Escarabajo Azul

Directed by Ángel Manuel Soto

Starring Xolo Maridueña, George Lopez, Susan Sarandon

Released August 18th, 2023

Rated PG-13

A young man with a technologically advanced armored suit stands up against a family’s weapons company to defend himself and those he cares about. That is pretty much the plot of 2008’s Iron Man, and it’s also pretty much the plot of 2023’s Blue Beetle. And yet Blue Beetle doesn’t feel like a tired retread of a familiar tale. How is it possible for Blue Beetle to feel so fresh when its script shares many similarities and story beats with other comic book movies? It feels fresh thanks to its wonderful Latino cast, fun visuals, good pacing, quality humor, and thrilling action set pieces that are very well done. 

Xolo Maridueña exudes oodles of likability as Jaime Reyes, the young man who becomes the titular superhero after he comes into contact with a mysterious metallic device resembling a scarab. Director Ángel Manuel Soto gives us an impressive scene of Jaime’s fusing with the scarab that leans into the realm of body horror. The scarab is apparently the vessel of a sentient being from outer space, but the film doesn’t go too far into that. Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon) is a powerful weapons manufacturer who is searching for the scarab, planning on using it to power her O.M.A.C. (One Man Army Corps) battalion. Kord has no qualms about murdering anyone who gets in her way. 

I’m pleased that I’ve seen Susan Sarandon be excellent in many films, because she sure isn’t excellent in this one. Her performance comes across as if she just read her lines ten seconds before filming her scenes. Not that the script does her any favors. She speaks in cliches about “the greater good” and rattles off ridiculous exposition about the powerful scarab. Kord is such a one-note villain that I’m not sure what Sarandon could have done to make her role more interesting, save for a complete re-write. 

Thankfully, Victoria Kord is one of the few underwritten characters in the movie. Most everyone else is more memorable and meaningfully developed, especially the members of the Reyes family. Belissa Escobedo is so good as Milagro Reyes, Jaime’s wise-cracking younger sister, that I believe she could anchor a movie all her own. George Lopez gets some of the biggest laughs as Rudy Reyes, Jaime’s uncle who crashes on their couch. Rudy is an aging hippie who distrusts the government, is something of a tech genius, and has Cheech and Chong bobbleheads on the dashboard of his beloved Toyota Tacoma. We get to know Jaime’s caring mother Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo), hardworking father Alberto (Damián Alcázar), and badass Nana (Adriana Barraza). We see the struggle between the haves and the have-nots. We can relate to the struggle. 

Unlike most contemporary superhero flicks, there is not an over-reliance on computer generated imagery. The filmmakers don’t overdo green screen visual effects, instead shooting on real locations with a practical superhero suit. CGI works as an enhancement to this world instead of being a world unto itself. That goes a long way in making the story a more relatable experience than some of the more overstuffed superhero movies we’ve been exposed to over the last fifteen years. 

The film’s electronic music by Bobby Krlic makes for one of my favorite film scores of the year. Synthesizers swirl as Krlic brings a moody heaviness that evokes Daft Punk’s landmark work on Tron: Legacy. The Sphere and Now We Can Cry are standout tracks. I’ll be listening to this score a lot in the future. Krlic releases music under the moniker The Haxan Cloak, and I’m going to make it a point to sample more of his work. 

Much has been written (and will continue to be written) about the relatively recent mass popularity of comic book movies. I’ve championed some of these films in my reviews over the years and I’ve dismissed others. I’ve opined on the “superhero fatigue” that general audiences are feeling after being gorged on spandex and epic battles. Suffice to say that like any other subcategory of film, some comic book movies are good, and some are not. 

Blue Beetle works because the Reyes family works. There is real heart and real emotion on display. We care about the Reyes family and so we care about the journey Jaime Reyes goes on when he is fused with this crazy alien technology. El espectáculo es secundario, la familia es lo primero.