Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable
This movie has the distinct disadvantage of being at the superhero origin story so similar to all the ones that have come before.
Blue Beetle is the story of Jaime Reyes (Xolo Mariduena), a son of poor immigrants who has just graduated high school. However, his family has fallen on hard financial times and so he gets a job at a rich resort where he bumps into Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), the daughter of the founder of Kord Industries. Jaime makes an appointment with her to get a job. When he arrives at the Kord building, Jenny has just uncovered a sinister plot from her Aunt Victoria (Susan Sarandon) that involves an alien artifact known as the scarab. She smuggles the object out through the unwitting Jaime. But when Jaime's family get him to interact with the scarab, it attaches itself to him and surrounds him with alien armor, making him the Blue Beetle. All the while he is being stalked by Victoria and her henchman Carapax (Raul Max Trujillo)
Mariduena is great in the role. He has all the charisma of Tom Holland and he has honed his physical acting skills from his time on Cobra Kai. His Jaime is flawed, but likeable. He has an innocent charm without being naïve. The second-best part of this movie, strangely, is Jaime's Nana (Adriana Barraza). Through the first half they play her as an almost senile benevolence in the family, calmly praying her rosary as the chaos around ensues. But then as the movie takes a more violent turn, she actually stands up as the backbone of the family in ways that are both inspiring and hysterical. I looked forward to every time she was on the screen. Jaime's father Alberto (Damian Alcazar) is the real heart of the movie, giving it a moral center that is simple and good. Alcazar gives Alberto a humble dignity that carries the emotional throughline of the film. His mother Rocia (Elpidia Carrillo from the movie Predator) also gives this superhero film an emotional anchor.
Director Angel Manuel Soto does a fine job of making the movie look good. The scenes where Jaime first uses the suit and where he gets into his first fights are executed with spectacle and fun. The production design is bright and colorful in a way that is incredibly fun. There are times when the movie really picks up and becomes really alive.
But as mentioned above, so many other movies have covered the ground of this story. Jaime's first flight reminds you of Iron Man. His conversations with his armor's AI reminds you Spider-Man: Homecoming. Jaime has a near-death experience that feels oddly like Deadpool 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. These comparisons are not necessarily fair to the movie, but they are also unavoidable given the pop culture landscape of the last decade.
Besides this, there are a few other things that keep this movie from soaring. A number of characters either don't work or fall flat. Marquenize handles her emotional scenes just fine, but she her chemistry with Mariduena is a bit off. Sarandon's Victoria has absolutely no depth; she does an okay job of chewing the scenery like Obidiah Stane, but nothing more. Jaime's sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) is supposed to be like a wise-cracking sidekick. But she is so incredibly annoying in her rants about all things political (more on this later). Jaime's uncle Rudy (George Lopez) is supposed to the loveable comic relief. And Lopez does a decent job as the paranoid, underappreciated genius. But the movie thinks he is funnier than he is. It feels like the film keeps waiting for you to laugh at all his jokes.
Speaking of the humor, it is hit or miss. Sometimes it works out really well, as when the entire family freaks out of the body horror of the scarab bonding to Jaime. But sometimes they are way off the mark. At one point the family is in an attack vehicle and use an weapon called "Bug Fart," where the machine spreads poison gas while making farting sounds.
Another stumbling block is the political messaging of the movie. Regardless of whether I agree with the politics, these messages are shoehorned into the narrative with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The movie wants to make commentaries on racism, capitalism, gentrification, illegal immigration, and sexism. But rather than let these play out with subtlety and nuance, they literally just give a lecture. The problem is that this takes you completely out of the movie. It asks you to stop being an audience member to be entertained and instead ask you to be an advocate for a cause.
If the writing was better, they could have integrated these ideas. But the efforts are so ham-fisted. There is a scene towards the end where someone working for the bad guys makes an selfless act of sacrifice... that is also completely pointless. The writers kill him for no other reason than to give him a moment to stand up to the rich, racist villain.
As a Catholic I loved not only the focus on this intact, extended family, but also the abundance of Catholic imagery. This is especially true with Nana who displays her Catholic faith without hesitation or shame.
The movie does have an incredibly strange and inconsistent ethic regarding killing. Early in the movie Jaime has a chance to kill Carapax after he is attacked. Even this has serious consequences, there seems to be a theme about the value of life, even of your enemies. But when the family attacks the enemy fortress, they kill the guards indiscriminately. When the movie wants to return to the idea about finding the good in enemies it rings hollow because of all the wanton destruction beforehand. The movie really should have committed one way or the other.
Blue Beetle never reaches the heights that it could have. It hampered by a mediocre script and its historical circumstances.
But when the movie finds its footing, it is actually a good deal of fun.