May 24, 2024

The subsequent installment of the DC Comics-inspired universe, “Blue Beetle,” which covers the origin tale of a lesser-known figure, is in numerous respects novel and refreshing. It is tediously familiar for a few additional reasons as well.

First, the positive news: Xolo Mariduea (“Cobra Kai”) is incredibly attractive as the lead character, Jaime Reyes. Jaime is the first member of his Mexican American family to have graduated from college when we first meet him, and he has huge goals.

The 22-year-old actor, who plays Uncle Rudy, a justifiably paranoid, anti-government, anti-establishment, anti-superhero technology whiz with a chip on his shoulder, and who is the first Latino actor to play a title role for DC Comics, has charisma to burn. Veteran George Lopez assists him in this regard.

Rudy jokes, “Batman is a fascist,” at one point. The villain Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), a titan of the American military-industrial complex, is hoping to use alien biotechnology to create a private police force of cybernetic assassins called the One Man Army Corps. He later yells, “Down with the imperialists!” before organizing an attack against her forces.

It is this very biotechnology, thanks to a type of scarab-shaped artificial intelligence known as Khaji-Da (singer Becky G), that propels Jaime into the titular role of a reluctant superhero as it fuses with him symbiotically, in body and brain, giving him the power of flight, a bulletproof suit, and the ability to create any weapon his mind might conceive. All of us have seen this section before.

embracing the culture of Mexico

However, the film’s most intriguing texture comes from its embrace of Mexican American culture. The Edge Keys, a fictitious immigrant suburb of the fictitious Texas coastal metropolis of Palmera City, is vividly depicted by production designer Jon Billington, director Angel Manuel Soto, and writer Gareth Dunnet Alcocer. Jaime resides there with his sister (Belissa Escobedo), their parents (Elpidia Carrillo and Damián Alcázar), Rudy, and matriarch Nana (Adriana Barraza).

Spanish is used frequently in the discourse, sometimes with subtitles and sometimes without, respecting the characters’ real-life experiences. (Nana watches the Mexican soap “Mara del Barrio,” which includes numerous references to the superhero cartoon character El Chapulin Colorado, also known as the Red Cricket.)

The touching concept of family is also prominent. After Jaime is captured by Victoria and her One Man Army Corps henchman (Raoul Max Trujillo), a cybersoldier called Conrad Carapax in the comics but here referred to as Ignacio Carapax, and with a dark backstory involving the controversial School of the Americas run by the U.S. Army, said to be a training ground for Latin America dictators, torturers and assassins, it is not the Justice League but his family who comes to rescue Jaime. This also applies to Nana, who has some unexpected (and entertaining) talents of her own.

Jaime is weak because of his love for his family, Carapax explains. However, after Victoria dispatches a militarized private SWAT squad to raid the Reyes home one night, a tragedy occurs and his mother begs Jaime to “use the pain we’re feeling and turn it into power.”

So much for the positive aspects. “Blue Beetle” embraces the dark, focusing on issues like class, racism, American colonialism, economic injustice, and the surveillance state, much like many of its DC Comics forebears. Victoria keeps referring to one of her assistants (Harvey Guillén) as Sanchez even though it is not his name.

All of that is true, and it gives the movie realism to the strange narrative. However, the film also neglects to have, you know, fun much too frequently. In the end, it devolves into the kind of chaotic fight of robot-suited enemies that has become demoralizingly repetitious and, dare I say it, dull in this era of the comic movie.

In the first few minutes, a subplot involving the mysterious disappearance of Ted Kord, one of the two original Blue Beetles and Victoria’s brother, is introduced. Jenny, Ted’s daughter (Bruna Marquezine), who plays Jaime’s love interest, weaves this subplot throughout the story.

Fans of the comic books will be most interested in this side plot and the cliffhanger ending it produces. Rudy, who is the most vociferous supporter of the film’s empowering theme, says, “Maybe it’s time we get our own hero.” Of course, he is correct, and for that, we are appreciative.

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