The Power of the Scarab

Blue Beetle (DCEU 15)

The DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe. has been in a rough spot as of late. It's seen back-to-back-to-back failures of their works, leading to many to suggest that it's not so much superhero fatigue (although considering the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. is also struggling right now, there might be some of that at play) but general audience exhaustion over the DCEU. Consider that the last truly successful film in the franchise was Shazam!, a that was a modest one at that. Since then, the series has struggled to make way with fans (only partially because of the COVID-19 pandemic), and DC has seen a series of outright bombs at the Box Office.

Black Adam, Shazam!: Fury of the Gods, The Flash represent DC's absolutely disastrous run over the last year, showing how little moviegoers want to see something with the DC symbol attached to it. This hasn't been aided by the set reboot of the franchise that will wipe away (most) past continuity for the franchise, and you have to think that audiences in the know are just going to wait until Superman: Legacy debuts in 2025 to even bother giving DC another chance in cinemas. Which sucks for Blue Beetle, which has gotten stuck in the transition between eras of the series.

Let's be clear about this: Blue Beetle (in any of his incarnations) is, at best, a B-tier hero. That's not to say he's bad -- I think he's great and I love the current incarnation, Jaime Reyes -- just that in the grand pantheon of heroes Blue Beetle isn't as well known as even AquamanRaised by his fully-human father, Arthur Curry has a history even he didn't know about until he grew: that he was the half-human, half-Atlantean son of the once-Queen of Atlantis, and was destined one day to be it's rightful ruler, the Aquaman. or The FlashStruck by lightning while working in his lab, Barry Allen became a speedster known as The Flash, launching an entire set of super-fast superheroes.. In a healthy movie franchise this wouldn't matter; Marvel not only was able to take their B-tier superheroes and turn them into a multi-billion dollar success in the MCU, but they were then even able to launch C-tier characters like freaking Ant-Man and the WaspFirst developed by Hank Pym, the "Pym Particle" allows Pym (and a variety of successors) to transform themselves, shrinking (and growing) to amazing sizes. Joined by Pym's wife (and later his daughter), the Wasp is Ant-Man's ally and cohort in fighting crime. and turn them into massive, successful franchises... for a time. But you have to keep audiences interested and engaged to pull off that feat, and DC did not.

The original plan for 2023's Blue Beetle was to released on MaxThe oldest and longer-running cable subscription service, HBO provides entertainment in the force of licensed movies along with a huge slate of original programming, giving it the luster of the premiere cable service. Now known primarily for its streaming service, Max. as a direct-to-video film, along side that canceled Batgirl we never got. But then plans changed and Blue Beetle was given a slightly larger budget, and some reshoots, to turn it into something for the cineplexes. And the movie died there because, first, DC's name is garbage in theaters (and that's all their fault, frankly), and second, few people outside of comic fans know who the hell Blue Beetle even is. A movie that might have done really well as a direct-to-video feature on a big streamer instead had more money, and more pressure, thrown at it and was forced to under-perform.

Thing is, that's not the fault of the movie. Blue Beetle is a solidly successful superhero film in the mold of many other superhero films we've seen. It's an origin story with a charismatic lead and a diverse, hilarious cast of supporting characters. It has a superhero with cool powers unlike much of what we've seen on screens before. And is had great production values, from a solid script, a good soundtrack, and fun aesthetics that make it look like it's cribbing from a very different playbook than anything DC was working with before. This is a film that can stand apart from the DCEU but was, for some reason, shoehorned into it... and it tanked. It deserved better.

The film stars Xolo Maridueña (of Cobra Kai fame) as Jaime Reyes, a recent college graduate who, upon coming home, discovers that the future he was looking forward to is just out of grasp. His family's garage was shit down, they're about to lose the house, and no one wants to hire an inexperienced college graduate. As such he has to take a crappy job with his sister, Milagro (Belissa Escobedo), at the Kord estate, working as a cleaner. There, though, he steps in between a fight between Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon) and her niece, Jenny (Bruna Marquezine), and between that act of chivalry, and his sister using a toilet she shouldn't have used, both Reyes kids are fired.

Thankfully, Jenny elects to help Jaime out, offering him an opportunity at Kord Industries if he swings by the next day. However, Jenny has her own thing going, wanting to secure a powerful scarab that Victoria acquired. Jenny's father, Ted Kord, postulated that the scarab could give its used incredible powers, but the scarab had to choose and bond with its owner. It never did with Ted, or anyone else Victoria put forward. Instead, she used the design ideas from the scarab's tech to create OMAC, a bio-suit alternative. However, if she could unlock the scarab somehow, it would grant her so much more power, and the chance to create massive weapons she could sell to, well, anyone. Jenny gets the scarab and steals it away, but the theft is soon discovered. Jenny, seeing Jamie, passes him the scarab and sends him off with instructions to protect it. No one expected the scarab to awaken at his touch, bonding to Jaime and taking him on as its host. And that changes the direction of Jamie's life completely, putting him, and his family, in danger after he becomes the superhero the Blue Beetle.

