By José María Gámez-Lamadrid, Guest Writer
I grew up with superheroes — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the like. Paragons of selflessness and compassion, the superhero represents the best qualities of humanity. Superheroes should reflect the people and culture around us. There’s something magical about seeing a character on the silver screen that not only looks like you, but speaks the same language, eats the same food and shares the same culture as you, all while being a beacon of the human spirit. In this regard, Blue Beetle was magic.
Directed by Ángel Manuel Soto of Charm City Kings (2020) fame, the film follows recent college grad Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña), eager to join the workforce and show off his achievement as a first-generation graduate in order to help his family manage their looming rent. While back home in the fictional Palmera City, Jaime crosses paths with Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine) — niece of CEO Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon) and heir to the Kord Industries throne — who entrusts him with the all-powerful “scarab” weapon, fearful that her aunt might use the bug-shaped alien artifact for evildoing.
The scarab fuses to his spine to transform him into the reluctant hero. Christened as the “Blue Beetle,” Jamie must use his new abilities to fight back against Victoria Kord and her second-in-command Carapax (Raoul Trujillo), all while keeping his family and secret identity safe.
On paper, Blue Beetle seems a bit by-the-numbers: A protagonist gets powers, fights a villain with similar powers, experiences the death of a beloved, has a motivational heart-to-heart and defeats the scheming, racist villain.
A seemingly tried-and-true formula, Soto sprinkles in a bit of a twist. Carapax says the cliché: “Your love for your family makes you weak.” But Blue Beetle proves the opposite — this time the family is in on the secret. The Reyes are present during Jaime’s transformation, and instead of scolding him to hide his powers, they encourage Jaime to embrace this new role, and seek out ways in which they can offer support. Uncle Rudy Reyes (George Lopez) takes on the mentor role during Jaime’s distress, emphasizing that Palmera City could use a hero that looks like one of its own.
And that’s where the movie shines. Besides being a fun comic book movie, Blue Beetle serves as a celebration of Latino culture — the music, the food, the television shows, the habits — all of it. Jaime Reyes listens to the music I listen to. He uses the same slang I do. His name is anglicized by his peers, just like mine is (“hai-meh” becomes “jay-mee”), and, just like me, he has to correct them.
I didn’t just see Jaime on the screen — I could see myself, as well as the rest of my family. His grandma uses Vicks VapoRub as a cure-all ointment. A portrait of the Virgen de Guadalupe hangs above an altar in their living room. Pet names like “cabezón” zip back and forth in conversation. Before he leaves for a job interview at Kord Industries, the Reyes won’t let Jaime say goodbye without bestowing him with “la bendición.”
I couldn’t move back to campus before receiving “la bendición.”
In Blue Beetle, the Latino representation is real. It feels authentic. Under a less competent director, the references and dialogue would’ve felt ham-fisted, clumsy, stereotypical, even, especially if the director weren’t Latino.
Under the direction of Soto, Blue Beetle is a standout entry in the DC universe amid recent box office flops, and delivers a familiar, but joyful and heartfelt romp that few comic book movies have ever achieved.
Like I said… it’s magical.