“You’re really lucky. This house is full of stuff. Your house is full of love.”
Blue Beetle is a 2023 Warner Brothers picture directed by Angel Manuel Soto from a story by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer and is a dynamic yet disorganized attempt at depicting a long-running comic book character in all his complexity and giving his various published incarnations their due. The film mostly succeeds in that regard. However, its scattershot approach and slapdash nature insures that while certain aspects of the picture work well, others fall flat or just feel wrong and awkwardly out of place. As a movie, Blue Beetle is a sprawling mess.
What results is a wildly uneven picture which may be a sign of quality control dropping as the DCEU trundles to a halt or just indicative of a movie that can’t decide what it wants to be. A comic book movie is just a framework that can allow any genre to shine but Blue Beetle wants to be all of them.
Blue Beetle is based on the long-running comic book character of the same name that first saw print in 1939. Published by Fox Comics and created by Charles Nicholas Wojtkoski, the first Blue Beetle is police officer Dan Garett who took a “special pill” called vitamin 2x that makes him stronger and faster than a normal man. This is retconned when Charlton Comics purchased the rights and begin printing their own Blue Beetle stories in 1964. The Blue Beetle is now archaeologist Dan Garrett who discovers a mystical scarab on a dig in Egypt. When he says the magic words, “Kaji-Dha”, the scarab grants him superhuman abilities.
The second Blue Beetle, created by Steve Ditko, is an engineer and inventor named Ted Kord who uses his his skills, technology and smarts to fight crime. A former student of Garrett’s, the professor bequeaths the scarab to Kord, but he is unable to make it work. Ted never develops enhanced powers and is ok with that. He becomes a gadget-based hero, soaring into the fight in his unique flying transport, the Bug and preferring to battle injustice using his own advanced devices. Charlton is absorbed by DC comics in the eighties and Blue Beetle joins the Justice League along with another former Charlton character, Captain Atom.
The film focuses on the third incarnation of the Blue Beetle, who was designed by Keith Giffen, John Rogers and Cully Hemner in 2006. This Blue Beetle is Jaime Reyes, a young man who gets his hands on Garrett’s scarab only for it to fuse to his spine, unlock its full potential and make Jaime far more than human.
George Lopez and Susan Sarandon star in Blue Beetle along with Xolo Maridueña, Belissa Escobedo, Bruena Marquezine, Damián Alcázar, Adriana Barraza, Elpida Carrillo and Raoul Max Trujillo with Harvey Guillén and Becky G as the voice of Khaji-Da.
.“There’s plenty you don’t know about nana.”
As the first Reyes to graduate college, a triumphant Jaime (Maridueña) returns to his family’s home in Palmera City only to find that things aren’t as rosy as his mother, Rocio (Carrillo), had let it seem. The family can’t keep up with the pressures of rent increases as their neighborhood of Edge Key begins to be gentrified. They live with their mysterious and impassive Nana (Barraza) as well as Uncle Rudy (Lopez), an overly paranoid unemployed engineer who sleeps on the sofa. Though Jaime’s father, Alberto (Alcázar) isn’t concerned with their material possessions, the family is going to be evicted. His sister, Milagro (Escobedo) works as a janitor for the Kord corporation headquarters and desperate to help, Jaime begs her to get him job in custodial.
For years, the Kord Corporation was a multinational conglomerate dedicated to a better tomorrow. The CEO, Ted Kord, has gone missing, leaving his sister Victoria (Sarandon) to take the reins. She has altered the company’s portfolio to focus on arms sales and weapons evolution and aims to create a PMC. She and her right-hand man, a heavily scarred cyborg named Conrad Carapax (Trujillo) are developing a program called OMAC, One Man Army Corps, a system that could make a single armored man the equal of a battalion of regular soldiers.
Jaime witnesses an argument between Victoria and her niece, Jenny (Marquezine), who doesn’t like the direction her aunt is taking her father’s company, though Victoria rebuts that it was Ted who was the pacifist-futurist weirdo and she is just returning the Kord Corporation to its roots as an arms foundry. Jaime bravely stands up for Jenny and gets himself and Milagro fired for his efforts. Jenny takes a liking to her defender and gives Jaime her phone number. She tells him to text and come by because Jenny can get Jaime a job in another part of the company.
