Skip to main content

Blue Beetle review: a well-intentioned misfire

Jaime Reyes holds the scarab in Blue Beetle.
Blue Beetle
“Blue Beetle is an occasionally charming, often likable movie that gets squished beneath the weight of Hollywood's unbending, increasingly uninteresting superhero tropes.”
  • A charming, earnest lead performance
  • A compelling, likable supporting cast
  • Several moving family scenes
  • Susan Sarandon's over-the-top performance
  • Unimpressive lighting and cinematography
  • CGI set pieces and superhero fight scenes fall flat

The one thing you can’t say about Blue Beetle is that it doesn’t have heart. On the contrary, it’s practically overflowing with it. The film is among the most earnest comic book movies in recent memory, one that stands in stark opposition to the cynical, financial-driven interests of this summer’s other DC superhero blockbuster, The Flash. At no point throughout Blue Beetle does it feel like its director and cast are taking their audience’s time and interest for granted, nor does the film ever dip into the kind of commercial soullessness that has plagued the superhero genre for years now.

Unfortunately, none of this means Blue Beetle is good, either. In its best moments, the film feels like the kind of big-budget portrait of a modern, multigenerational Latino family that American moviegoers have rarely gotten the chance to see. At its worst, it feels like a well-intentioned, would-be family dramedy chained to the same frustratingly unbending formula followed by so many of the superhero films that have come before it. The movie that emerges from that unspoken conflict is one that feels simultaneously refreshing and mind-numbingly by the numbers.

Jaime Reyes wears his super suit in Blue Beetle.
Warner Bros. Pictures

At the center of Blue Beetle is Jaime Reyes (Cobra Kai star Xolo Maridueña), a college graduate who finds himself working thankless cleaning jobs with his younger sister, Milagro (Belissa Escobedo), in order to save their father, Alberto (a radiant Damián Alcázar), and the rest of their family from losing their home. When he subsequently steps into the middle of a conflict between Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), a mercenary billionaire businesswoman, and her well-meaning niece, Jenny (Bruna Marquezine), he gets an off-the-cuff job offer from the latter.

His quest to follow up with Jenny, however, results in her temporarily entrusting him with an alien device known only as “the scarab.” When he eventually touches it at the behest of his family, he becomes biologically bonded to the scarab and granted access to its black-and-blue super suit, as well as its multitude of weapons and technological capabilities. His unexpected powers put not only himself, but also his entire family, on the radar of both Sarandon’s Victoria and her android henchman, Conrad Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo), who believes it’s his destiny to bond with Jaime’s scarab. In typical superhero movie fashion, Jaime’s conflict with Victoria and Conrad leads to plenty of explosive, oversized physical and militaristic confrontations.

The film’s plot is, by and large, the weakest part of it. Despite running a full two hours, Blue Beetle struggles to cohesively bind its quieter, familial moments with its louder, considerably less interesting superhero elements. Its best and most vibrant action sequence comes early on, and it follows Maridueña’s Jaime as he’s suddenly physically and biologically bonded with an alien weapon of unbelievable power. The sequence, which begins with Jaime’s legitimately horrifying transformation and ends with him falling back through the roof of his childhood home, is Blue Beetle at its most carefree and playful. The set pieces that follow, however, fail to replicate its spirit and energy.

Jenny Kord clasps her own wrist in Blue Beetle.
Warner Bros. Pictures

By the time Blue Beetle has devolved, like so many superhero movies before it, into nothing more than endless shots of CGI models punching each other, it’s hard not to feel like the film has forgotten its best parts. Its climactic attempts to tie its rock-em-sock-em action beats back into its characters’ pasts and relationships are undeniably admirable, too, but they come across as clunky when jam-packed into fight scenes where they make little logical sense. While director Ángel Manuel Soto brings real grace and elegance to Blue Beetle’s most intimate scenes, there are moments where Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography, whether by creative decision or budgetary restrictions, looks disappointingly flat and cheap.

These missteps prevent Blue Beetle from achieving the kind of visual splendor that could have helped lift up even its most clichéd action beats. The film’s comic book elements aren’t helped, either, by the fact that its two villains, Sarandon’s Victoria and Trujillo’s Carapax, frequently feel like one-note caricatures compared to the rest of Blue Beetle’s characters. Sarandon’s antagonist, in particular, feels out of place, and the actress gives an over-the-top, uncalibrated performance that sticks out like a sore thumb in a film that strives to achieve a sense of emotional realism between its characters. In the end, Blue Beetle’s straightforward superhero parts are so much weaker than everything else in it that they feel like they belong in a different movie altogether.

