Blue Beetle (Mexico/United States, 2023)

August 18, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Blue Beetle Poster

Blue Beetle is emblematic of what the superhero movie has become in 2023: an overlong slog through well-worn tropes. Gone are the zest and liveliness that characterized earlier films or the experimental genre-bending of the MCU’s salad days. Putting aside the movie’s most notable quality (an almost entirely Latinx cast), there’s nothing in these left-overs to excite or energize. The primary sin isn’t that Blue Beetle stinks the way really bad movies do but that it is so deeply mired in mediocrity that it’s tough to find a reason to care about its existence.

Technically speaking, this is a DC movie, although whether it should be classified as a late-innings entry into the soon-to-be-defunct DCEU (DC Extended Universe) or some kind of stand-alone is beyond my paygrade to determine. It features one of the lesser-known DC characters that only die-hards will recognize from the comic books and is light on references to the DC pantheon – Superman, Batman, and Flash get name checks and I think I saw a “Lexcorp” sign on a skyscraper, although it passed by so quickly I can’t be sure. Barring an unexpected box office windfall, this will be a one-and-done, although the movie is optimistic enough to hint at a potential sequel during an obligatory post-credits scene. Don’t bet the mortgage on that happening.

Events take place in Palmera City, Texas, a fictional locale with an economic division between the haves and have nots. One of the wealthiest women in town is Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), the CEO of Kord Industries. Victoria has been searching for a bright blue alien artifact, appropriately called The Scarab, and plans to use its unique abilities to enhance her technologically advanced android troops. No sooner has she found it, however, than she loses it – her pacifist niece, Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), steals it with the intention of making sure Victoria can never access its powers. When it appears that she might be discovered, Jenny places it in a take-out container and passes it off to Jaime Reyes (Xolo Mariduena), an out-of-work law student at Kord Tower seeking employment. Jaime takes the container home, where he faces questions from his family – father Alberto (Damian Alcazar), mother Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo), grandmother Nana (Adriana Barraza), uncle Rudy (George Lopez), and sister Milagro (Belissa Esccobedo). Despite Jenny’s admonishment that he shouldn’t open the container, Jaime does so and immediately regrets the impulsive action as The Scarab attaches itself to him and transforms him into a reluctant superhero. Meanwhile, Victoria commands her henchman, Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo), to retrieve The Scarab at all costs, even if it means killing the current host.

During the first half of Blue Beetle, there seems to be a concerted effort to keep the tone light, in line with a Deadpool-lite approach. Much of the humor is unfunny (and therefore awkward) and, considering the PG-13 rating, nothing comes close to the edginess that infused the Ryan Reynolds project. The movie’s second half is generic Superhero 101, with every beat stolen/borrowed from other comic book-inspired projects. The hero’s origin story and powers are a combination of Spider-Man and Iron-Man with a little Batman thrown in for good measure.

Blue Beetle’s freshness – the almost-exclusive use of actors of color (Susan Sarandon being the exception) and Xolo Mariduena’s turn as the protagonist – is undone by the utter lack of originality in the storyline. Granted, superhero movies aren’t often bastions of narrative inventiveness – there are certain tropes that have to be incorporated to satisfy the genre – but few regurgitate as aggressively as this one. Halfway through the movie, I lost interest in the proceedings because I knew with near-certainty not only how things were going to end, but what the pathway to that ending was going to look like.

With a modest budget of $120M, Blue Beetle makes the argument that it’s possible to produce a superhero movie that doesn’t demand a record-setting box office performance to break even. (This was originally planned as a direct-to-MAX exclusive before the decision was made to give it a theatrical release.) The lack of star power is in some ways an asset because it takes away the recognition factor. The camerawork is solid with the action sequence choreography being mostly coherent. And the special effects are limited but effective. Given a (much) better script, the film might have worked. However, although Blue Beetle may break barriers when it comes to cast diversity, it fails to accomplish the same when it comes to story and character, two things that should mean at least as much.

Blue Beetle (Mexico/United States, 2023)

Run Time: 2:07
U.S. Release Date: 2023-08-18
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Suggestive Material)
Genre: Action/Adventure
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1