The comic book movie genre has been struggling critically and financially this year, as audiences are starting to become burned out by an overload of superhero-centric content. While it seems unlikely to cure any feelings of “superhero fatigue” that are setting in among general audiences, the latest DC movie Blue Beetle is a fun enough time. It’s a bit generic, but it has enough laughs and more than enough heart to keep viewers interested throughout the story.
Blue Beetle follows the third iteration of the character in DC Comics, Jaime Reyes, as he is selected by an alien scarab as its symbiotic host, giving him a powerful suit of armor with extraordinary abilities that turn him into a superhero. He must use this power to thwart a corporate baddie who hopes to harness the scarab’s power to create an army of super-soldiers.
The biggest thing that Blue Beetle struggles with is its tone. There seems to be a bit of a disconnect in what director Ángel Manuel Soto, writer Garreth Dunnet-Alcocer, and the studio wanted this to be. There are clear influences from the superhero movies of the ‘80s, like the Superman sequels, but then there are scenes that feel like rip-offs of more modern flicks like Iron Man and Black Panther. The movie also has a lot of broad comedy, and a splash of body horror that is just present enough to leave viewers wanting more from it.
Blue Beetle‘s biggest strength is its emotional core.
On the other hand, where Blue Beetle succeeds that many other recent superhero movies have failed is providing the audience with a genuine emotional core to which they can become attached. There’s the obligatory love interest, but that isn’t what attaches us to the protagonist. What makes this movie special is how earnestly it invests in the central family dynamic. Viewers will find themselves genuinely caring about this group, laughing and maybe even crying a little with them.
As a leading man, Xolo Maridueña is very much still coming into his own. For a first outing, and considering that he has largely been a part of a larger ensemble up to this point, he’s really not bad. There are some moments in which he really struggles to nail the comedic timing or sell the emotional authenticity, but these are all issues he could iron out if he ever gets to revisit the role.
In the supporting cast, George Lopez is doing the Lord’s work, carrying many scenes of the movie on his back alone. Granted, it does feel like you are watching George Lopez as the comedic sidekick in a superhero movie. He’s doing his loud, over-the-top, often slapstick-y schtick, but it fits well within the context of the character and never fails to get a laugh.
As the villain, Susan Sarandon is surprisingly terrible. There’s no denying that Sarandon is a talented actress, but her talents feel wasted here in a role that could have been played just as (if not more) effectively by any no-name older white actress. Also wasted is What We Do in the Shadows up-and-comer Harvey Guillén, whose role largely consists of cutaway shots until one line delivery that, while predictable, is entirely unnecessary.
The film is also a bit of a disappointment when it comes to its use of action. Considering that Maridueña’s claim to fame is as one of the leads in Netflix’s Karate Kid spin-off Cobra Kai, it’s disappointing that there isn’t more martial arts action to be found here. Although the few combat sequences are cool, they are relatively brief and heavily augmented by CGI. The rest of the action is the type of CGI sludge that you’re used to seeing from many modern superhero flicks.
That’s not to say that the film isn’t visually impressive. Although the CGI is obvious, it’s not too bad considering that Blue Beetle has a fraction of the budget of most other comic book movies. The costume design is also pretty solid, even if the CGI eyes make Blue Beetle look a bit too much like Deadpool. Though, it is worth noting there are some weird choices in the cinematography by Pawel Pogorzelski — including the overuse of the expanded 1.90:1 expanded IMAX aspect ratio.
Blue Beetle struggles in that it borrows heavily from a lot of its influences in a way that prevents it from being satisfyingly original. Still, thanks to its authentic emotional core as well as a welcome dose of Latine representation and a scene-stealing performance from George Lopez, this is far from the worst comic book movie you’ll see this year.
Blue Beetle hits theaters on August 18.