Dr Yarí Pérez Marín from our School of Modern Languages and Cultures was invited to write a review of the latest DC Comics film, Blue Beetle, starring Xolo Maridueña as the first Latino superhero lead. Warning: this review contains spoilers for Blue Beetle.
Recent university graduate Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) is coming home with big dreams, ready for what’s next. But he soon realises his family has been putting on a brave face in his absence and that their fortunes have taken a turn for the worse.
A chance meeting with young heiress Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine) brings him into contact with an extraterrestrial artefact at the heart of Kord Industries’ covert plan to develop a military weapons system using alien biotechnology. But before that can happen, the object – a scarab that turns out to be a sentient being – latches itself onto his body, endowing him with superpowers he can’t control.
All Jaime wants is to find a way to get it out, but unfortunately, he is running out of time as he and his family are now a target for the people who owned it – they want it back.
Blue Beetle is DC Comics’ newest release and the first live-action feature to have a Latino superhero lead. But it is the emphasis placed on the power of family and of charting a future rooted in one’s past that are being touted by its creators as the film’s true standout features.
For fans of the filmmakers’ earlier works, like writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer’s Contrapelo (2014), or director Ángel Manuel Soto’s La Granja (2015) and Charm City Kings (2020), some of the film’s creative choices may feel like a bit of a compromise.
Recognisable Latino stock characters are there to reassure moviegoers that these are not the “bad hombres” they’ve been warned about. There’s the hardworking but struggling dad, Alberto (Damián Alcázar), the single, offbeat uncle Rudy (George Lopez) and Nana, the live-in grandmother always in a house dress regardless of setting or occasion (Adriana Barraza).
However, some familiar types turn out to be fronts for audiences to ask themselves if they have underestimated them. Rudy’s invention, for example, a signal-jamming device that disrupts surveillance camera footage with episodes of El Chapulín Colorado (The Red Grasshopper, a 1970s Mexican superhero parody show), might need a good kick to turn on, but works very well against the security systems of multi-billion tech giant Kord Industries.
When Jaime, as the hero in the making, needs saving it’s his family who come to the rescue. Everyone has a role to play. Nana’s combat skills get some of the biggest laughs, but they double as a reminder of older generations of Latin American women who knew a thing or two about armed resistance and revolution.
In its showcasing of Latino culture, Blue Beetle reaches out to a community that goes “to the movies more than any other ethnic group in the US” despite being “staggeringly underrepresented”.
While the film is keen to connect with global audiences of all backgrounds, it makes its Latino viewers feel seen and heard with references to pop culture and to music. From the opening sequence set to Calle 13’s Atrévete-Te-Te, to Soda Stereo, Cypress Hill and Selena, the soundtrack of the Reyes family’s life plays in the background as an optional history lesson on pioneering Latin artists and musical groups.
Nowhere is Blue Beetle’s interest in connecting the fictional world of DC Comics to Latin American history more apparent than in the backstory of the hero’s nemesis.
Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo) is Kord Industries CEO Victoria’s (Susan Sarandon) cyborg henchman. A victim turned victimiser, the character is written as a former child soldier of Mayan ancestry whose ties to his community were severed by US military interventions in Central America, leaving him vulnerable to exploitation and turning him into a mercenary.
Blue Beetle joins a growing number of sci-fi films that explore – and critique – US foreign policy toward Latin America and the US-Mexico border like Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer (2008) – an influence that echoes strongly throughout – and Alejandro Damiani’s M.A.M.Ó.N. (2016).
As in those films, it has moments that almost step outside of its fantasy Palmera City setting – a futuristic composite of El Paso, Miami and San Juan – and into the real world. A scene where Rudy reflects on how the challenges he faced in the years after leaving his home country were, for him, greater than those endured during his migration journey, could just as easily belong in a documentary or a news feature.
Empathy is a key theme, developed most fully in the symbiotic link between Jaime and the Scarab. In contrast to the repeated misnaming experienced by Hispanic characters – a recurring joke and a scene-stealing opportunity for “Dr Sanchez” (Harvey Guillén) – once Jaime and his family learn the Scarab is called Khaji-Da (voiced by Latina singer Becky G), they make it a point to call them by their name.
And as the connection between the two becomes more fluid, so will the way they communicate with each other, with Khaji-Da proving a quick study in Spanish.
Due to the ongoing WGA strike the film’s actors are skipping the media blitz that usually accompanies the release of large action movies, making it clear they want to “stand on the right side of history”, as Maridueña recently told his Instagram followers, choking back tears.
One would hope word of mouth is enough for audiences to still turn up given that Blue Beetle is great fun to watch and a solid foundation for future films in the franchise – even if it plays it a little safe in its first time out.
With sections regularly featuring in the top five in national league tables such as the Good University Guide and the Complete University Guide by Subject, our School of Modern Languages and Cultures offers expertise in a wide range of subjects, including language, literature, cultural history, cinema and visual culture, and translation. In the Complete University Guide by Subject 2024, it was ranked 4th for German, 5th for Asian Studies and Italian and 6th for French.
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