Blue Beetle

For a while, I forgot Blue Beetle was a superhero movie. That’s a compliment. We’ve been inundated with comic book fare, most of which wastes time by forcing in unnecessary cameos and fan service references. None of that is in this film. In fact, if you didn’t know it was based on a DC character, you’d just take it as a science-fiction adventure. Director Angel Manuel Soto, who made the excellent Charm City Kings, leaves all the “business” behind and simply focuses on telling a story.

Jamie Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) is a recent college graduate who returns to his hometown of Palmera City. His large Mexican family, including uncle Rudy (George Lopez), has lots of bad news. They’ve lost their business and are on the verge of losing their home. Jamie tells his sister Milagro (Hocus Pocus 2’s Belissa Escobedo) that he wants to save it by getting a high-paying job. He applies at a biotech company run by Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon). She’s locked in battle with her niece Jenny (Bruna Marquezine) over her desire to manufacture weapons.

Jenny steals a high-tech scarab that’s intended to fuel those weapons. To avoid getting caught, she slips it to Jamie, who takes it home and inadvertently triggers it. Suddenly, the gizmo burrows into his back, builds a bug-like protective suit around him, and puts all sorts of futuristic weaponry in his hands. He isn’t happy about the situation, although the suit does come in handy when Victoria sends one of her biotechnologically advanced soldiers after the entire Reyes clan.

Blue Beetle has several CGI-fueled action sequences, stylishly executed by Soto. There’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, but they’re sufficiently fun. Two completely different factors are what truly set the movie apart. The first is that it embraces the inherent silliness of the premise. Delightfully goofy moments – including ones involving experimental bubble gum and a bug spaceship equipped with a fart button – pepper the story. Rather than taking itself too seriously, the screenplay by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer (Miss Bala) dares to lighten up. Seeing a superhero movie this playful is refreshing.

The other factor is the importance of the whole Reyes family. An excellent supporting cast works together to create an authentic, appealing dynamic. (Adriana Barraza is especially awesome as Nana Reyes.) They provide comic relief in the early scenes. Later on, they become integral to the action. Blue Beetle is not a movie where the hero saves his family and friends. Jamie’s relatives sometimes save him. A theme about the power that comes from strong familial bonds underlines the usual superhero action. The two Shazam! pictures tried and failed to do what this one accomplishes.

The revelation of what Victoria intends to do with the scarab is generic. You’ll figure it out in advance. On the other fronts, the movie proves to be cheerful entertainment, with a hint of social commentary woven in. (Racism and race-related microaggressions occasionally come into play.) Blue Beetle is a nice little surprise. At a point where I’m finding superhero cinema slightly tiresome, the charms of this amiable, sweet-natured film won me over.

out of four

Blue Beetle is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, language, and some suggestive references. The running time is 2 hours and 7 minutes.