By Bob Garver
Having seen the best (“The Dark Knight,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”) and worst (“Morbius,” “Fant4stic”) of what the modern superhero genre has to offer, I can report that “Blue Beetle” falls right smack in the middle of the spectrum. It would be easy to write off this movie’s staggering averageness with a wide-brush line like “not a classic, not a disaster,” but I feel the need to stress the degree to which this movie is right on par. It isn’t so much that it’s dull or that I didn’t care about it, because that would be the mark of a bad superhero movie. It’s that the movie manages the curious feat of having just enough of a unique identity for me to recommend it with a bare minimum of passion.
Our hero is Jamie Reyes (Xolo Maridueña), a smart, resourceful recent college graduate. He’s happy to be back in his hometown of Palmera City with his family, including his mother Rocio (Elpidia Carillo), father Alberto (Damián Alcázar), sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo), Nana (Adriana Barraza), and crazy uncle Rudy (George Lopez). But he’s less happy to hear that his family has fallen on hard times and is about to lose the house. He vows to help them out financially. A cleaning gig at the home of wealthy industrialist Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon) goes badly, but he does make an impression on Victoria’s niece Jenny (Bruna Marquezine), who half-heartedly invites him to apply for a job at corporate headquarters the next day. When he gets there, a skittish Jenny tells him to flee with a mysterious box, keep it safe and hidden, and above all, not open it. It’s maybe an hour before he opens the box in front of his family.
Inside the box is The Scarab, an alien artifact that immediately attaches itself to Jamie and causes him develop a metallic skin, destroy most of the house, and rocket into outer space. Eventually Jamie figures out that he’s inside a super-suit that is certainly dangerous in his hands, but even more dangerous in the hands of the military or evildoers like Victoria or her mechanized henchman Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo). He seeks out Jenny for help getting the Scarab out of his system, and she takes him to the hidden lair of her long-missing father, who was secretly a low-level superhero called Blue Beetle. Jamie and his family use some of Blue Beetle’s tech and resources, though I don’t believe Jamie ever officially takes on the name himself. Whatever, fans are going to call the Jamie “Blue Beetle” going forward no matter what.
Story-wise, it’s not hard to see the inspirations for “Blue Beetle.” The main character gets his powers from a bug at a corporate building like Spider-Man, he’s inside of a metal suit like Iron Man, he has a testy relationship with the symbiote (voiced by Becky G) attached to his body like Venom, some of his powers are imagination-based like Green Lantern, he hides out in an armory beneath a mansion like Batman, and I’m sure I’m missing several others. Maybe Blue Beetle’s real superpower is that he can amalgamate every other superhero movie.
And yet, “Blue Beetle” compensates for this lack of originality with a healthy dose of heart. Not too much heart, characters like Jamie and Jenny are likeable enough, but they’re pretty standard as far as superhero leads go. But there is an undeniable charm to the Reyes family, and it’s hard not to be swept up in their chemistry and care for each other. Then again, this movie isn’t much different than dozens of other superhero movies, and it’s not like most of them don’t have likeable characters too. I was going to give this movie a non-recommendation grade of C for being too bland, but then Nana showed up and saved the day. If you see the movie, you’ll understand why I had to bump the grade up to a B- just for her.
“Blue Beetle” is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, language, and some suggestive references. Its running time is 127 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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