Every time I go to watch a DC movie, I feel like I’m playing a game of Russian Roulette with myself. Even though I’m more of a Marvel fanboy, I still enjoy plenty of DC characters. Which is why it’s a little painful not knowing if a movie adaptation will do the original justice or fall totally flat (looking at you, Black Adam). Luckily, Blue Beetle falls into what I call the Shazam line of DC movies. Meaning that if you squint, it almost feels more like a Marvel movie, with a focus on family, humor and heart over everything else. And honestly, that made this a pretty enjoyable, if a bit formulaic, movie.
Another thing I really enjoyed about Blue Beetle was the focus on Hispanic culture. While main character Jaime Reyes (played by film newcomer Xolo Maridueña) is clearly from la Raza, the movie does a good job of showing that it’s not monolithic. We see the wide-eyed optimism of Jaime; the cynical barbs of sister Milagro “Millie” Reyes; the toadying of “Dr. Sanchez” (sorry, Harvey); the kindness of Jenny Kord; the fierce brutality of Carapax; and the loving support of Jaime’s father, Alberto. Not to be outdone, George Lopez himself nearly steals the show with his massive goat beard and shrieks of terror, serving as the movie’s “Mexican Doc Brown”. There’s a character for everyone in the movie, and doubly so if, like myself, you have a little hot sauce in your veins.
The movie is initially about how Victoria Kord’s expansion in Palmera City is destroying (aka re-gentrifying) the Edge Keys that the Reyes family lives in. First they lost their auto shop, now they’re going to lose their house. The news hits Jaime like a ton of bricks, since he just graduated and was hoping to use his degree to bring newfound prosperity to his beloved, if occasionally extra, family. He takes a job cleaning gum off chairs and tables at the Kord residence, where he overhears an angry argument between Jenny Kord and her aunt Victoria. The chance encounter provides an in with the beautiful young Kord, and though Jaime loses his job, he shares his phone number with Jenny. Not foreseeing how that simple decision will change his life forever.
Long story short, Jenny doesn’t like the direction her aunt is taking her father’s company. Ted Kord wasn’t interested in making weapons, but when he disappeared, Victoria took complete control of his empire. She’s also found the Scarab, and with it hopes to jumpstart her OMAC (One Man Army Corps) series of exosuits. Jenny steals it instead from an unlucky Dr. Sanchez, and when she has to flee the building, she pawns it off on an unsuspecting Jaime. Only for the Scarab to later bond with him, enveloping him in a nanite exosuit and creating a few holes in the roof of his house, not to mention cutting a bus in half while the suit is accommodating itself to the new human host.
I liked how Jaime and his suit’s AI are at odds for the majority of the film. It brings to bear whether massively powerful technology is trustworthy without a human conscience to guide it, and made this comic nerd worry even more about things like ChatGPT and related, foolhardy ventures. Luckily for Jaime, the Scarab’s AI isn’t evil per se, and it learns from Jaime the longer they’re bonded. So much so that by the end of the movie, it’s talking to Jaime in Spanish.
While the alien Scarab is incredibly powerful, the movie does a good job of showing the other version of the titular hero. See, I’m actually not all that familiar with this version of Blue Beetle, and know a lot more about Ted Kord. As they call him in the movie, he’s like Batman with ADHD. Which is both painfully true and also hilarious. Ted Kord is a goofy billionaire that uses his technology to make silly gadgets and fight crime, sometimes with his buddy Booster Gold. In the movie, Jenny shows Jaime and George Lopez’s Uncle Rudy to what I think of as the Beetle Cave, along with all the absurd technology within. Let’s just say it’s used to great effect later in the movie, and I loved how retro it was. Not only does Ted have a Beetlemobile and hardlight gauntlets, but also some pretty impressive chewing gum.
There’s a dramatic death about midway through the movie, and it does a good job of upping the stakes for the final arc. That said, the scene that nearly made me tear up was when we learned about the tragic backstory of the villain, Carapax. He’s the prototype OMAC, and the road to becoming a killing machine was not only tumultuous, but full of buried horrors. He’s the brutal instrument of Victoria, who frankly is the real villain, but he’s the one that serves as Jaime’s real test.
While I appreciated how Carapax was a nuanced and brutal villain, there’s one thing that this old comic nerd was irritated by. OMAC was drawn by the one and only Jack Kirby, and like most Kirby designs, it was a bit silly and over the top, but no less awesome. To put it simply, the OMAC in Blue Beetle looks like some generic anime robot instead. Frankly, it reminded me of the injustice done to the Nova Corps in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. I would have killed for the director justifying a massive OMAC mohawk like in the original comics. Or hell, even the more recent version would have sufficed.
Another thing I appreciated about Blue Beetle, other than the pumping tunes and great humor, was the overall 90s vibe present in the entire movie. It wasn’t trying to be edgy or moody like many DC movies, and instead just was about fun and action. And the occasional romantic moments between Jaime and Jenny. The movie also did a good job of letting each of the Reyes family get some good moments, most especially sister Milagro. She’s by turns cynical, bereft and fierce, and I really appreciated the actress’ range.
Overall, I had a really enjoyable time with Blue Beetle. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s definitely one of the better offerings from DC. While there’s some weak points and one pretty glaring plot hole, I’d recommend it to fans of the comics, or just anybody looking for a last Summer movie hurrah. Here’s hope DC can keep the good times rolling in the inevitable sequel.