“Batman’s a fascist!”
Let’s address the elephant in the room, shall we? Hello there, big guy. How ya doing? There now, let’s continue. I have to tell you, it was hard to get motivated to watch Blue Beetle. I didn’t want to like it, and I wanted to try to watch it without letting myself get too involved in the whole thing. This had nothing to do with the character. I know little about him and have only read a few comics featuring the character, mostly the Ted Kord character along with his buddy Booster Gold. But none of this had anything to do with my reluctance on the part of the film. It’s Warner Brothers/DC and James Gunn. All we’ve been hearing lately is how this new regime is going to change EVERYTHING. It all starts with the upcoming Superman film, and everything we see before then is merely filler, I guess. Yes, the Snyderverse had a ton of issues, and I’m frankly glad to see it go away. But the franchise had some solid moments and pretty strong characters and actors starting with Gal Gadot as a powerfully compelling Wonder Woman. Yeah, the second movie sucked, but that had nothing to do with the actress or the character. I should be looking forward to Jason Momoa in the next Aquaman film. I’m currently watching old Stargate: Atlantis episodes and just can’t believe how far the actor has come. And I guess the final straw was the dismissal of Henry Cavill as Superman. He’s the best Superman since Christopher Reeve, and Gunn is throwing the baby out with all of that bath water. So why should I care about anything Blue Beetle has to offer? Yes, he hinted the character will likely return and even with the same actor, but none of this story will likely make it to the other side. I ask again, why should I care about anything Blue Beetle has to offer? The short answer is because there’s actually a lot of heart here, and I now kind of feel bad for all of these guys. So let’s just pretend that Gunn isn’t even here, and try to enjoy a pretty good film just for what it is.
Jaime (pronounced as Hi-Me; it’s a running gag in the film) Reyes, played by Xolo Mariduena, is returning home after graduating college with a pre-law degree. He’s pretty excited about it all, but all of that changes when his family meets him at the airport. It turns out that they are about to lose their home, have already lost the auto repair shop run by his father Alberto (Alcazar), and a huge conglomerate named Kord Industries is pretty much taking over his once-small town. He’s worried about getting money for the family and takes a job with his super-critical sister housekeeping for Victoria Kord, played by Susan Sarandon, who is the head of that big bad company. If you want to get a feel for what Kord Industries is like, think Tony Stark. They’ve made their bones building weapons, and now they’re about to launch a super-soldier weapon that could change the face of war. Victoria’s niece, Jenny (Marquezine) is the daughter of Ted Kord, who once ran the company with more compassion. She’s upset about the new weapons program, and when she confronts her aunt, Jaime can’t help himself and comes to her defense. That move gets him and his sister Milagro (Escobedo) fired, of course. But Jenny feels bad and asks Jaime to come by Kord Towers the next day, and she’ll get him something in the company.
The next day his arrival happens to coincide with Jenny’s attempt to steel a scarab device that is the center of the new weapon system. She passes the device to Jaime, who takes it home. He was told not to open the box, but his family wants to see what’s inside, so he does. The scarab ends up lighting up and attaching itself to his body. After a rather frantic and somewhat amusing integration of scarab and Jaime, a suit envelops him and goes through a series of “diagnostics” that sends him literally into orbit. His family is freaked out. The house is pretty much destroyed, and now both the feds and the Kord people are after him for the weapon. It turns out it must “choose” its host, and Jaime gets the lucky roll of the dice.
Most of the film follows the events of bad guys wanting the weapon and Jaime and his family along with Jenny trying to stay one step ahead of the bad guys while they try to figure it all out. Naturally, Victoria has her own super soldier in Carapax, played menacingly by Raoul Max Trujillo. He has an older version of the system and has been pretty much indoctrinated by Victoria to be his muscle. We get the heavy action with plenty of surrounding damage and the final confrontation that you’ll see coming from a mile away. All of the superhero tropes are here with the dynamic f/x to provide the amazing visuals. But there’s a little something different here that allows Blue Beetle to rise above the usual carnage. It’s the collection of characters/cast here, and it’s something the Fast & Furious cast brag about, and that’s family. Yeah, Fast films talk about it all of the time. You see, the thing is, these guys don’t need to talk about it all of the time. It’s there on the screen, and it’s the film’s true superpower. It’s an element the Shazam franchise tries so hard to capture, and it ain’t easy. But give director Angel Manuel Soto a ton of credit here. The film has heart, and it’s an intangible that could make Blue Beetle a bit of a sleeper hit here.
