image credit: Warner Bros Pictures

Review: Blue Beetle (2023) *****

I could have given the exact same one-sentence review to this that I did to Elemental. “It feels like a really beautiful heartfelt iteration of a movie I have seen a whole lot.”

In both cases, this is not a complaint or criticism, but the most honest way I can express the approach to the tropes of their format.

Blue Beetle feels extremely familiar the way the worn carpet in your mom’s bedroom feels familiar, or the way it’s familiar to snuggle against her chest for a hug, even though you’re now six feet tall and must bend down halfway to reach her.

This is the feeling of home: a comforting place where you have been since childhood.

This is comic books.

The way that Western comic books visit and revisit the same characters, superhero identities, and plot arcs repeatedly is akin to myth. We have made mythic stories out of their journeys that transcend the individual parts of media and invite everyone to reinterpret these myths in their own ways.

What seems to differentiate Blue Beetle from comparables, like all the Spider-Man origin movies, is the fact that we’ve put a Latino family in the center of it. Blue Beetle is a family story; Jaime might be the recipient of this alien tech making him a superhero, but his entire family supports him on this adventure.

The family felt familiar, too. If I had sat down with my husband (not Latino, but from a sprawling Italian American family) to riff on how they might react to seeing him overtaken by some insectlike superhero powers, I would have come up with some of the jokes in this movie. I couldn’t have come up with all of them because I’m not that funny. I love the physical comedy!

It’s as though someone took a big ol’ paint-by-numbers kit for Superhero Origin Stories, then threw out whatever paint came with it, and made it into a gorgeous collage of Jaime Reyes’s family history in the style of your family, my neighbor’s family, the families in my neighborhood growing up.

Though a lot of Blue Beetle is giddyingly, childishly funny, the heightened comic book emotions also cover grief (it’s a hero cycle, after all) and action, spending amounts of time in each emotion that feel wholly unnecessary to me, but are wholly appropriate for the format. Again: This *is* indeed the comic books of your childhood, with lots of peril, action, and drama.

It’s fun to see such a sterling example of It’s Not Concept but Execution, which I think all the actors understood. They put their whole guts into their performances. Even Susan Sarandon knows she’s just here to play an evil Karen comic book villain, and she goes whole-hog on the cackling one-dimensional cruelty, which is perfect.

You probably know if you enjoy this level of stylization; I’d say this movie has most value if you’ve got kids the right age to watch along with them

It’s a shame that DCU’s choices means that we can’t get more beautiful pieces of cinema that *loves* their characters as deeply as Blue Beetle loves its central family. I’d be delighted to have a whole movie about Nana gunning down imperials. If Alfred can get a show, why not Nana?

(Banner image credit: Warner Bros Pictures)

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