They certainly don’t fit in a film that frequently feels more lived-in and culturally specific than 99% of the Hollywood blockbusters that are made these days. Over the course of its 127-minute runtime, Blue Beetle goes out of its way to fully flesh out its central family, imbuing not only Jaime, but all of his loved ones, with shocking levels of emotional depth. Never before has a superhero’s family members felt as important on-screen as they do in Blue Beetle, which refuses to paint them just as the tragic figures in Jaime’s vigilante life. Here, his grandmother (a scene-stealing Adriana Barraza) and uncle (George Lopez, in fine form) are treated with just as much respect as Blue Beetle’s eponymous hero.

The Reyes family stands around a dinner table together in Blue Beetle.
Warner Bros. Pictures

The authenticity that Soto and writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer bring to the Reyes family’s home life only makes Blue Beetle’s inability to fully explore their world, city, and history all the more frustrating. Whenever it feels like the film has gotten into a real, emotionally-driven groove, it’s forced to insert an exposition dump or set piece that doesn’t pack nearly as much power as many of its one-on-one conversation scenes. Blue Beetle, consequently, makes it clear that good intentions and an open heart can only take certain films so far.

It’s a movie that reaffirms, in case anyone still needed to be convinced, that Latino characters deserve to be given the same big-budget opportunities as everyone else. It also proves what can happen when a movie is only allowed to truly be itself for half of its runtime. Ultimately, it’s only half-successful, and the parts of Blue Beetle that work say just as much about the film itself as they do about the current state of the entertainment industry. If not even a movie as occasionally charming as Blue Beetle can breathe new life into the superhero genre’s most well-worn formulas, then it seems safe to say that the luster is definitely gone now.

Blue Beetle is now playing in theaters.

Alex Welch
Alex is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
Is Blue Beetle streaming?
Xolo Maridueña as Blue Beetle.

This week, Jaime Reyes joins Miles Morales as one of the few superheroes created in this century to get their own feature film on the big screen. Blue Beetle also has the distinction of being the first Latino DC hero to hold down his own film, a milestone that Marvel Studios has yet to match. Additionally, Blue Beetle features rising star Xolo Maridueña (Cobra Kai) in the leading role as Jaime, and this movie could go a long way toward making Maridueña into a box office draw.

Jaime is a college graduate who unwittingly receives one of the most powerful weapons in the universe: a sentient alien Scarab (voiced by Becky G) that has its own mind, and the ability to bond with its host. The Scarab also bestows incredible powers including an exoskeleton and weapons that can be shaped and created from the imagination of the user. If Jaime and the Scarab can get on the same page then they could become a force for good. But first, they have to elude Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), a malevolent businesswoman who wants the Scarab's power for herself.

Read more
Does Blue Beetle have a post-credits scene?
Blue Beetle unleashes his wings in a still from Blue Beetle.

Since Iron Man arrived in 2008, superhero movies have usually featured a mid-credits scene, a post-credits scene, or both. It's become a tradition for superhero flicks, although there are still a few films that try to ignore that expectation. Without giving too much away, Blue Beetle does embrace that superhero tradition. And the scene in question sets up a potential sequel that could completely upend the life of the new Blue Beetle, Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña), as well as the film's secondary protagonist, Jenny Kord  (Bruna Marquezine).

So the short answer is "yes," you should stick around when the credits roll on Blue Beetle. But you may not want to stay all the way to the very end of the credits, and we can explain why.

Read more
5 great DC heroes like Blue Beetle that need their own movie
Xolo Maridueña catches a bus in Blue Beetle.

The bombastic feature films offered up by the DCEU have generated mixed results both critically and fiscally. Recently, films based on the comic book giant's properties haven't fared so well. Black Adam, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, and The Flash, which even had the added draw of Michael Keaton returning to the bat cowl, have all failed to reel in the masses and live up to the studio's expectations. As such, the trend doesn't bode well for young Jaime Reyes portrayed by Xolo Maridueña (Cobra Kai) as he dons the alien-originated Blue Beetle suit to save the day.

In the pages of DC's colorful comics, Blue Beetle has an incredibly vast history. While he isn't exactly a mainstream hero yet, at least not one that can stand against the likes of Wonder Woman, Superman, or Batman, that doesn't mean he along with other more obscure DC characters can't have some time in the spotlight. So, that begs the question: what other heroes on Blue Beetle's level deserve a cinematic adventure of their own?
Booster Gold

Read more