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Blue Beetle Review: DC’s Latest Superhero Movie Has Real Heart

With bits of Iron Man here, parts of Spider-Man there, plus a seasoning of Black Panther and some other socially conscious superhero movies, Blue Beetle does seem overly familiar at times as director Ángel Manuel Soto dutifully yet nimbly goes through the paces of what seems for the most part to be a standard superhero origin story. But Blue Beetle still manages to entertain thanks to its unique protagonist and setting – the first superhero film led by a Latino – its wildly charismatic and appealing lead and fun supporting cast, a killer costume, and visual effects that are for the most part sharper and snazzier than those of recent other films with at least twice the budget.

While the film starts off with the lighter, quippier tone of a Marvel movie – thanks in part to the affectionate interactions between Jaime and his family, especially the scene-stealing George Lopez as his “crazy” Uncle Rudy – things get darker halfway through, especially during a harrowing, ultimately tragic sequence in which Victoria Kord sends her armored security goons crashing into the Reyes house to find Jaime while his family hides in a darkened bedroom.

It’s a tough pivot but Soto handles it well, with the scene unmistakably echoing the terror that immigrant families have no doubt felt for years in this country during the worst raids by brutal government squads like ICE. Soto and screenwriter Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer do not shy away from putting racism and anti-immigrant fervor front and center, even down to Victoria casually referring to a Mexican scientist in her employ (Harvey Guillén) as “Sanchez,” while he repeatedly tells her that’s not his name.

Fortunately, Blue Beetle never gets too heavy-handed, and the shift in tone halfway through the movie manages to imbue its second half with a deeper emotional power and higher stakes. The film also revels in the sheer love among the members of the family, including Jaime’s sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo), dad Alberto (Damián Alcázar) and mom Rocio (Elpidia Cafrillo). Watch out especially for Jamie’s abuelita (Adriana Barraza), another delightful scene-stealer with a few surprising tricks up her sleeve.

Sarandon and Trujillo are fairly one-dimensional villains throughout, and some last-minute backstory for both toward the end of the movie doesn’t quite help to make them more than the standard megalomaniac and unstoppable muscle, respectively. In fact, the film’s last act is where Blue Beetle turns most conventional, bowing to what must now be the standard studio mandate to include a frantic, CG-overloaded, borderline incomprehensible battle scene. Some odd editing here doesn’t help either, although there’s enough good will built up by this point to still make the climax satisfying.

Except for that last sequence, Blue Beetle‘s visuals are genuinely crisp, with Soto employing a colorful palette throughout and getting the most of the super cool and canonically faithful Blue Beetle suit. While the characterization of the entity that powers the suit (named Khaji-Da) kind of switches throughout the film to whatever it needs to be, the outfit itself feels tangible and even scary, with Soto presenting its fusion with Jaime in body horror terms. Although the VFX falls short in spots, the movie is a refreshing experience after some of the slop we’ve witnessed recently in other franchises.

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