Jenny learns that the heart of the OMAC system is a special command node shaped like a fist-sized scarab, all blue glass and inlaid gold circuitry. OMACs can’t work without the scarab, so she sneaks into Kord R&D and steals it. Jenny stuffs the scarab into a fast food burger box as she scarpers and runs into Jaime in the atrium as security begins to lock down the building. Figuring her profile is too high and she’ll never make it out the door, she asks him to take the box home and hide it. She sternly enjoins him not to look in the box nor tell anyone about it and she’ll contact him as soon as possible.
He makes it home without incident and immediately tells his family what has happened as they stand around the dinner table. Milagro can’t believe Jaime could be so ingenuous that he hasn’t even peeked yet. They flip the box top open and the family is baffled as to what they’re looking at. Even Uncle Rudi can’t identify the scarab, but it proves to be heavier than he would’ve expected. When Jaime tries to take the device from his uncle and get it back in the box, the inert apparatus springs to life and clings to his face. The house’s fuses spark, the kitchen lights flash and the family screams hysterically as the insectoid device scuttles down Jaime’s neck and under his shirt. As Jaime screeches in agony and alarm, it bonds to him and bulges out of his upper back. The family members add to the cacophony and caterwaul along with him in horror, while at the direction of the scarab, gleaming, ebony, exo-skeletal armor painfully grows out of Jaime’s body. When it is done, he is completely sealed in a shiny suit of blue and black covering him from head to toe.
It’s not finished with him. Jaime can hear a voice talking about systems tests. Verniers open on the suit’s back and with the deafening roar of thrusters, it smashes him through the ceiling and they rocket to the top of the thermosphere.
When informed of the theft, Victoria is incensed. She knows the importance of the scarab to the OMAC program. They have a contract-proposal, prototype-product reveal for the Army on the horizon and they can’t do the demo without the scarab. Victoria knows Jenny is involved and wants Carapax to stalk and squeeze her until Jenny reveals what she’s done with Victoria’s prized, bug-shaped, circuited, cerulean cabochon. Meanwhile, Jaime is in a panic. The scarab is fused to him. It’s inside his body. He can hear it in his head. He doesn’t understand it, He can’t control it. Carapax and his commandos are coming for the scarab, and they don’t care who they have to hurt to get it.
Will Jaime learn what the scarab really wants? Will Jenny discover the true final fate of her father, Ted? Will the Reyes family lose their home due to the Kord Corporation-caused gentrification spiral and end up on the streets? How many will Carapax kill while trying to return Victoria’s precious property? Can the family remember what’s really important in the face of chaos and calamity? See Blue Beetle and find out.
“Down with the imperialists!”
Blue Beetle is really all over the map. It feels like it wants to be light-hearted comedy fluff one minute and then veers into ultraviolence the next. One second it’s a teen romance, then a cultural commentary on immigration and gentrification. The pieces themselves are well crafted, but the individual elements don’t mesh into any sort of cohesive whole. Jaime as a character lacks a proper arc and ultimately the scarab makes too many of the moral decisions he should be making.
Blue Beetle jumps around on springs and is trying to tell too many stories at the same time: An immigrant family celebrating its first college graduate; Cronenberg-esque body horror; class-conscious social commentary; sweet, star-crossed romance; heavily armed home invasions; a super hero finding his footing; the consequences of oppression; the nature of freedom; corporate rapaciousness; the power of faith-in family and several other tangents all swirl about the suggestion that the scarabs are sent from outer space. That issue, raised in the title sequence is really the only thing the movie DOESN’T attempt to address.
