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REVIEW: ‘Blue Beetle’ scratches the itch for a new, reluctant, working-class superhero

By Jerald Uy Published Aug 17, 2023 9:32 am

Save for a McFarlane Toys figure displayed on a comic book store, the mall I frequent is devoid of merch related to Blue Beetle, a superhero movie that the new top guns at DC Studios are retaining under its rebooted film continuity. Last I checked, James Gunn has neither changed his mind nor contradicted someone who claims otherwise.  

Salesladies at the department store were also at a loss who Blue Beetle is, at the same spot where tees of the relatively obscure Black Adam were displayed a few months back. A contact in the licensing industry tells me it is seen as a minor movie, probably due to the absence of DC’s “big three”—Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. 

But ask a comic book aficionado and he’d tell you that Blue Beetle has been there since 1939, starting at a different company, Fox Comics, with a police officer named Dan Garet, taking “Vitamin 2X” to fight crime. In the 50s, Charlton Comics then acquired the intellectual property, added two R’s and T’s to his name, and made him an archaeologist who gets his powers from a mystical Egyptian scarab—not too far from the current iteration. 

In the 60s, Charlton Comics reinvented the character again by killing off the original. His successor, inventor Ted Kord never used his mentor’s scarab but relied on gadgets to be a superhero. Kord’s early stories were plotted and drawn by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko.

Two decades after, DC Comics purchased the Charlton characters which became the basis for Alan Moore’s Watchmen.  

In the crossover event Infinite Crisis in 2006, a fight between Shazam and the Spectre causes the scarab to land on Earth, eventually found by teenager Jaime Reyes on the way home. This binds with him at night, turning him into an AI-powered armored hero, the third Blue Beetle.

After having a critically acclaimed arc in the animated series Young Justice and endearing campy appearances in Batman: The Brave and The Bold, Reyes finally gets his long-awaited cinematic debut in Blue Beetle. 

Xolo Maridueña as DC's newest superhero

Much of the character’s legacy is honored in the film helmed by Puerto Rican director Ángel Manuel Soto. The story written by Mexican writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer focuses on the idea of finding individual purposes and stepping back from the shadows of predecessors, which could include our parents.

Xolo Maridueña of Cobra Kai fame is perfect for the role of Jaime and captures the spirit of the reluctant hero. The changes in his age—turning him into a 22-year-old pre-law graduate from a teenager—set him apart from the competition’s broke, down-on-his-luck Peter Parker.

It is safe to say that Blue Beetle is DC Studios’ answer to Spider-Man, a relatable, everyman hero with real-life problems, but instead of a doting aunt, he is supported by his extended Latino family. The parallels do not stop there—Jaime gets insightful conversations with his father Alberto (Damián Alcázar) and even a romantic interest that did not appear in the comics. The powers are also similar to the Venom symbiote storyline, represented by Khaji-Da, the entity that imbues and controls the scarab. Originality is not the strongest suit of the movie. 

In the Philippine release, voice artist Inka Magnaye dubs the lines of Khaji-Da and she nails the role. The familiarity of Magnaye’s voice from a carrier’s in-flight instructional safety announcement adds relatability to Khaji-Da. A naysayer might see it as a fan service to our misplaced Pinoy Pride but no one can deny it is a cool moment to hear a Filipino voice actress in a Hollywood movie during Buwan ng Wika.

Inka Magnaye voices the Scarab Khaji-Da in the Philippine release of Blue Beetle 

The movie charms us with an amusing cast, particularly members of the ever-noisy and chaotic Reyes family. Stand-up comic George Lopez, who plays his tech-savvy uncle Rudy, is a scene-stealer. However, the ridiculousness of the third act could be seen as too convenient to resolve the conflict. Still, the stunning fight choreography on an IMAX screen is a remarkable movie experience reminiscent of Blue Beetle’s combat sequences in the Injustice 2 video game.  

The movie pays tribute to all the hustling young breadwinners raised by loving working-class families. Filipinos could easily relate to Jaime Reyes, whose Mexican culture is closely aligned with our sensibilities, hopes, and dreams—not to mention, our households also tuned to beloved telenovelas Maria la del Barrio and Maria Mercedes. 

Xolo Maridueña as Jaime Reyes on Blue Beetle 

Blue Beetle has strengthened my admiration for the reluctant superhero I enjoyed watching in animation and reading in comics. Oh, by the time I went back to get the Blue Beetle action figure, someone already bought it. That is telling. Here’s to hoping we get more Jaime Reyes and  Khaji-Da on the racks.  

Blue Beetle opens in Philippine cinemas on Aug. 16. Stay for one mid-credits scene and one post-credits scene. Watch the trailer below.