Blue Beetle review: Snappy, unapologetically silly but predictable
There's an authenticity to the portrayal of a Latino family in the new superhero flick, but many of the narrative beats will feel familiar.
The Blue Beetle’s been around in various incarnations since 1939, but he’s far from one of DC’s A-list superheroes. He barely even scrapes into the B(eetle)-list.
So, in an increasingly overcrowded cinematic superhero market, he seriously needs a unique selling point to capture the audience’s imagination. DC's answer is to focus on the character's Latino connections.
College graduate Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) returns home to find things have taken a bad turn for his Mexican family. His dad’s had a heart attack after having lost his business, and they’re being forced from their home.
The cause of all their ills is evil mega tech corporation Kord Industries, run by the soulless Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), which has the authorities of Palmera City in its pocket.
The Reyes family’s fortunes change, though, when Jaime bonds with a sentient alien scarab device that Kord is using to power a new line of cyborg super soldiers. This gives him the ability to grow an insect-like supersuit with a range of awesome superpowers.
But with it comes three problems: the suit has an uncontrollable AI with a mind of its own; Kord will stop at nothing to get the scarab back; and he ruins his favourite trainers every time he transforms.
So Jaime joins forces with Victoria’s rebellious niece, Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), to find a way to separate Jaime from the alien scarab. But Jenny’s dead dad – and former Kord boss – has a few skeletons in his Batcave.
More like this
The result is a snappy, funny, unapologetically silly superhero romp with a lot of heart, that puts the whole Reyes family at the centre of the action. Even their Nana. In fact, especially their Nana – there are times when it looks like she’s touting for her own Supergran spin-off. It’s certainly a pleasant change not to have the young hero hiding their secret identity.
Warners hired Puerto Rican director Ángel Manuel Soto and Mexican screenwriter Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer to craft the film, and the authenticity they bring to the project pays dividends.
The Reyeses, collectively, are by far the best thing about the film. They have all the best lines. They deliver the best surprises. You really care about them. And they give the film a spark and flavour that it’s sorely missing in most other departments.
- Heart of Stone review: A derivative, deadly dull espionage actioner
- Red, White & Royal Blue review: The sexy gay romcom we've been waiting for
Because there’s very little new the film has to offer in the form of cinematic superheroics.
Jaime as Blue Beetle feels like cross between Spider-Man and Venom, though the relationship between him and his AI is nowhere near as fun to watch as Tom Hardy and his alien symbiote. Sarandon’s villain is shockingly thin on characterisation. Cyborg supersoldiers feel so last century. The plot lurches from set-piece to set-piece with weary predictability.
The fight scenes and effects are efficient while rarely having a wow factor. The big finale showdown, as is usual with recent superhero films, is far too long, but has a few punch-the-air delights. There are, of course, loads of DC comics Easter eggs, but also some fun cultural references too.
You want to love it more, because the Reyes family are such great characters to spend time with. But even then, they start to become caricatures, all 100 per cent shining examples of a plucky family pulling together in the face of adversity.
It’s not exactly nuanced. But they keep the movie entertaining and provide some effective emotional beats – even if it’s a bit jarring to see them participating in action sequences with a gung-ho attitude to human casualties.
Try Radio Times magazine today and get 10 issues for only £10, PLUS a £10 John Lewis and Partners voucher delivered to your home – subscribe now. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to The Radio Times Podcast.