Mariduena is coming off the Cobra Kai series, and he has such a passion and energy that it’s quite contagious. He’s having fun and so filled with hope even when he has absolutely no reason to have it. Belissa Escobedo is pretty sweet, but the sarcasm grows a little thin, and she’s my least favorite character here. It’s a nice setup, but I think they push the attitude a little too far. Alberto Reyes is played by Damian Alcazar. He’s a wonderful father figure here, and you can really see where Jaime gets his optimism from. Adriana Barraza plays the mother figure, Nana, and she’s kind of the background support. George Lopez steals a lot of scenery as Uncle Rudy, who is pretty much off the wall the entire film. Lopez is king of the one-liners, and he doesn’t disappoint here. The strength here isn’t in any one of these performances. It’s the ensemble that really works. These guys obviously bonded and have incredible chemistry that keeps you engaged even if all of the action puts you in a little numb daze sometimes. This movie doesn’t work without it. And so instead of a standard superhero/comic book movie, you have something the whole family can enjoy.
Blue Beetle is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The ultra-high-definition image presentation is arrived at with an HEVC codec at an average of 65-70 mbps. I’m happy to report that while a digital shoot, this film is shot in native 4K. No upconvert here. The first thing you’ll notice is that the Dolby Vision/HDR enhancements provide vivid and brilliant colors to the image presentation. The shades of blue on the costume really pop. Black levels along with solid contrast deliver nice shadow definition, which really comes in handy during the climax fight, which happens at night. There’s a lot of neon here, and LCD display material, and all of it really jumps off the screen. There’s also a lot of fine texture and detail, particularly on the costumes. The costume team really put a lot of detail in the design, and it comes through quite well here.
The Dolby Atmos audio presentation defaults to 7.1. While the audio presentation is often aggressive and quite immersive, I think I might have been more impressed with some of the more subtle touches. The intensity of explosions gives us more than the usual range of sub response. Instead of just powering through those high-impact moments, there’s a true attempt to make them more appropriate to what’s on the screen. The subs also add some nice depth to it all. Dialog is pretty solid and well-placed. The AI voice of the suit has nice placement as well and can make you feel like you are in the suit. The score is a mixed blessing. It’s powerful and upfront, but there are aspects that I really don’t like. I think it’s that intentional de-tuning voice that makes it a little harsh on this musician’s ears.
There’s only the UHD disc, and that’s where the extras reside. I must warn you of a harsh flaw on the disc’s mastering. If you allow the menu to play for more than a minute or so, it will lock up when you do make your selection. This required the entire disc to be rebooted. It was a really big pain in my you-know-where.
Blue Beetle Generations:
Origins (7:28), Production Designs (16:12), In Full Flight (9:03) and A Hero’s World (13:24). Not happy this requires too many selections without a play-all, but with the menu freeze issue, it’s even worse. These segments combine to form the behind-the-scenes feature. You get a look at the costume design with shoot tests and concept designs. There’s a segment on the training required to be the Blue Beetle and a good piece on each of the characters. We get some nice looks at the Puerto Rico locations, where the director gives us a tour of his old home town.
Scarab Vision: Part 1 (6:35) and Part 2 (6:50) Nothing new here; it’s a repeat of a lot of stuff from the original collection of features. Repeated footage and interview clips. Not sure why this is even here.
Nana Knows Best: (4:21) A humorous look at the Nana character.
We don’t get many truly family movies anymore. This one just put that back on the map. Stay for a couple of credit stingers, although with Gunn’s cocked and loaded reset coming, the important one likely won’t lead anywhere, and that’s a shame. But what isn’t a shame is there’s a nice family movie out there, so pack up the kids and check it out. “The universe has sent you a gift, and you have to figure out what to do with it.”