Blue Beetle has had three incarnations in comics, from the Golden Age detective Dan Garrett to Silver Age tech-whiz Ted Kord and now, of course, Jaime. The trick with the character is that each of them inherited their guise from the previous version. To really encompass the character of the Blue Beetle you have to get all that back story in, the long lineage of the Blue Beetle through the years. And you also have to explain the tech of the scarab, how it works, what it does, and why some of the past Blue Beetle heroes could use it and others couldn't. It's a lot of info to just dump on viewers, but impressively Blue Beetle succeeds. It drops you in with Jaime, and slowly dribbles the info out to him in ways that are digestible for the audience. It hints at a greater story than we see without making it feel like we've missed too much story to keep up. It's smart.

My favorite part for this is when Jenny reveals the old Beetle Base (which is what I choose to call it) that her father used. Jaime, his uncle Rudy (George Lopez), and Jenny head down into the lab which is done up in day-glo 80s style, with classic music playing, all because Ted was a hero of the era. It illustrates to us the lineage of the character, allows us to have some fun BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen.-style moments (because Ted's Blue Beetle was a low-grade Batman-style hero) and it helps us bond with all these characters in an organic way. The movie does this time and again, giving us hints of characters as it reveals new tech, new ideas, and new fun to be had. It had a good sense of itself, and its pace, and handles a story that could have been overstuffed with aplomb.

It's also backed by solid CGI that looks really good. This is primarily expressed in Jaime's suit which can change and shift, letting Jaime create any weapon he can dream of. This, inevitably, leads to the hero swinging around a giant anime sword (because the movie knows is character and its demographic), but it also leads to great scenes of him flying around and shooting. It all looks real and natural, a great feat for a mid-budget superhero film. Plus, there's some tech revealed late in the movie that also benefits from the solid CGI to help sell its realism within the confines of the film.

This actually ties in well with the other major strength of the film: its characters. This movie populates out Jaime's whole family, with not just his sister and uncle but also his mother, Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo), his father Alberto (Damián Alcázar), and his Nana (Adriana Barraza), taking part in the action. The film doesn't just use them as props for Jaime to rescue, or people to feed him platitude; it lets them be heroes as well (thanks to Ted Kord's tech), joining in as part of the Blue Beetle team. I really loved that the film fond a way to let them all be real people and have their own hand in the superheroics.

If there's any real flaw with the film it's that if builds all this great stuff around an otherwise generic superhero story. Good guy gets powers, has to learn to use them, and then has to fight an evil clone of himself to prove his worth. We've seen that in so many films up to now (from DC, from Marvel, from others), and it is a little staid and boring. Jaime has to fight OMAC, who was a man, Ignacio Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo), grafted with tech and then boosted with the scarab's nanites, to the point where he's another Beetle, basically. And then the two of them fight, good versus evil. It's the expected climax, the known quantity, and it would have been nice for the film to set up something different here.

Now, in fairness, many of the foes that Jaime's Blue Beetle fights in the comics are other versions of the scarab. These other Beetles come from the Reach, an alien organization bent on conquering the earth, and they all how powers similar to Jaime. Thing is, the Reach isn't mentioned here, and OMAC was based on completely unrelated tech, so the association here seems to be solely so Jaime can fight someone with his same powers. We've seen this before, so many times. Give us something different, people.

Still, I only fault the movie so much for this when it does so many other things so well. In a perfect world this film would have come out at a time when DC's name wasn't garbage for audiences, and people could have gotten excited about DC's next big hero. It didn't, though, and on a budget of (at least) $104 Mil, Blue Beetle only managed to scrape together $129.3 Mil in theaters. That made it yet another bomb on DC's ledger, even though this is probably the most watchable superhero film DC has released since 2021's The Suicide Squad (and is far more family-friendly to boot).

The concern, then, is whether this version of the character will actually show up in DC's future plans. The film is basically standalone so there's no reason it can't be merged seamlessly into the new DC Universe under James Gunn's direction. He's even said it will be part of it as he's a fan of the film. But corporate dictates can change and it's entirely possible that someone will say, "ignore this film, don't use it. We'll relaunch the character later in a different way," and that will be that. Which is sad as this film, and this version of the character, deserve better. The film is out on home video now, and available for streaming, so if you haven't seen it you should. It's better than the DC logo would suggest, by a long shot.