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BLUE BEETLE ★★½
(M) 128 minutes
Since the 1930s, several comic book characters have operated under the alias Blue Beetle. But you needn’t have heard of any to follow this new, big-screen origin story. Our particular Blue Beetle starts out as Jaime Reyes (Cobra Kai’s Xolo Mariduena), a fresh-faced college graduate who gives up his dreams of becoming a lawyer to help his immigrant family in Palmera City, which appears to be to Miami what Metropolis and Gotham City are to New York.
From left: Elpidia Carrillo, George Lopez, Xolo Maridueña, Belissa Escobedo and Damian Alcazar in Blue Beetle.
Luck or fate bring him into possession of a priceless piece of alien technology in the shape of a blue scarab beetle, which locks onto him and grants him the usual range of powers (flight, knowledge of various martial arts, shiny bulletproof armour that sprouts from his body).
As if this metamorphosis wasn’t disconcerting enough, he’s soon on the run from the forces of malignant businesswoman Victoria Kord, played with moderate verve by Susan Sarandon as a hybrid of society lady and Disney witch.
The hype for Blue Beetle has centred on it being the first live-action superhero movie with a Latino lead. But director Angel Manuel Soto and writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer do their best to weave a few additional progressive elements into this basically routine production, evidently aimed at younger viewers.
The slant is vaguely anti-corporate as well as anti-military, although the conception of Kord Industries as a force for evil could equally be viewed as an apolitical shoutout to 1980s genre convention, along with the synth score and a colour scheme that goes heavy on fluorescent purple.
Compared to most superheroes, Jaime is refreshingly intent on not killing people, although the same qualms aren’t felt by all of his relatives, who include one former revolutionary and a sympathetic conspiracy theorist uncle (George Lopez) who gets to utter the memorable line “Batman’s a fascist”.
There’s also some unusual stuff going on to do with gender. Although the question isn’t directly broached, we might fairly ask ourselves if Jaime in his Blue Beetle guise can be understood as altogether male, given he’s fused with an alien entity that expresses itself in a soothing female voice supplied by singer Becky G.
At other points, it’s Jaime who occupies a traditionally feminine role: he’s repeatedly equated with the helpless heroine of a telenovela, and has to be rescued in the manner of a damsel in distress.
There are even a couple of uneasy jokes about how the scarab might have got inside his body in the first place, but in this and all other respects, the daring of Blue Beetle only goes so far.
Blue Beetle is released in cinemas on September 14.
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