Blue Beetle is the latest comic-book movie produced by Warner Bros. adapting a fan-favourite DC character, and just like the last 2 DCEU films, this too is flopping hard at the box office. It’s not because the movie is bad or is laden with controversies during a major workers’ strike in Hollywood, but rather the general audience’s cynicism with IP blockbusters. In a summer where original, filmmaker-driven movies like Oppenheimer and Barbie are breaking records, Blue Beetle has made a total of $54 million worldwide against a budget close to double of that. This is a week after its release, and by all measures, it’s going to go down in history as another flop for DC, a pattern that the brand has succumbed to in recent years.
I really like this movie. Blue Beetle may not be a completely original tale in the superhero landscape, but where it falters in originality, it makes up for it with its heart. The family-friendly film has a unique charm and brings a new perspective with its cultural roots, with leading star Xolo Maridueña’s incredible screen presence adding fuel to the fire.
The film falls into the trappings of the usual superhero origin stories, but that’s not negative given the hellscape of abundant world-shattering blockbusters we find ourselves in 2023. Yes, the film’s stakes are relatively low compared to the multiversal shenanigans that both DC and Marvel are focused on these days, and that’s a good thing! It lets the film breathe and fill life into its locations and supporting characters. Jaime Reyes is a really fun character, reminding me of Tom Holland’s early days as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the MCU. Supporting him, in fantastic fashion, is the Reyes family who collectively make up the heart of the movie. Too often these days we find superheroes on media to lead a lonely life, devoid of meaningful relationships and a support group as big as this. I’d hang out with the Reyes family any day of the week.
Canonically, Blue Beetle is in a tough spot — James Gunn and Peter Safran, the current co-heads of DC Studios, have marketed Xolo’s Jaime as the “first character of the DCU”, whatever that means. I suspect the film and its characters will remain canonical to the upcoming, rebooted DCU with few changes to the background lore of its world. After all, there are explicit references to Batman, Superman and the Flash in the film, but who’s to say those versions are the ones of the decaying DCEU or the upcoming DCU? Honestly, it doesn’t matter. The film is very much a stand-alone adventure save for the details regarding the missing Ted Kord, the original Blue Beetle in this world. You could look at Blue Beetle as a pseudo-Iron-Man for the DCU, while 2025’s Superman: Legacy will blow the doors open to an entirely new world with persistent narrative consistency.
When it comes to comic book movies these days, it’s hard to find a sense of strong perspective behind the camera, but Blue Beetle director Ángel Manuel Soto certainly has left his mark here. I, as an Indian, may not get all the inside jokes or references to the Latino culture prominent in the film, and that’s great! It’s just a shame that this representation is going largely unnoticed by moviegoers. The film borrows from previous superhero tropes and owns its ridiculousness proudly. Its action sequences remind me of Power Rangers shows, and seeing Jaime conjure a totally-not-buster-sword-from-FF7 is a thing of beauty. It’s okay for comic-book movies to get weird and goofy, and that applies to all comic-book movies, not just ones directed by James Gunn or Taika Waititi.
Blue Beetle was a lot of fun. Sure, it's predictable with a weak villain but it has style & a unique cultural perspective.— Rahul Majumdar (@darthrahul) August 20, 2023
Xolo has incredible charm as Jaime, can't wait to see more of him in the DCU. The Reyes family rules and the music is cool. pic.twitter.com/7p2nJb6Y4L
There’s this misconception that DC movies are, by default, dark. While DC on the silver screen has gravitated towards more mature and “darker” stories during the Nolan-Synder era, DC comics are largely diverse when it comes to tonality. We’ve seen that in the DCEU with projects like Birds of Prey, Shazam, and Peacemaker, but the fact is most of these projects failed to attract the wide audience that Disney and Marvel enjoy. The DCEU has been on a downward trajectory in the past few years and Blue Beetle, unfortunately, continues that trend. It’s a shame that superhero fatigue started settling in right when superhero movies started getting more diverse with their casts. Blue Beetle is a funny, light-hearted, family-focused film that wears its heart proud on its sleeves.
Of course, as much as I like it the film does have its fair share of problems, with weak villains being at the top. Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon) and Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo) are straight out of the mid-2000s with their actions and motivations. We get hints of the dysfunction inside the Lord family, but they’re never explored deep enough to leave a lasting impression. There’s a rift between Victoria and Jenny (Bruna Marquezine) that never goes beyond “you took my father’s company and turned it evil” which is serviceable but not enough for a 2023 blockbuster. Speaking of Jenny, Marquezine brings the same energy as Maridueña that kept me glued to the screen during the quieter moments.
Blue Beetle could be a great start to the new DCU should the powers that be decide it to be so. Regardless of the film’s performance at the box office, the promise of bringing back Maridueña as the Scarab-powered hero is a strong one, and I can’t wait to see him share the screen with the Justice League, whenever it happens.