Star Rating:

Blue Beetle

Director: Angel Manuel Soto

Actors: Susan Sarandon, Becky G, Harvey Guillén

Release Date: Friday 18th August 2023

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Running time: 127 minutes

An alien relic chooses Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) to be its symbiotic host, bestowing the teenager with a suit of armor that's capable of extraordinary and unpredictable powers, forever changing his destiny as he becomes the superhero Blue Beetle. However, billionaire industrialist Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon) will stop at nothing to retrieve the relic, including putting Jaime's family (Belissa Escobedo, Damián Alcázar, Adriana Barraza) in mortal danger...

We're now in late-stage comic-book content where the origin movie is effectively its own genre, like horror or romantic comedy. The template is as carefully constructed as the suit of armour that is placed upon the reluctant shoulders of the hero and can support just about any character or premise. 'Blue Beetle' is unique in that Jaime Reyes, played with appropriate enthusiasm by Xolo Maridueña, is Latin-American and unashamedly so. When he returns to his fictional home city of Palmera, he's met at the airport by a loving and overbearing family and driven through barrios and gentrification to his bungalow home.

'Blue Beetle' fully embraces its cultural setting, and this is where the movie gets its so much of its power. The supporting cast, his family, are easily the most enjoyable aspect of the movie compared to the CGI and the comic-book action. For example, we find in the blow-out third act that Blue Beetle's Nanna was a fiery anti-imperialist revolutionary, while veteran comedian George Lopez slots easily into the family as the nutjob uncle who loudly declares Batman to be a fascist. Damian Alcázar, who European audiences will recognise from 'Narcos', has all of the warmth and good humour you'd expect from a father-figure that will come to define the hero's moral centre.

As much as 'Blue Beetle' has a vibrant supporting cast and a likeable, star-making lead, so much of it is paint-by-numbers. There's almost nothing unexpected at any point in the movie, be it Susan Sarandon's scenery chewing antics as the unconvincing villain or the rote action setpieces and CGI explosions. Like so many directors before him, Ángel Manuel Soto has gone from strongly directed indies like 'Charm City Kings' to something dangerously close to bland in 'Blue Beetle', with the originality being held up by the cast. Likewise, screenwriter Gareth Dunnet-Acocer cops the entire structure of the script from 'Iron Man', 'Spider-Man', and any other origin movie you can think of.

'Blue Beetle' is competently made, if done with absolutely zero chance of it being controversial or unique. Watching it, you can tell that every time a safe choice was available, it was taken and acted upon. There are so few moments in 'Blue Beetle' where anything unexpected happens, but the strength of its cast helps to sustain it past this and leaves you with an experience that is something bordering on enjoyable, if forgettable.