Gasp! A DC movie is actually fun

Most of DC Comics’ dreadful movies deserve to be violently squished, but not “Blue Beetle,” a refreshingly spry new film featuring the lesser-loved, bug-shaped superhero who’s been crawling around in some form since 1939.

movie review

Running time: 127 minutes. Rated PG-13 (sequences of action and violence, language, and some suggestive references.) In theaters Aug. 18.

As his eccentric Uncle Rudy (George Lopez) puts it, “He’s like Superman of Metropolis or the Flash of Central City — but not as good.” 

Maybe. However, his movie is a different story.

Blue Beetle is the alter-ego of Jaime Reyes, a bright-eyed, Mexican law school grad whose life is changed forever by an accident. You know the drill.

He’s played by Xolo Maridueña, the extremely likable actor best known as Miguel Diaz on Netflix’s “Cobra Kai.” 

As he did with the “Karate Kid” spinoff series, Maridueña brings a wallop of youth to the DCEU, whose heroes are becoming a little long in the tooth and unpleasantly jaded as a result. Unlike Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck, Maridueña doesn’t act like somebody just asked him, “Who are you wearing?” on the red carpet. He’s genuinely excited to be here.

And his film, directed by Angel Manuel Soto, lightens up this sooty universe, which has never recovered from Zack Snyder and Patty Jenkins’ dreary reigns.

Xolo Maridueña
Xolo Maridueña stars as Jaime Reyes, better known as the Blue Beetle.

It’s even more upbeat than the relatively smiley “The Flash” and “Shazam!”

Yes, Blue Beetle is derivative, as all of these vigilante warriors are. Beetle has shades of Iron Man in his hyper-technological, talking suit (which is actually an alien symbiote, like Venom), as well as hints of Spider-Man in his innocent approach to crime fighting and bug-bite origin story. 

Even his colorful name brings to mind the Green Lantern and the Scarlet Witch.

However, Jaime’s tough life on the poverty-stricken outskirts of the fictional Palmera City and his tight-knit sitcom-y family of immigrants shake up the formula enough to keep our interest.

Blue Beetle is not just another loner with a secret.

Bruna Marquezine and cast
Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine, center) plans to bring down her evil Aunt Victoria’s efforts to create super soldiers.

What bites Jaime is the Scarab, an otherworldly technology discovered by the sinister weapons maker Kord Industries. The evil CEO Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon, pushing her villainy a bit far) wants to use the device to create an army of super soldiers, but her well-intentioned niece Jenny (Bruna Marquezine) smuggles it out of the lab with the help of an unwitting Jaime. 

Jenny’s plan backfires when Jaime’s body merges with the Scarab, and the newly powerful twenty-something and the Reyes family become the target of vicious Victoria. 

The film was originally planned for release on HBO Max before Warner Bros. rethought its direct-to-streaming strategy, and there are glimpses of that TV scale here, especially at the start. As an overall piece of filmmaking, it’s modest but effective. 

The Reyes family in Blue Beetle
The entire Reyes family is made up of fleshed-out, well-acted and memorable characters.

And the lack of epicness turns out not to be such a bad thing.

Funny, intimate scenes in the kitchen allow each Reyes family member to be a memorable character in their own right and deliver emotional stakes.

Rudy (Lopez, hilarious) is a punchline-packed mad scientist Jaime calls “the Mexican Doc Brown”; his sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) is a free-thinking rebel; dad Alberto (Adriana Barraza) and mom Elpidia (Elpidia Carrillo) are eternal optimists; and Nana (Adriana Barraza) has some badass skills up her sleeve.

Victoria’s henchman, the powerful Conrad Carapax (Raoul Trujillo), is dynamically fleshed out, too. 

Writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer’s script doesn’t forget the character’s long comic book history, by the way. Previous Blue Beetles Dan Garret and Ted Kord are cleverly woven in, along with some of their old toys.

“Blue Beetle” arrives as DC is struggling to stay alive after a series of flops, cleaning house and revamping its famous comic book titles to course correct. In all the turnover, they’d be smart to keep Jaime Reyes and Xolo Maridueña around. 

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