I wanted to like Blue Beetle, and I still do. This is the kind of movie that has so much underdog energy it’s hard not to root for it: it’s directed by and stars almost exclusively Ibero-American people, is based on an obscure but beloved comics character with real potential, and comes from DC, which can’t seem to stop putting out flops since The Batman. My rustling up a few friends to come see it felt partly like a charity effort—silly, I know, but it felt like a film that deserved it. And did it? Well, yes and no.
The first thing I need to tell you about Blue Beetle is that the script is terrible. Almost every line that comes out of the characters’ mouths sounds like it was recycled from a dozen other movies, without a hint of lampshading or irony. It follows the ‘standard superhero origin’ framework pace by pace, pitting a scrappy young hero against an evil corporation seeking an alien artifact, like the screenwriter had a manual for it on hand (or, more likely, a ton of Marvel movies). And, most criminally of all, they essentially make Blue Beetle a bug-themed Iron Man, hardly bothering to lean into his more unique aspects, like the scarab’s alien origin or his power to create weapons. This makes the action sequences rather generic and strangely lacking in stakes, as the scarab is alternately overpowered and pathetically useless—all pointing to an inconsistent understanding of the character’s powers and dynamic appeal.
I suppose that last paragraph may well have turned you off from the movie. If you’re still here, though, let me try to qualify things a bit. A lot of the issues listed above are lessened by lead actor Xolo Maridueña’s (of Cobra Kai fame) winning, charismatic performance. He really does make you believe he’s the first ever movie character to find a strange artifact that gives him amazing powers, which he must then use to defeat a bad guy. Oh, and fall in love with a beautiful girl he happens to get entangled with during said journey. Said girl, played by Brazilian novela star Bruna Marquezine, is not exactly a comparable acting talent, but at least her character averts a Hollywood pet peeve of mine: instead of getting a Brazilian to play a Hispanophone South American, she really is a Portuguese-speaking Brazilian. Small victories.
The direction, too, tries nobly to elevate a film that was already compromised at the script stage. It manages to have a distinct feel from the usual CGI vistas and Anglo-American cultural trappings of modern superhero flicks. The Miami-like Palmera City is wonderfully realized, clearly divided between the futuristic neon-lit downtown where the villainous Kord Industries is located and the run-down projects where our hero and his family live. Bobby Krlic’s cool ‘80s-style synth score also successfully avoids the Hans Zimmer drone that has overtaken almost every recent Hollywood blockbuster.
I must admit, the film’s disproportionate emphasis on the family’s comedic antics gets a little old at times, especially since most of the gags are unoriginal (the tough granny was actually a badass guerrilla fighter in her youth? Whaat?). That said, their bilingual Mexican-American dynamic feels very true to life—quite the opposite of the rote studio tactic of ‘have them say hombre sometimes’ that we see way too often. A reference to the classic Mexican comedy series El Chapulín Colorado is also very welcome. It’s a credit to director Ángel Manuel Soto that Blue Beetle doesn’t just feel like it was mandated by studio heads to be ‘ethnic’; its cultural background feels integral to its story, not incidental. In Blue Beetle, then, we have essentially a film that has much to praise on paper yet provides an only sporadically entertaining experience due to its fatal writing flaws. Does that count as a recommendation? I really don’t know, to be honest with you. If you can appreciate a movie for its technical qualities notwithstanding character and plot, then you’ll certainly find much more to like here than in the likes of The Flash or Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. If you want a compelling story, deep themes, and smart dialogue, though… maybe go see Barbie again?