Friday, August 18, 2023

Review: "BLUE BEETLE" is a Family Affair

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 38 of 2023 (No. 1927) by Leroy Douresseaux

Blue Beetle (2023)
Running time:  127 minutes (2 hours, 7 minutes)
MPA – PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, language, and some suggestive references
DIRECTOR:  Angel Manuel Soto
WRITER:  Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer (based on characters from DC Comics)
PRODUCERS:  Zev Foreman and John Rickard
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Pawel Pogorzelski (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Craig Alpert
COMPOSER:  The Haxan Cloak


Starring:  Xolo Maridueña, Bruna Marquezine, Damien Alcazar, Adriana Barraza, Belissa Escobedo, Elpidia Carrillo, Raoul Max Trujillo, Modesto Lacen, and Harvey Guillén, Susan Sarandon, George Lopez, and  (voice) Becky G

Blue Beetle is a 2023 superhero and action-fantasy film directed by Ángel Manuel Soto.  The film is based on the DC Comics character, Blue Beetle/Jaime Reyes, that was created by Keith Giffen, John Rogers, and Cully Hamner and first appeared in the comic book, Infinite Crisis #3 (cover dated: February 2006).  Blue Beetle the movie focuses on a young man who finds himself chosen to be the symbiotic host of an alien artifact that gives him a suit of armor.

Blue Beetle introduces recent college graduate, Jaime Reyes (Xolo Mariduena), who is returning to his hometown of Palmera City.  He receives a warm welcome from his family:  his father, Alberto Reyes (Damian Alcazar); his mother, Rocio Reyes (Elpidia Carrillo); his Nana (Adrian Barraza), his younger sister, Milagro (Belissa Escobedo); and his uncle, Rudy Reyes (George Lopez).  Jaime soon learns that his family will lose their home due to financial difficulties and to Alberto's poor health.  Still, Jaime is optimistic that he will quickly get a job and make enough money for his family.

Some time later, Jaime meets Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), the daughter of Ted Kord, the currently-missing CEO OF Kord Industries.  Jenny is at odds with her aunt, Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), the current CEO.  Jenny discovers that Victoria has dark plans for her recent discovery, an alien artifact called “the Scarab.”  Jenny steals the Scarab, and not knowing its true nature, she passes it on to Jaime.
As soon as Jaime touches the Scarab, it activates and attaches to him, creating a suit of armor around him.  The suit gives Jaime extraordinary powers, such as flight, super-strength, and invulnerability, but those powers are unpredictable.  Now, Jaime's family calls him a “superhero.”  However, Jaime isn't sure that he wants to be a superhero, and Victoria Kord will do whatever she has to do – including murder – to regain possession of the Scarab.

The Blue Beetle first appeared in Fox Comics' Mystery Men Comics #1 (cover dated: August 1939) and was the secret identity of a young police officer, Dan Garrett.  The second Blue Beetle first appeared in Charlton Comics' Captain Atom #83 (November 1966) and was Ted Kord, an industrialist and owner of KORD Industries.  I mention this because Dan Garrett is referenced in this film.  Also, Ted Kord, with a new origin, is a major subplot in this film, although the story is that he has been missing for years under mysterious circumstances.

However, this is Blue Beetle/Jaime Reyes' film.  He comes across as a normal young man in his early twenties.  Warner Bros. didn't even cast some muscular young android-like actor for the role.  Xolo Mariduena's body is in good shape, but he looks more like a high school kid still in physical development.  Everything about Xolo comes across as boy-next-door, which makes him more relatable to a larger segment of the audience.  After all, Jaime seems so vulnerable that even an alien suit of armor doesn't seem capable of completely protecting him.  If there is a superhero of the people – the champion next door – Xolo makes Jaime Reyes as Blue Beetle fit the role perfectly.

Like Warner Bros.'s 2019 DC Comics film, Shazam, Blue Beetle emphasizes family, and the Reyes are delightful.  George Lopez's Uncle Rudy is a scene stealer, and I'm glad the story reveals that there is so much more to him than meets the eye.  Of course, one can judge how good a family is by placing it in contrast with a problematic family, and that is the Kords.  Susan Sarandon plays the evil aunt, Victoria Kord, with relish, although she doesn't really go over the top.  The film puts Jenny Kord, smoothly played by actress Bruna Marquezine, at the center of the good family (the Reyes)-bad family (Victoria Kord) dynamic.  Which will Jenny ultimately choose?  Like Shazam, Blue Beetle shows how cool an extended or surrogate family can be, especially to someone in need.

I like what director Angel Manuel Soto does with his collaborators, cast, and crew.  Blue Beetle is an easy-going superhero film that is fun for a family audience, even with the sometimes intense action and dark plot elements.  I'm surprised that the film has as its themes, “imperialism in the name of democracy” and “militarized capitalism,” neither of which are ever portrayed as a good thing.  Uncle Rudy even calls Batman a “fascist,” which has caused a stir in some Internet circles.  This film definitely has an anti-authoritarian streak.

That aside, Blue Beetle is hugely and surprisingly entertaining, and it sparkles with humor.  By focusing on Jaime Reyes as much as it does on the Blue Beetle armor, the film gets to center on the most winning aspect of it story, family and friends.  Blue Beetle won't get the attention of bigger superhero film productions, but it has more heart than most of those other films.

[Blue Beetle has two extra scenes during the end credits.]

7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Friday, August 18, 2023

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