Review for Blue Beetle
Is the superhero fad finally wearing off? Since the end of the 90s, back when we marvelled at films like Blade and X-Men, finally making comic book adaptations seem more than the niche entertainment they had been to that point, our multiplexes have been full of these movies to the point that the kind of sci-fi and action movies I grew up with seem like endangered species. But since the end of the Infinity War saga, Marvel has failed to match that particular glory, with a run of uneven films. And the DC EU never really got going, with fans getting tired of the constant promises that the next film will make the previous films worthwhile. And then James Gunn took the reins, and cancelled the DC EU, with Henry Cavill notably retired from the Superman role, and all those fans suddenly changed their minds and started complaining. As he prepares to reboot the DC comic book movies again, we’re in a state of flux with those films that remain to be released.
Aquaman 2 is apparently the last of the Snyderverse, but it seems that any ties to those other franchises have been omitted from the film, or were never there to begin with. It is reportedly wholly standalone. And then there is Blue Beetle, a comic book property of which I was never aware, but a movie that garnered enough goodwill for me to take a punt on a Blu-ray. It was commissioned before James Gunn took over, but as an HBO Max release. It turned out to be good enough to warrant a theatrical outing instead. It too has no ties to the Snyderverse in its story, no references or cameos, and in this case, it’s possible that James Gunn could very well pick up this ball to juggle with too. So there I am, increasingly cynical about the comic book movie mania, checking out a film for a character I have never heard of. Should be good...
Jaime Reyes returns triumphantly to Palmera City, the first in his family to get a university education, but he returns home to bad news, as his family has fallen on hard times, and is about to lose their home. And despite his pre-law qualification, the only job he can get is as a cleaner, albeit a cleaner in businesswoman Victoria Kord’s house. The tech magnate is ruthless and vindictive, and quick to fire Jaime when he stands up for her niece Jenny Kord. In gratitude, Jenny offers to get Jaime another job at the Kord offices, but when he shows up for an interview, Jenny is on her way out, having stolen a critical bit of technology. When the alarms go off, she uses Jaime to smuggle it out, making him promise not to look in the box.
But Jaime’s family convince him to look in the box. It’s a large, blue jewelled scarab which turns into a facehugger, and then vanishes into Jaime’s body. It’s a piece of alien technology that Victoria Kord was looking to reverse-engineer into the next generation of ultimate weapons, only she could never get it to activate. It activated for Jaime, and turns out to be an intelligent combat suit that gives its symbiotic host amazing powers. The Blue Beetle has been reborn, but Victoria Kord wants her scarab back.
Blue Beetle gets a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc with the choice between Dolby Atmos and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround English, and English Audio Descriptive, and DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Spanish and Italian, with subtitles in these languages and Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish. There are no issues to be had with the transfer, clear and sharp, with strong consistent colours, with Palmera City (very much a DC Universe analogue for Miami) looking bright and vibrant by day and by night. The film looks pixel perfect on this disc, and the action and effects come across well. Blue Beetle is apparently the “first” Latino superhero, and he brings his family along for the ride. There’s a lot of Spanish dialogue as well as English, some subtitled in the film, some not. It’s a Dolby Atmos track, and I have my usual issues with low volume levels, and this is one film, where the balance is weighted to action, music and effects over dialogue, so I wound up keeping the subtitles on for the duration. The surround does what it needs to when it comes to action and effects.
You get one disc in a thin BD Amaray eco-case with bits cut out of the plastic. You’ll want to keep the o-card slipcover then, to help keep the dust out. The disc boots to a static menu and you’ll find the following extras.
Blue Beetle Generations (4 parts)
- Origins (7:28)
- Production Begins (16:12)
- In Full Flight (9:03)
- A Hero’s World (13:24)
Scarab Vision (2 parts)
- Episode 1 – Initiation (6:35)
- Episode 2 – Mastery (6:50)
Blue Beetle: Nana Knows Best (4:12)
It’s rarely a good sign if after watching a film for twenty minutes, I have to quickly do a web-search to address my growing suspicion that someone is ripping someone else off. With its tale about alien bio-tech battlesuits, I had to check. It turns out that The Guyver: Bioboosted Armour manga came out in 1985. Blue Beetle dates from 1939! The whole Scarab aspect debuted in 1965, and only the Jaime Reyes character is newer. I thought I could get through the film with no more nudges to my thought process, but Blue Beetle does borrow in some way from the Marvel MCU. The most obvious parallel, given the smart bio-weapon battle suit, is Iron Man, and the way Kord Industries is presented, a tech company building better weapons under the aegis of Aunt Victoria Kord, and niece Jenny Kord wanting to restore her father’s legacy and stop selling weapons, makes it look a fair bit like Stark Industries in the first Iron Man. On top of that, the youthful Jaime Reyes does have a bit of a Spider-man vibe to him once he dons the Blue Beetle garb.
However, in this case, similarities to early MCU are a good thing, as the film has a bright, vibrant tone to it that really drew me in. It also has a vivid and engaging cast of characters with warmth and humour. Blue Beetle also has one thing that defines him from most other superheroes, especially superheroes in the DC universe. This is the first time I’ve seen a hero with a large family structure supporting him, parents, a sassy sister, a wacky, conspiracy theory quoting uncle, and a grandmother with more than a few secrets. Usually, superheroes are loners, formed in tragedy, with maybe one close family figure if they are lucky, otherwise a surrogate at best. Think orphan Superman losing his adoptive dad, orphan Bruce Wayne raised by the butler, orphan Peter Parker losing his uncle and getting a trite platitude about power and responsibility in exchange. Jaime Reyes couldn’t escape his family if he tried, and he’s a lot more approachable and relatable as a superhero as a result.
That is what makes Blue Beetle stand out as a comic book movie, and makes it really quite special too. Jaime Reyes may get the superpowers, the fancy suit, and is compelled to deal with Victoria Kord’s machinations if only to survive. But this is a story about a family standing together against the villain, not just one hero standing alone. There is a moment where you think that the film will go the familiar route of a hero having to deal with the added threat of the villain endangering their loved ones, but in this film, the loved ones tool up and go to work against the villains themselves. And even the middle of battle is no reason to forget those specific family dynamics.
Recently, there has been a move to recruit filmmakers and production crew to reflect the subject matter of the film when it comes to cultural sensibilities. You’ll have seen this on films like DC’s Birds of Prey, and Marvel’s Black Panther movies. To me, that move didn’t make much difference in the end result, if at all. Blue Beetle is the first such film where it’s clear that it’s had a meaningful effect, as there’s so much Latino culture represented on film that you do get the sense of the story’s DNA. Never does it feel like lip service.
Contrary to my cynical expectations, I really enjoyed Blue Beetle, and a lot more than most other superhero movies I’ve seen of late. What it does differently, the whole ‘family standing together against the villain’ aspect is new and refreshing in a tired superhero medium. It’s also very refreshing to see a genre film standing proudly alone, not dependent on, or laying pipe for another movie in a cinematic expanded universe. Blue Beetle is very much worth a watch, and might just be the best of the DC movies ever since Zack Snyder first turned his directorial eye in that direction. This Blu-ray presents the film just as you would expect, and you get a fair smattering of extra features too.