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Ain’t Nothin’ But a Family Thing — Blue Beetle

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Ain’t Nothin’ But a Family Thing — Blue Beetle

Home / Ain’t Nothin’ But a Family Thing — Blue Beetle
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Ain’t Nothin’ But a Family Thing — Blue Beetle

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Published on January 10, 2024

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From August 2017 – January 2020, Keith R.A. DeCandido took a weekly look at every live-action movie based on a superhero comic that had been made to date in the Superhero Movie Rewatch. He’s periodically revisited the feature to look back at new releases, as well as a few he missed the first time through.

The Blue Beetle was originally created in 1939 by Will Eisner & Charles Nicholas during the first big wave of superhero comics, led mainly by Superman and Batman, but which also included the Sub-Mariner, Wonder Woman, Captain America, the Human Torch, Captain Marvel, the Angel, and tons and tons more—including the Beetle, who was published by Fox Comics. A policeman named Dan Garret, he took Vitamin 2X to give him “super-energy” and he fought crime. He was the first of three people to be called Blue Beetle, the third of whom got his own movie.

The Garret version of the Beetle not only starred in a comic book, but also in a comic strip and a radio serial. Fox Comics went out of business in the 1950s, when superhero comics had waned in popularity after the end of World War II. They sold the plates to Charlton Comics, who reprinted them, and then in 1964 Joe Gill, Bill Fraccio, & Tony Tallarico rebooted the character, turning Dan Garrett (sic) into a college professor who found a mystical Egyptian scarab that gave him super-powers.

In 1966, Steve Ditko revamped the character again, with Ted Kord—a genius inventor—taking over from Garrett, and using gadgets to fight crime. This was the version that was the basis of Nite Owl when Alan Moore rewrote the Charlton characters for Watchmen, with the mainline versions of the Charlton characters crossing over into the DC Universe following 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths event, thanks to DC buying the rights to Charlton’s characters.

Once incorporated into DC, Kord was changed by writer Len Wein from a young inventor into a billionaire industrialist, DC’s answer to Tony Stark. He was probably most prominent in the various Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis-written Justice League series that launched in 1987.

Kord was killed in the lead-up to Infinite Crisis in 2005 and a new Beetle was created by Keith Giffen, John Rogers, & Cully Hammer: Jaime Reyes. Reyes went back to the Egyptian-scarab-gives-you-super-powers take on the character, albeit with the scarab now being an alien device. DC’s 2011 “New 52” event retconned Reyes into being the only Beetle, but the 2016 “Rebirth” storyline put both Garrett and Kord back in as Reyes’ predecessors.

Development of a Blue Beetle film starring Reyes began in 2018, originally positioned as one of several direct-to-HBO-Max DC films (which the later-cancelled Batgirl was also to be part of). However, the film—written by Mexican-born Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer and directed by Puerto Rican Ángel Manuel Soto—so impressed the suits at Warner Bros. that they made it a theatrical release. (Given the weirdness involving what is now just called Max, the movie was probably better off staying away from the streaming service.) The movie not only makes use of the Garrett and Kord backstories, but also incorporates stuff from The OMAC Project created by Greg Rucka & Jesús Salz in 2005. The One Man Army Corps is a project to create cybernetic super-soldiers instigated by President Lex Luthor in the comics. Here it’s repurposed as a Kord Industries project, masterminded by Ted Kord’s sister Victoria, who has taken over Kord Industries since Ted’s disappearance years ago.

Xolo Maridueña, one of the breakout stars of Cobra Kai, was cast as Jaime Reyes, and he was apparently Soto’s first choice, mostly on the strength of his work as Miguel Diaz on the martial arts show. The cast also includes Damián Alcázar and Elpidia Carillo as Jaime’s parents, George Lopez as his crazy uncle, Adriana Barraza as his grandmother, and Belissa Escobedo as his sister. In addition, Susan Sarandon plays Victoria, Bruna Marquezine plays Ted Kord’s daughter Jenny, and Raoul Max Trujillo plays Victoria’s henchman Ignacio Carapax, a.k.a. OMAC, based on both OMAC and on Carapax the Indestructible Man, one of Dan Garrett’s foes from the comics. In addition, Harvey Guillén takes a break from What We Do in the Shadows to play Victoria’s chief scientist.

The film did poorly in theatres, released as it was in the middle of the writers and actors strikes that prevented the cast from doing any publicity for it. The film has only the slightest connections to the DC Extended Universe, and James Gunn has said that he fully intends this iteration of the Beetle—with Maridueña playing him—to be part of his DC Universe going forward.

 

“Host overreacting”

Blue Beetle
Written by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer
Directed by Ángel Manuel Soto
Produced by John Rickard, Zev Foreman
Original release date: August 18, 2023

Screenshot from Blue Beetle featuring Jaime (Xolo Maridueña) holding the scarab
Image: DC Studios / Warner Bros. Pictures

In the Antarctic, an expedition by Kord Industries seems to have unearthed “the scarab,” which Victoria Kord has been look for for ages to make OMAC—the One Man Army Corps—project a success.