However, Escobedo, Marquezine and Maridueña’s performances are energetic and exuberant. Alcázar and Carrillo are incredibly earnest. Trujillo brings to bear a quiet sense of menace that conceals his own palpable, personal pain. Adriana Barraza is simply amazing; George Lopez is simply absurd. He spends nine tenths of the movie as comic relief (if you can call what he’s doing comedy), yelping a shrill shriek of fear except for the brief scenes where we need to believe his steady engineering competence. It’s very hard to take his performance or his character seriously, especially when he sits in front of some top-secret, proprietary technology he’s never seen before and begins flipping switches and turning knobs like a highly-trained expert. Susan Sarandon plays an evil corporate executive asshole. She’s just smarmy, insincere and well, evil enough that an audience could really hate her Victoria. She’s got a knack for being an asshole, she nails it here and can probably play this type of roll for the rest of her life.
Though finely- depicted, Jaime’s first flight into the edges of space felt very similar in spirit and in execution to Tony Stark’s initial unplanned excursion to the roof of the sky in 2008’s Iron Man. Blue Beetle, as a film, is all in on the “no hemets for heroes” meme, with both Marquezine and Maridueña repeatedly removing their head protection so the camera can get close-ups of their money-makers. Carapax’s armor is nicely rendered and is largely comics-accurate, as is Jaime’s suit. Dan Garrett is given a small nod, Ted Kord a huge shout-out. There IS an abandoned Beetle-Lair in the film, all purple neon, shining chrome and brushed steel, but the first thing this reviewer thought when that scene began was, “Ok, who has been dusting this place? It’s immaculate!” Then this reviewer noticed the super-suits on the mannequins.
The idea of heroes storing their costumes on mannequins probably dates back to the1989 Tim Burton Batman movie. It’s done over and over again. Marvel and DC films alike are both guilty of this trope. It’s silly. This reviewer can’t think of any practical reason to store clothing like that other than cool factor, as in the face of emergency, it would take much longer to get the uniforms or costumes on and off the mannequins than using hangars or hooks or just folding the super-suits and putting them in a dresser or closet. It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t even look that cool.
This reviewer also thinks that Soto and Dunnet-Alcocer are completely missing the point of the OMAC. Jack “The King” Kirby created OMAC for DC comics in 1974. OMAC is (as the name implied), a single individual, not a swarm of faceless goons. The formidable Buddy Blank is deployed by Brother Eye and the Global Peace Agency when it is too dangerous and too destabilizing to send in entire armies. It’s not the first time one of the King’s creations has been bastardized in an adaptation, and this reviewer is pretty sure it’s not going to be the last time.
As a picture, Blue Beetle is very bright. It’s very loud. Soto likes to frame his scenes with purple neon and drape them in deep blue shadows. Visually, the movie is never sufficiently dark, even when the tone demands it should be. It’s very hard to take seriously, but it’s not funny enough to be classified as a comedy. Many of the jokes are broad with the mood turning on a dime. There’s goofy slapstick. There is a horrific scene reminiscent of an ICE raid with all what that entails which dovetails with a derivative scene of the hero learning to fly by rocketing into the sky out of control and then falling from orbit, plus a few juvenile hard-on gags. There are references to the School of the Americas and atrocities in Guatemala. More kid stuff is next, followed by a giant robot insect leg impaling a man and then more plucky shenanigans. Many hero tropes are here to be checked off the list and though the main character is determined not to be a murderer, he is responsible for SO many deaths.
The Beetle-armor effects are nicely done. The exaggerated, punchy-punchy, smashy-smashy, cartoonish action works when it’s present and the levels of comic-book-style collateral damage is impressive. Dan Garrett, Ted Kord and the Bug are all given much-deserved respect, but the Beetle-lair is ridiculous and once the film gets there, clichés begin to stack on tropes leading to a generally predictable ending with only minor suspense. Unless you’re a DCEU completionist, skip this one or save it for streaming
Dan Garett/ Blue Beetle was created by Charles Nicholas Wojtkoski.
Dan Garrett/ Blue Beetle was created by Joe Gill, Bill Fraccio and Tony Tallarico.
Ted Kord/ Blue Beetle was created by Steve Ditko.
Jaime Reyes/ Blue Beetle was created by Keith Giffen, John Rogers and Cully Hamner.
OMAC was created by Jack Kirby.
Conrad Carapax was created by Len Wein and Paris Cullins.