In Review: Blue Beetle

Reviewed by Tim Robins

Blue Beetle has a lot to say about Mexicans living in America, writes Tim Robins, but the film trades its social conscience for goofy caricatures and a fairy tale ending


Blue Beetle is a whole lot of fun. The film is skewed toward a young audience for the good. All the now expected tropes are there but dealt with in a brisk and occasionally spectacular fashion, as the titular Blue Beetle learns to use his creepy, alien powers, while battling it out with the sinister Kord Industries and their cybernetic henchman OMAC across the skies of Palmera City.

Ramario Xolo Ramirez, as Jamie Reyes aka Blue Beetle, and Bruna Marquezine, who is out to wrest the Kord legacy from the clutches of her evil Aunt (Susan Sarandon), who, by turn, is intent on supplying the world with cybernetic super-soldiers powered by code from a decorative scarab beetle. Reyes is helped by his extended family including Rudy Reyes (George Lopez), a homespun inventor of kick-arse gadgets – think Caracacus Potts meets Emmett ‘Doc’ Brown South of the border – and Jamie’s granny (Adriana Barraza) with a secret, revolutionary past.

A mean-spirited critic for The Metro, wrongly sensing cochineal, went for the jugular describing Blue Beetle “a right bore” and suggesting it would “send you asleep”. It won’t. Blue Beetle goes out of its way to entertain the audience. Although originally intended as an HBO Max TV series, the film is cinematic in scope and beautifully shot with at times vibrant, neon colours. The supporting cast may be caricatural, but I defy you not to laugh at a granny coming to the rescue with a ginormous gun. And there are genuinely poignant moments between characters.

It is the case that the character of Blue Beetle is not likely to be known beyond comics’ cognoscenti. The Blue Beetle’s roots are in the Golden Age: 1939, to be precise, in the first issue of Mystery Men, and in a popular radio series.

The series’ success led to the creation of a rival radio crime-fighter the, today, better known Green Hornet. In the 1960s, Blue Beetle was revamped by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko for Charlton Comics. It was this version that introduced Blue Beetle as researcher and inventor, Ted Kord, later the inspiration for Nite Owl, in Watchmen.

The new Blue Beetle film is based on yet another revamp of the character, this time by DC Comics, at the hands of Keith Giffen. The film opens with a piece of space-tech falling to Earth, where it is eventually found by Ted Kord’s sister. As for Ted Kord, he’s missing, believed dead, and with him his Blue Beetle identity. (Fans should be pleased to see the character’s past costumes on display in a Beetle-Bat-Cave-Basement). All good fun and plenty of material for a sequel – if the mid-credit sequence is to be believed.

It has become a tired trope of the Hollywood superhero genre that the hero‘s origin should be enmeshed in the machinations of the villain, but this does give Blue Beetle a strong dynamic, underpinning the film’s central conflict. And yes, the film does end up with a CGI fight between Reyes and his opposite number Ignacio Carapax, played by a thuggish-looking Raoul Trujillo in OMAC armour that makes his character look like an ancestor of “Max”, the killer robot from Disney’s The Black Hole (1979).

By now, complaining about superhero movies ending with a CGI punch-up is a bit like complaining that Westerns end with a shoot out at high noon. In so far as Hollywood seems wedded to this trope, what matters is how it is enacted, including what stakes there are in the game. Here, Blue Beetle succeeds because we actually care about the characters. Even Carapax is given a belated, heart-rending back story only hinted at by a chain bearing a picture of his mother.

There is an explicit politics to the picture that gives it an edge on the rest of DC’s more white bread fare. The character’s comment on the lowly position of many Mexican emigres to the United States: their invisibility to wealthy Americans and their struggles for recognition. Reyes’s home is in a recognisably poor, working class area (Edge Keys). All this is addressed, if not subtly, then with a sense of humour, and a spoonful of sugar that makes the bitter medicine go down.

Blue Beetle isn’t preachy and nothing like as outspoken as its director Director Ángel Manuel Soto, who back in August 2018 tweeted “Puerto Rico is a slave colony of the USA. Your passport was imposed on us, so there is nowhere else to go after your country shits on my land and blames us for the stink. F*** you.” If I were cynical, I’d suggest such words were used to enhance the film’s relevance to a target audience of Latinos. But in-film lines such as “Batman is a fascist” got a laugh even among a British audience as well differentiating the film from the rest of the DCEU.

Given the way the director has woven genuine feelings and situations into the proceeding, I was left dumb-struck by the speed with which the Reyes family’s situation was resolved. It was straight out of a fairy tale with Jenny Kord playing a fairy godmother. Worse, this film ends by embracing American materialism in the same spirit that Ellen DeGeneres defines “kindness” as giving someone a car (perhaps a Volkswagen Beetle?).

Alas, as entertaining as it is, Blue Beetle is more Disney’s Magic Kingdom than Magic Realism.

Tim Robbins

  • Blue Beetle is in cinemas now

Buy Blue Beetle Volume One: Jaime Reyes: Book One (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)

High school student Jaime Reyes is thrust into the life of a hero after an encounter with extraterrestrial armour transforms him into the Blue Beetle! What is the armor’s true purpose, and what evils will our planet face if Jaime isn’t strong enough to use the armor correctly? Collecting Blue Beetle #1-12.

Buy Blue Beetle Volume Two: Jaime Reyes: Book Two (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)

The mystical Blue Beetle scarab has chosen its new guardian, Jaime Reyes! But supernatural powers can be a blessing or a curse, and when it comes to the powers of the Scarab, you don’t get one without the other!

Blue Beetle unwittingly accompanies Teri Magnus-the Flash of the 31st century-into the future. It’s not a journey he wants to take, but it’s one that will unravel some mysteries-like why Teri’s been living in present day El Paso and working for Ted Kord. Plus, Jaime learns a shocking secret about someone in his own life!

Categories: Comics, Features, Film, Other Worlds, Reviews, US Comics

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