Blue Beetle, the latest installment in the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) creates a new iteration of a comic-book character, but with Latino flair and more love and family than is usually found in superhero tales.
The Absence of Superhero Families
Whether it's DC or Marvel (I'm way more of a Marvel fan), it's almost a given that a superhero becomes separated from his or her family, either by distance or death.
Superman is sent away from Krypton to foster parents on Earth; Spider-Man has his Aunt May but loses Uncle Ben; Batman is an orphan; Iron Man comes from a wealthy family, but none is alive when his story starts; Captain America is an orphan; Wonder Woman leaves her family behind and goes into exile to fight bad guys.
Not So in Blue Beetle
The overarching theme of Blue Beetle is family: family love, family unity, family loyalty.
In one of the DC Comics versions of the character, Blue Beetle is Mexican-American Jaime Reyes, and he's close to his parents and his sister, Milagro, in his hometown of El Paso, Texas.
Many DC superheroes live in fictional cities, like Gotham City, Metropolis, Center City, Smallville, Star City, etc., but this comic-book Blue Beetle was smack in a real place, a border town with a long history and an ongoing strong connection to neighboring Mexico.
And the new Blue Beetle movie -- written by Mexican-born Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, and directed by Puerto Rico native Angel Manuel Soto -- did premiere in El Paso on Aug. 15.
But in this version of the character's origin story, Jaime (Xolo Maridueña, Cobra Kai), parents Alberto and Rocio (Damián Alcázar, Elpidia Carrillo), sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo), grandmother Nana (Adriana Barraza), and amateur tech wizard/conspiracy theorist Uncle Rudy (George Lopez), live in Edge Keys.
It's a working-class suburb of the glittering, fictional coastal location of Palmera City, which could be in Puerto Rico or somewhere in Florida -- it's not specified.
What Happens in Blue Beetle?
Jaime is a recent college grad, who returns home to find that his family faces health and financial challenges and might soon be evicted.
Powerful Kord Industries -- led by ambitious Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), with the help of her cybernetic henchman, Conrad Carapax (Raoul Trujillo) -- dominates Palmera City.
It's busy developing weapons systems and expanding its influence -- and that includes a creeping gentrification that threatens Edge Keys.
But the Reyes family remains united in love, the Catholic faith (there's a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the house), and a strong belief in overcoming whatever obstacles may appear.
By chance, Jaime meets part-Brazilian Jennifer Kord (Bruna Marquezine), Victoria's niece, who wants to use her influence in the company to set it on a less militaristic path.
Through Jennifer, Jaime winds up in possession of Kord's most powerful weapon, a sentient alien scarab called Kahdi-Ja (voiced by Becky G).
She bonds with Jaime, turning him into the powerful Blue Beetle ... that is, as soon as he learns to drive his super-suit without destroying everything around him.
Having the Scarab puts Jaime, Jenny and, by extension, the whole Reyes family, on a collision course with Victoria Kord and her planned army of super-soldiers.
Same Old, Same Old Superhero, Right?
In many ways, Blue Beetle is a very conventional superhero/underdog tale. What sets it apart is the powerful connection and faith of the Reyes family.
They're not just victims or pawns in the struggle, either. They all prove up to the challenge of helping Jaime battle Kord (and that includes Nana, who's got some secrets of her own).
The film has all the expected action sequences, but it's also heartfelt and funny -- with most of the real laugh lines going to Uncle Rudy, who's no slouch himself in creating gadgets.
Can Blue Beetle Save the DCEU?
Unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which has only recently begin to stumble on the big screen, the DCEU has had trouble for a decade or more in reliably producing theatrical hits.
Actually, Blue Beetle was intended originally to go straight to streaming on Max. But, a rethinking of that sent it to theaters, and National Cinema Day on Aug. 27 -- and its $4 one-day ticket prices -- proved a boon to getting folks in theater seats.
After the utter faceplant of the DCEU's extremely expensive and much-hyped The Flash earlier this summer, Blue Beetle was a bit of an improvement.
But, while the film got generally good reviews and filled many theaters (albeit often through $4 tickets, which is when I went) in the U.S., it hasn't been a hit internationally.
It's scooped up a disappointing global total of $81M, less so far than its budget of $104M.
So, the answer to my question above likely is -- no, not by itself.
Should You See Blue Beetle?
It's currently in theaters, but I don't know for how long (but with the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes shutting down the future movie pipeline, some of this year's product might linger longer than normal).
It will surely wind up on Max, where The Flash already is.
The film offers a positive message on family and faith (with several profanities sprinkled in -- not including the F-word), and it's rated PG-13 (Sequences of Action|Language|Some Suggestive References|Violence).
There's no overt sexual content, and the violence is toned down a bit from many other superhero movies -- but not entirely.
Jaime tries not to be a killer, but he does cause mayhem on the streets -- with unspecified consequences for innocent bystanders -- and some Kord security guys bite the dust.
In general, while not totally fresh, Blue Beetle is fun and appealing, and probably fine for middle-schoolers and up (depending on your tolerance of salty language).
Image: Xolo Maridueña in 'Blue Beetle'/Warner Bros. Pictures
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Content Manager at Family Theater Productions.