An alien scarab chooses college graduate Jaime Reyes to be its symbiotic host, bestowing the teenager with a suit of armor that’s capable of extraordinary and unpredictable powers, forever changing his destiny as he becomes the superhero known as Blue Beetle.

Chuck says:

In a recent interview, director Nia DaCosta stated that “superhero movie fatigue is real.”  This is an interesting admission coming from the filmmaker behind “The Marvels,” the next feature in the Marvel Films Universe, one made as she tried to point out how her film will be different from the rest. It’s a tall order and even more so with those charged with bringing the DC Comics universe to the big screen. Warner Brothers, the studio who owns that stable of characters, has stubbed its toe again and again, delivering underwhelming films (“Black Adam”) or those plagued with so much bad press (“The Flash”), they weren’t given a fair shake by critics or consumers.

Their latest, “Blue Beetle,” is not only carrying the baggage of a seemingly plagued product but is focused on a character that’s hardly a household name. And while it has its share of faults, director Angel Manuel Soto and screenwriter Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer manage to create a charming, rather modest entry in the superhero genre that gets by on the charisma of its lead actor and a story that’s more heart than mayhem.

Having just graduated from college, Jaime Reyes (Xolo Mariduena) has returned home to find his family in a state of upheaval. His father (Damian Alcazar) has lost his business, while the bank is about to foreclose on their home. And though he and his sister (Belissa Escobedo) manage to get service jobs with Kord Industries, they soon lose them when Jaime pulls a knight-in-shining-armor act, coming to the aid of Jenny Kord (Burna Marquezine) during a heated exchange she’s having with her Aunt Victoria (Susan Sarandon).

This argument revolves around the elder, who heads the corporation, wanting to weaponize the technology from an ancient, alien artifact they’ve found. In order to stop this, Jenny steals the talisman – a glowing blue scarab – and gives it to Jaime for safe keeping. This is easier said than done, as this object is a sentient being that chooses the young man as his host, transforming him into an energy blasting superhero that can create any weapon he can imagine.

“Beetle” sticks to the tired narrative template of these films – Jaime has to learn how to use his powers, many misunderstandings occur, he fails in his first attempt in defeating the requisite villain and a third-act action-fest occurs – yet there’s something more at play here. The Reyes family plays a key role in helping our young hero come to terms with his new powers as well as providing him with purpose and, most importantly, support. So many of these characters strive to keep this information a secret from their loved ones, but here Jaime reliance on them and the love they show him is heartfelt, giving the movie an emotional foundation so many of them lack.

Equally effective is the way the class divide and racism are examined through this lens. Time and again, it is pointed out that the Reyes and their peers are invisible to those with power and money.  Their neighborhood is undergoing regentrification, characters are referred to by stereotypical Mexican names and often they are ignored by those in authority. It comes off as a bit heavy-handed at times, but necessary.

On the downside, Sarandon is phoning it in here, George Lopez as the eccentric Uncle Rudy is irritating throughout and, yes there is that extended third act. However, Mariduena’s charm keeps us hooked, while the positive message regarding the power of family is sincere and ultimately poignant. As a result, “Beetle” is able to keep superhero fatigue at bay, at least for two hours.

3 Stars

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