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Blue Beetle (2023) Review

The first Latino superhero has officially hit theaters across the country. Many were excited about Ángel Manuel Soto’s film being the first installment in James Gunn’s DC cinematic universe, elated that a Latino character and director have been given such a prestigious spot. Following its dismal box office debut, the community is doing everything they can to support it. Because actors can’t promote movies during the current strike, Latino critics and influencers have taken to promoting the film, encouraging audiences to watch and support this big step for representation. Readers of this blog should already know how I feel about representation politics and its limits, and this film’s no different. Warner Bros has clearly tried to present Jaime Reyes’ journey as an unwilling superhero facing a wealthy corporation as progressive. Even the trailer does its best to seem countercultural, tossing in lines like “Batman’s a fascist!” These gestures are appreciated, but ultimately superficial because when you’re being bankrolled by one of the main companies workers are currently striking against, there’re bound to be some shortcomings. While Blue Beetle does a decent enough job balancing emotion and humor, there are some flaws this critic can’t let slide.

It’s pretty hard for me to write this review, because I found so much of this film relatable, and I know I’m not the only one. It’s obvious how excited Latinos are to have a superhero movie that references Vicente Fernández and shows tortillas set at the center of a table; but can we really call these things progress? The company that tries to kill Jaime, successfully kills his father, and threatens to dominate the planet is never toppled. Instead, these systemic problems are fixed by merely changing CEOs. This could be chalked up to a naïve liberalism, until the end, when we see a billionaire heiress swearing that Kord Industries will begin to ‘’give back to the community, not take from the community.” Then it starts to feel like capitalist propaganda. Sure, they talk about the anti-communist pogroms in Guatemala, even mentioning the notorious School of the Americas, but all these nods towards Latin American politics and history ring hollow. It’s like Warner Bros is trying to tell us they, too, are ‘hip’ and ‘anti-establishment,’ even though they are the establishment. That’s why conspiracy theorist Uncle Rudy, played fantastically by George Lopez, spends the whole film speaking against Kord Industries, only to be employed by them at the end. It’s a movie that goes to great lengths in order to look like it’s challenging the system without actually doing so. On top of this, the visuals are very hit or miss.

Some scenes are beautifully lit with a nice use of contrast, and the neon-lit Palmera City is intriguing; other shots just look amateurish as far as lighting’s concerned. I found the alternating between warm and cold tones to be predictable. Sometimes the camera moves for the sake of doing so, which annoyed me—though I did like the switches to handheld in a few key moments. It injects a ton of energy into the frame and places viewers in the story. The acting is just as sketchy; Xolo Maridueña overacts at times, which is a problem when you’re the leading role. Lopez has gotten a lot of love for his performance, but the real star of this film is Damián Alcázar, who did amazingly as Alberto Reyes, Jaime’s father. Alcázar communicates so much with a single look, and despite some of the dialogues being clunky or awkward, he navigates them with as much grace as one can hope to.

I found it interesting that DC invented Palmera City for Blue Beetle, instead of using his home city of El Paso from the comics. DC said this is because their biggest superheroes have a city—Gotham, Metropolis, etc. I think that might be the most relatable and heartbreaking thing about this movie: like all Texans, like all El Pasoans, Jaime had to leave so he could really break through. If you enjoyed this review, consider subscribing to the blog’s Patreon by clicking here! It helps pay the various fees that come with running a website, and keeps this blog ad-free and independent. There are also some cool benefits for those who choose to support the blog including: suggesting which movies I review, getting personalized movie recommendations, access to free giveaways and more!

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