Jaime Reyes has graduated from college, and he’s met at the Palmera City Airport by his parents, Alberto and Rocio, his conspiracy-theorist uncle Rudy, his grandmother, and his younger sister Milagro. The family puts up a good front, but Milagro finally breaks the news: Alberto had to close down his shop, mostly because he had a heart attack, and because their income stream has lessened, they’re going to lose the house.

Jaime’s plans for graduate school to become a lawyer are dashed by the need to help the family make money. Milagro gets him a job as a domestic at the Kord mansion. While there, Jaime overhears a phone conversation between Victoria and a general singing the praises of OMAC, and then a physical conversation between Victoria and her niece, Jenny. Jenny is livid that Victoria is getting Kord Industries into weapons. The argument turns nasty, and Victoria’s chief of security, Lieutenant Ignacio Carapax, gets involved. Jaime—who is keeping lookout for Milagro, who is using the fancy bathroom they’re not allowed to use—tries to help her and gets him and Milagro fired for their trouble.

Jenny apologizes to Jaime and Milagro outside and tells Jaime to come by Kord Industries the next day and she’ll see about getting him a job there.

The entire family drives him to the job interview, embarrassing him rather aggressively with their love and affection. Jenny, meanwhile, is appalled to discover that Victoria has found the scarab. So she steals it, placing it in a fast-food box. Victoria’s chief scientist—whom she keeps calling “Sanchez,” and who keeps ignoring him when he tries to tell her that isn’t his name—discovers that the scarab is missing and calls for a lockdown.

Jaime sees Jenny and tries to talk to her, but she’s a bit distracted. And then the lockdown happens and she hands him the fast-food box, telling him not to open it, look at it, or touch it.

He takes it home (how he was able to leave a building in lockdown is left as an exercise for the viewer), and at the encouragement of his family, he opens it, looks at it, and touches it. Well, Rudy touches it first, as do several others, but it’s not until Jaime touches it that it activates.

First it attaches itself to his face, Alien face-hugger-like, then it crawls up his back and embeds itself in his spine (it does not go up his ass, Rudy’s insistence to the contrary), and then forms an entire bug-like exoskeleton around him, destroying his clothes. It then flies out through the roof and does a bunch of tests of flight and speed and other fun things, including at one point cutting a bus in half.

It finally sends him back home (making another hole in the roof) and then the suit disappears, leaving Jaime naked on the floor.

Jaime goes to Kord Industries in Rudy’s truck, only to find Jenny being assaulted by Carapax’s security people. Jaime rescues her (though his uncle’s truck is worse for wear, to Rudy’s great, and very loud, chagrin) and brings her home. Jenny explains that the scarab chooses a host, and specifically chose Jaime. Jenny says there’s a key that will help unlock some of the scarab’s secrets, but it’s in the Kord Tower and they need to steal it. Rudy has a gadget that will mess with security, beaming old episodes of El Chapulín Colorado into the security feed. Jenny is able to steal the key—which is a smartwatch that belonged to her father Ted—but Jaime winds up facing off against Carapax, who has a prototype OMAC cybernetic implant that gives him armor similar to Jaime’s exoskeleton. The fight is brutal, with Carapax willing to do much more harm than Jaime is, and they only get away because Rudy throws his gadget at Carapax’s head.

Jenny takes Jaime and Rudy to the mansion she grew up in. Jaime is worried that going to a family home isn’t the best place to hide from Jenny’s aunt, but Jenny insists that no one’s been there since she was eight. The smartwatch opens a secret passage, leading to a secret lair. To Rudy’s glee, he discovers that Ted Kord was the Blue Beetle, a superhero from before Jaime’s time. Rudy sees a ton of inventions, calling the lair like the Batcave, if Batman had ADHD. According to Ted’s files, as accessed by Rudy, the only way to lose the scarab is to die. Ted’s predecessor as Blue Beetle, Dan Garrett, was the last person to wear the scarab, and it didn’t come off him until he died.

Jaime and Jenny also flirt a bit, but this is all interrupted by a Kord helicopter heading right toward Jaime’s neighborhood in Edge Key. Jaime summons the suit—which he now knows from their mental link is called Khaji-Da—and together they fly off to the house to find that Carapax’s commandoes have taken his family hostage. The Blue Beetle’s rescue attempt is successful, as the family is able to get away—with the exception of Alberto, who has a heart attack and dies. That distracts Jaime enough for Carapax to capture him.

The rest of the Reyes family is safe, at least, though their house is trashed. Jenny brings them back to her childhood home, where Ted’s old Bugship is still working. They fly it to an island near Cuba that the Kord family bought from Batista back in the mid-twentieth century, which is where Victoria has set up her OMAC factory. She just needs the code from the scarab. The code is transferred to Carapax, improving his OMAC armor by leaps and bounds. Meanwhile, Jenny and the Reyes family are able to sabotage the base, including cutting the power at one point. Jaime is able to escape before Victoria can have him killed. Victoria orders her chief scientist to stop Jaime, calling him “Sanchez,” once again. Instead, he lets Jaime out, declares very loudly that his name is Doctor José Francisco Morales Rivera de la Cruz. Then, alas, Carapax kills him.

