DC superhero movie Blue Beetle is Shazam! with a Latin flavour
Blue Beetle (PG13)
128 minutes, opens on Thursday
The story: The poor are suffering in Palmera City because tycoon Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon) is razing old neighbourhoods. Recent college graduate Jaime Reyes (Xolo Mariduena) and his family face eviction unless he finds a way to make money. A chance encounter with Kord family member Jenny (Bruna Marquezine) presents Jaime with a job opportunity. Instead, he finds the Scarab, an alien relic that grants certain individuals superpowers, and it turns him into superhero Blue Beetle. Based on the DC Comics character of the same name.
It has been a while since this reviewer has seen a movie that wants to be liked so desperately. At its centre are the Reyes, an adorable three-generation Latino family with a penchant for hugging every 15 minutes. They have the whole nine yards – cute grandparents who make a place at their table for everyone, a lovable conspiracy nut in Uncle Rudy (George Lopez, whose strong attempts at joke-making cannot save this film from feeling generic) and then there is Jaime (Mariduena), a puppy in human form.
As a character, Jaime is aggressively bland. He dives into everything with a grinning enthusiasm that is meant to be charming, but which only makes him look troublingly simple-minded.
There is a scene in which he butts into an argument between two powerful business executives. It is a pivotal moment meant to draw him into a major conspiracy and reveal his kind heart, but it feels so contrived and convenient that it would have made a Bollywood director feel queasy.
Granted, Blue Beetle does try to deal with issues. Puerto Rico-born director Angel Manuel Soto, working with screenwriter Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, puts the Reyes family problems within the context of Latin American politics, with an emphasis on the effects of American political and military interference in the region.
The villains, the Kord family, are shown to have connections with the American military-industrial complex. This is another of the film’s attempts at breaking new ground. Palmera City might be fictional, but the problems of its working-class residents are rooted in real geopolitics.
Tragically, that is all undone when it is suggested that the solution to the problem, besides having a vigilante superhero, is billionaire philanthropy, Oprah Winfrey-style. It is a disappointingly pat answer, but, within the context of this cloying work, not unexpected.
Hot take: Blue Beetle might be a new franchise, but there is little in this action comedy that has not been seen before in previous DC Comics films such as the Shazam! movies (2019 and 2023).