Family matters as Blue Beetle narrowly avoids being a barrio bust
Is it the end of the old or the beginning of the new? It doesn’t really matter as BLUE BEETLE is so studiously agnostic that James Gunn, Peter Safran and David Zaslav can take their sweet time making that decision while they plot the resurrection of DC’s cinematic universe from the ashes of Snyder’s scorched earth era.
When Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) returns to his family home having graduated college, he finds them dealing with a number of domestic crises, albeit with their usual optimism and familial strength. But when he accidentally comes into possession of an advanced alien artefact he realises that he may have the power to save his family home – if he can live long enough to harness it.
There are things BLUE BEETLE does really well and there are things it does that, while perfectly adequate in and of themselves, are simply so similar to things we’ve seen before that they end up feeling derivative and uninspired.
Nearly all of the good stuff relates to Jaime Reyes himself, his family and his love interest. The script and performances expend a lot of effort in endearing the Reyes family to us and it’s effort well spent as Xolo Maridueña, Adriana Barraza, Damián Alcázar, Elpidia Carrillo, Belissa Escobedo and George Lopez envelope us in the genuine warmth of la familia Reyes.
Unfortunately, it’s when BLUE BEETLE ventures beyond the barrio that it runs into problems with a plot that’s so by-the-numbers it could be a regular segment on Sesame Street. The alien scarab itself is treated as little more than a McGuffin to be chased by various factions until it bonds with Jaime and while there are plenty of oblique hints to its larger origins and lore it’s never really articulated why it matters or how powerful it is.
Compounding the plot problems are the gossamer-thin characters who serve as antagonists. While Raoul Max Trujillo makes a decent fist of playing the underwritten henchman Carapax (side note: naming the adversary of a beetle-themed hero carapax is peak lazy comic book nomenclature), Harvey Guillén is criminally underused and Susan Sarandon delivers a career-worst performance as primary villain Victoria Kord; at no point in the film does she deliver a single line like she could give a shit about the material. At least one member of the Kord family commits to the material, with Bruna Marquezine providing both a spunky heroine and sparky romantic foil for Maridueña. Actually, that’s a little unfair. The uncredited actor who provides a few snippets of Ted Kord’s voice also gives a better performance than Sarandon.
The effects work, while a step up from recent DC fare, fails to provide anything even remotely new to watch, with Marvel’s IRON MAN trilogy, SPIDER-MAN and, amusingly, THE BLACK HOLE obvious influences. There’s something about the visuals and the vibe of Palmera City that makes BLUE BEETLE feel more connected to the world of Ryan Reyniold’s ill-fated GREEN LANTERN than either the dying DCEU or burgeoning DCU. Awkwardly sandwiched between THE FLASH and the upcoming (at least at the time of writing) AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM with no clear claim to either, it may yet end up as marooned as that 2011 misfire even if it doesn’t remotely deserve to be as maligned.