Jaime’s Nana proves to be very skilled with a very large gun (Rocio at one point comments that one of these days they need to tell Jaime and Milagro about Nana’s revolutionary past, to the kids’ horror), and between Nana’s big gun and the Blue Beetle armor, they make short work of the Kord thugs. However, the way Jaime is able to defeat Carapax is to remind him of his youth in Guatemala, of the fact that Victoria was responsible for his village being bombed, which killed his mother, and for experimenting on him. Carapax grabs Victoria and overloads his armor. The Reyes family and Jenny barely escape in the Bugship.

Jenny takes over Kord Industries. The Reyes family returns from Alberto’s funeral to support from the entire neighborhood. Jaime flies Jenny to her family’s house in the Blue Beetle armor.

With the tech in Ted’s old lair activated, a message comes in—from Ted, assuring Jenny and anyone else that he’s actually alive…

 

“Things don’t last—la familia, that’s forever”

Screenshot from Blue Beetle featuring Jenny (center) surrounded by Jaime's family
Image: DC Studios / Warner Bros. Pictures

It’s really too bad this movie got hit with the perfect storm of two strikes, which kneecapped promotion of it, and the general downward trend in theatre attendance post-2020, because it’s an absolute delight.

One thing I particularly love is that Jaime’s transformation happens in front of his entire family. There’s no ridiculous hiding of who he really is from his family to “protect” them or whatever rationalization has been used over the decades to justify heroes lying to their loved ones. No, the Reyes family is right there behind him all the way—whether it’s coming home from the airport, going to a job interview, or rescuing him from an evil industrialist.

The meme that characters of color aren’t “relatable” has come up in relation to this film (see also Ms. Marvel), and it’s so much horseshit. You’re trying to tell me that a college graduate who has to struggle to help support his family isn’t relatable? Overenthusiastic parents and a sweet grandmother who nonetheless brooks no bullshit isn’t relatable? A bratty younger sister and a crazy-ass uncle isn’t relatable? Please…

Xolo Maridueña’s easygoing charm, earnestness, and ability to take a punch both metaphorically and literally that has served him so well on Cobra Kai, all make him a perfect Jaime. And there’s not a single wrong note in any of the casting of his family, as everyone just nails it. (I’m a little iffy about Nana’s alleged past as a revolutionary in Mexico, as she’d have to be about 125 years old for that to work, timeline-wise, but whatever.) Even George Lopez’s hey-look-at-me-I’m-funny OTT act works with Rudy—mainly because, as I said, lots of people have that one crazy-ass uncle… (I have two. They’re twins.)

The movie also wears its influences on its sleeve, from its use of the entire lengthy history of the Beetle in ninety years’ worth of comics to several of the weapons Jaime has the Beetle armor create coming straight out of pop culture (a sword from Final Fantasy, a ray gun from The Fifth Element). I also must confess to loving the fact that the entire plot is catalyzed by Milagro’s desire to take a shit in a nice bathroom.

Indeed, the poor treatment of Latin Americans in this country (and by this country, via Carapax’s backstory, which even includes recordings of President Ronald Reagan talking about the U.S.’s involvement in Guatemala) is never forgotten. Victoria’s utter disregard for the brown people in her employ is cartoonish in many ways, but it’s also depressingly familiar. (Unfortunately, the awful sexism that is the reason why Victoria is so bitter—the company was given to Ted by their father, not her, even though she was the one who built the place with her father—is never really examined in any depth.)

I’m really glad that James Gunn is on the record as saying that this character will survive the transition from the DCEU to Gunn and Peter Safran’s DCU, because we really need more of him.

 

That concludes the latest iteration of the Great Superhero Movie Rewatch. We’ll be back probably in the summer, where we’ll look at the late 2023 releases of The Marvels and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, as well as whatever films are released in early 2024.

Keith R.A. DeCandido has been writing about popular culture for this site since 2011, primarily but not exclusively writing about Star Trek and screen adaptations of superhero comics. He is also the author of more than 60 novels, more than 100 short stories, and around 50 comic books, both in a variety of licensed universes from Alien to Zorro, as well as in worlds of his own creation. Read his blog, follow him on Facebook, The Site Formerly Known As Twitter, Instagram, Threads, and Blue Sky, and follow him on YouTube and Patreon.

About the Author

Keith R.A. DeCandido

Author

Keith R.A. DeCandido has been writing about popular culture for this site since 2011, primarily but not exclusively writing about Star Trek and screen adaptations of superhero comics. He is also the author of more than 60 novels, more than 100 short stories, and around 50 comic books, both in a variety of licensed universes from Alien to Zorro, as well as in worlds of his own creation. Read his blog, follow him on Facebook, The Site Formerly Known As Twitter, Instagram, Threads, and Blue Sky, and follow him on YouTube and Patreon.
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