|Directed by:||Ángel Manuel Soto|
|Written by:||Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer|
|Starring:||Xolo Maridueña, Adriana Barraza, Damián Alcázar, Raoul Max Trujillo, Susan Sarandon, George Lopez|
|Released:||September 14, 2023|
Much has been said, and rightly so, about Blue Beetle being the first live-action superhero movie with a Latino lead. 22-year-old Xolo Maridueña (Cobra Kai) was born in the United States, but his ancestry is a mix of Mexican (mum) and Cuban Ecuadorian (dad). It goes further than that though. Director Ángel Manuel Soto is Puerto Rican, writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer is Mexican, and the supporting cast has a strong Latin America connection. Considering roughly 20% of the United States population is Hispanic or Latino, how has it taken this long to see them represented front and centre in a Hollywood action flick?
I’ll describe Blue Beetle as a film of two halves – not in terms of time but in terms of “sides”. Headlining the “good guys” is Jaime Reyes (Maridueña), a college kid who returns home following graduation and his hit with a wall of bad news – his parents are about to lose their house (rents have tripled), his dad recently suffered a heart-attack, and the family business has gone broke. They may be light when it comes to wealth and possessions, but they’re a loving, tight-knit group who still see life’s glass as being half-full.
The interplay between the family members is the film’s strongest attribute. When Jaime touches a small alien creature and is unwillingly transformed into an all-powerful superhero, there’s fun to be had. There’s a small lull as we go through the genre’s obligatory learning-how-the-powers work stuff but once we move on, the family rally together in support on their own. The two standouts are Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza (Babel) as a feisty grandmother with a curious past, and comedian George Lopez as the funny uncle with a penchant for cars and technology.
If only the “bad guys” were as interesting. Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking) is an accomplished actress but she’s not the right choice to play Victoria Lord, the CEO of a military company creating a robotic army in pursuit of power and profit. She’s a clumsy written villain whose actions and motivations make little sense. How can anyone take her seriously? I feel similarly about Raoul Max Trujillo (Sicario) who plays her top henchman.
The script is too black and white (the morals/family stuff is pushed VERY hard) but there are some worthy quotes (poor people being invisible), a charismatic lead performance Maridueña (he’s a name to watch going forward), and strong production values. The distinctive neon lighting in labs and underground lairs reminded me of Tron. It may not be remembered as vividly as the iconic motif from All Quiet on the Western Front but there’s an equally impressive three-note tune from composer Bobby Krlic (Midsommar) which creates energy at just the right moments.
Blue Beetle underperformed at the U.S. box-office and while it’s not groundbreaking when it comes to narrative and themes, it’s worth a look for its many positive qualities and what it broadly represents for the Latino community.