fri 23/02/2024

Blue Beetle review - radical rehash | reviews, news & interviews

Blue Beetle review - radical rehash

Blue Beetle review - radical rehash

Threadbare DC super-heroics allow a loving, subversive look at Latino family life

Family affair: Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo), Rudy (George Lopez), Jaime (Xolo Maridueña), Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) and Alberto (Damián Alcázar)Warner Bros. Entertainment, main pic also Hopper Stone/SMPSP/DC Comics

Blue Beetle is DC’s first screen Latino superhero, a recent development in the history of a D-grade character summed up here in his own film as “like the Flash… or Superman… but not as good”. Scraping the character barrel and first meant for cable, his debut also resists the grim “adult” gravitas routinely borrowed from Alan Moore and Frank Miller’s Eighties comics, popping with bright colours and breezy, communal humanity.

Jamie Reyes (Xolo Maridueña, pictured below) is our teenage hero, forced to give up post-college ambitions when his family home is threatened with repossession in Palmera City’s gentrifying ghetto. Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), head of the city’s dominant Kord Industries, has meanwhile located the Scarab, alien tech which turns its chosen host into the Blue Beetle, symbiotically gifting armoured flight, strength and strategy. Handed the stolen Scarab for safekeeping by Victoria’s hot young rebel niece Jenny (Bruna Marquezine), Jaime accidentally triggers a transformation splicing The Fly’s body-horror with Venom’s crawling alien infection. Jaime subsequently tests out his powers like Shazam!, discovers an ex-Beetle Batcave-like HQ, and has Iron Man-like armoured battles with Victoria’s pet Latino enforcer, Carapax (Raol Max Trujillo).Xolo Maridueña as Jaime Reyes in Blue Beetle This threadbare super-material is emblematic of a genre that has become like the Western, burned out by TV and cinema overload. Even Westerns didn’t consume cinemagoing the way superheroes have, first by consummate popular filmmaking lacing old-fashioned heroism with hip wit and heart, then habit. The Western’s decadent Seventies was anyway its most interesting decade, as traditions broke down under the weight of social change and genre entropy, and radical, questioning themes grew from the rubble. Marvel and DC aren’t there yet, as they load their last dice for the Avengers’ and Superman’s respective returns, but Blue Beetle slips in a lot of bright, resistant ideas.

If a superhero disguise now regrettably helps stories get a cinema hearing, well, here’s one about a lovable, resourceful Mexican-American family fighting to survive north of the border. Puerto Rican, ex-punk rocker director Ángel Manuel Soto and Mexican-born screenwriter Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer provide vivid characters with a very different American perspective to Bruce Wayne’s (“Batman’s a fascist!” Jaime’s comically firebrand uncle Rudy declares). “We used to live on the other side of the track, now they want that too,” Jaime’s sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) tells him, looking at the cold, metallic spires where Kord Industries dwell. “We’re invisible to people like that,” she adds. “It’s our superpower.” This contrasts with the sweet, strong paternal love of their dad, the hero who got them over the border – a wetback in American parlance – and their neighbourhood’s tropical, pastel colours.Blue Beetle in spaceThis clear-eyed view of gentrification is matched by Carapax’s ultimately tragic training by the School of the Americas, a rare mention for the CIA’s Latin American torturers’ academy. When Kord’s privatised police force leave the Reyes’ home in flames beneath a buzzing helicopter, illegal alien raids merge with Vietnam. The Reyes’ doddery grandma then reveals her past as a machine-gun-toting, anti-imperialist peer of Castro and Che. Mirroring Psycho’s taboo-busting post-coital toilet-flush, we also get DC’s first reference to a “luxurious” shit, courtesy of Milagro, and Jaime’s bashfully covered hard-on.

It’s 30 minutes before Blue Beetle leaves its vibrant milieu for Jaime’s metamorphosis, 45 before the first super-fight. This light-hearted, clever B-movie steeped in Latino culture is a more appealing superhero future than another Gothic Gotterdammerung.

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