‘Blue Beetle’ Is A Fresh And Unique Take On Superheros, Until It Isn’t

Do you have superhero fatigue? The thing is, I might, though I’m not sure. My immediate answer would be, “Yes, I do,” but then again, when I watch a superhero movie that I like, I don’t feel like I have the fatigue everyone is talking about. But, more times than not, these days, I feel the fatigue, “Boy, I sure could use a break from these movies and, now, streaming television shows.” But then I remembered we just had a pretty long break not that long ago. Maybe it’s more that I have mediocre movie fatigue. And, let’s be honest, a lot (not all) of the superhero stuff we’ve seen lately falls into this category. What’s weird about Blue Beetle is that, for a good portion of the movie, it felt like something at least somewhat fresh and unique. My interest was piqued! But then, by the end, I felt the dreaded fatigue. Blue Beetle kind of encapsulates what is good and stale about these movies right now all in one package.

One of the problems with Blue Beetle, directed by Ángel Manuel Soto, is it kind of assumes you know a lot about the history of Blue Beetle. Anecdotally, from people I ask, they do not. I happen to know a little from reading a few issues of the ’80s run of comics when Blue Beetle was a guy named Ted Kord who was basically a low-rent Batman. Now, the first Blue Beetle premiered back in 1939, he was a guy named Dan Garrett. There are some different iterations of his powers but, eventually, he finds a magic scarab in Egypt that gives him the powers of Blue Beetle. The aforementioned Ted Kord can’t use the scarab – Ted Kord was created by Steve Ditko and he wanted a superhero with no actual powers – so this version battles crime basically with gadgets created by his company, Kord Industries. This brings us to Jaime Reyes.

Blue Beetle does a good enough job explaining Jaime (Xolo Maridueña) and how he gets his powers, but the Kord family is still such an integral part of this movie and if you don’t know that history, it’s a little confusing. In the film, Jaime returns from college to his hometown of Palmera City – a fictional city, replacing Jamie’s hometown of El Paso in the comics. (If I’m from El Paso I’m probably not thrilled about this.) Jamie’s parents explain they are losing their house because their rent was raised, so Jamie goes out in search of a job. This is where the Kord family comes in.

Kord industries is run by the ruthless Victoria Kord, the sister of Ted Kord, who, like in the comics, is dead. (In the comics he’s killed by Maxwell Lord, played by Pedro Pascal in Wonder Woman 1984. Here his death is a lot more vague.) Victoria has the scarab and is mining its resources to make weapons of war. Ted’s daughter, Jenny (Bruna Marquezine) doesn’t like that this is happening and steals the scarab, then, in a moment of desperation, giving it to Jaime for safe keeping who was at Kord Industries that day by happenstance for a job interview. Jamie is instructed not to open the box but, back home, surrounded by his family, curiosity takes over and the scarab attaches itself to Jaime and he becomes Blue Beetle. (Luckily the Blue Beetle suit that forms around Jamie comes with a built-in Siri-type voice that explains everything to him.)

Jenny, returning for the scarab, explains the only way to use the scarab is the scarab itself has to choose the person. Unfortunately, there’s no way to remove it once it’s bonded with someone without killing them. And Victora Kord wants it back, sending her technologically upgraded henchmen to retrieve it. At one point everyone is hiding out at Ted Kord’s old Blue Beetle lair. We even see his 1980’s 1980s-style Blue Beetle costume standing there, but no real explanation that he didn’t have powers like Jamie now does. It’s like the movie just assumes we know all this and even I had to refresh my memory after.

The thing that does makes Blue Beetle unique is Jamie’s relationship with his family. It’s obvious Ángel Manuel Soto wanted to get everything about this aspect of the film, the family and the culture, as authentic as possible. And it pays off, as this becomes the most interesting thing about the movie. George Lopez, in particular, as Jamie’s uncle, Rudy, does everything within his powers to steal this movie and just may have well done that. And the great thing is the family is involved in the entire adventure.

But an annoying trope over the course of the film is Jamie refuses to kill anyone. Which, hey, from a moral standpoint is a good principal to have. But we arr talking very dangerous people here who repeatedly threaten the lives of his family. There are multiple times Jamie could have just wrapped this whole thing up but refuses to do so, so the main henchman keeps coming back and coming back and coming back.

This leads up to the fatigue, because by the end of the movie, as you can probably guess, Blue Beetle devolves into a very long, very repetitive CGI aerial fight, at night, between the hero and the villain who have very similar powers. It’s the kind of thing we’ve all seen way too many times before and felt extra disappointing here because there’s a lot in this movie that does feel unique, but then it feels squandered.

I have no idea what the future of Blue Beetle will be going forward in the revamped DC. James Gunn has said he will carry over to the new DC, but I also suspect things can change if the movie doesn’t do well – as the prior strategy of, “none of this will matter soon,” has kind of been bad for the box office. (Don’t forget there’s still a prior regime Aquaman sequel coming.) Or be tweaked, with any changes explained away as, “This is a different universe.” I hope this character does continue though, because there’s more than enough here for some interesting stories going forward. But we have to get away from these last acts we’ve seen over and over. And the film ends very much setting up future adventures … which will probably make sense if you’ve read this very piece you’re reading (and if you just read that, then you have read it), but maybe not if you haven’t.

‘Blue Beetle’ opens in theaters this week. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.