college. The script by Dunnet-Alcocer suggests that Blue Beetle may explore concepts of gentrification, as the dominance of Kord Industries in Palmera City has caused impoverished families like the Reyes to suffer, or even how those same individuals can sometimes appear virtually invisible to the rich. There are a lot of fascinating, deeper concerns alluded to in the beginning that never really get addressed, except for the occasional little reminder whenever Victoria is on screen.
Blue Beetle’s antagonists, Victoria and Carapax, aren’t particularly memorable (a late-in-the-film attempt to make us sympathise with Carapax is, regrettably, too little, too late), but it’s a pleasant surprise to see a DC picture explore action with restraint. Again, by not having world-changing stakes, filmmaker Soto is able to allow for smaller, one-on-one clashes that feel more raw and exhilarating than any action sequence in The Flash, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, or Black Adam.
While DC has tried smaller storylines like this that feel separate from the greater universe, we have seldom seen films in the DCEU tackle these grounded sorts of stories previously. Blue Beetle is a human narrative, not a superhero one, and Soto’s directing surely reflects that.
Soto also gives Blue Beetle a considerably lighter vibe than we’ve come to anticipate from the DCEU at this time. Blue Beetle is having fun with its universe and mainly succeeds, from the neon lights that illuminate Palmera City to the family relationships and the amusing gadgets (one weapon is even constructed from an old Nintendo Power Glove). Both DC and Marvel have battled with a more lighthearted tone recently, so seeing a superhero narrative that doesn’t take itself seriously is a welcome change.
Blue Beetle may not be a novel take on the superhero origin narrative, but Soto and Dunnet-Alcocer demonstrate that a smaller-scale, lighter approach inside the DC Universe can be successful. Blue Beetle may not have the name familiarity of Superman or Batman, but with this origin out of the way, this character appears to have promise in whatever route James Gunn and Peter Safran lead DC.