‘Blue Beetle’ skitters from sweet family moments to tedious superhero battles

While it’s great to see a Latino get center stage, this is a mostly by-the-numbers origin story with underwhelming VFX and a disappointingly cartoonish villain.

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El héroe de “Blue Beetle” porta un traje mágico, similar al de Iron Man, que está adherido permanentemente.

The hero of “Blue Beetle” is encased in a magic, Iron Man-like suit that’s permanently attached.

Warner Bros.

Bug-themed characters abound in the world of comic books. We all know about Spider-Man and Black Widow, Ant-Man and the Wasp and Green Hornet, but you’ve also got Tick and the Fly and Butterfly and Firefly and the Moth and Yellowjacket, not to mention Mantis and how about the Canterbury Cricket! There’s also Bumblebee and Black Tarantula, Killer Moth and Red Bee, Ladybug, Ambush Bug …

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Somewhere on the Recognition Chart between Spider-Man and the Canterbury Cricket we have Blue Beetle, who debuted in a 1939 comic book and has been in the DC Comics stable since the early 1980s and is now getting the feature film treatment in an intermittently entertaining, warm-hearted and occasionally funny but ultimately formulaic, middling superhero adventure.

While it’s great to see a Latino hero from the DC Universe get center stage in the form of Jaime Reyes/Blue Beetle, and the dynamic among the loving and fiercely protective extended Reyes family is the highlight of the film, this is a mostly by-the-numbers origin story with underwhelming VFX, a disappointingly cartoonish villain and a final battle sequence and epilogue that follow the pattern of a dozen or more previous superhero origin stories.

‘Blue Beetle’

Untitled

Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Ángel Manuel Soto and written by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer. Running time: 127 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence, language, and some suggestive references). Opens Thursday in local theaters.

Whereas Blue Beetle has been based in El Paso, Texas, in the comics, Jaime Reyes’ hometown in the movie is the fictional Palmera City, a bustling and sprawling American metropolis with a Miami/Los Angeles vibe and a sizable immigrant population. Our story picks up with Jaime (Xolo Maridueña from “Cobra Kai”) returning home after completing his pre-law studies in college and feeling like he’s ready to take on the world — only to learn the Reyes family has fallen on hard times. Jaime’s father Alberto (Damián Alcázar) has suffered a heart attack, the family business has gone under, and the landlord has tripled the rent on their home, meaning they’ll have to move out soon. Forget about law school, Jaime needs a job, and after a meet-cute with one Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), the niece of the powerful industrialist Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), Jenny tells Jaime to stop by Kord Industries and she’ll see about finding him a job.

Talk about timing: Jaime arrives at Kord Industries just as Jenny is attempting to flee the premises with a shiny blue scarab, a relic of alien biotechnology, with magical powers that she has just purloined from a very poorly guarded lab. You see, whereas Victoria is a hiss-worthy villain who wants to use the scarab to create an army of indestructible, Robocop-looking warriors, the kind and caring Jenny is all about doing the right thing, even if it means risking her life — and now Jaime’s life, as she hands a fast-food box containing the scarab to Jaime and tells him that no matter what, don’t open the box, don’t touch what’s inside, just hold tight until they can rendezvous later, now get out of there, Jaime!

Xolo Maridueña interpreta a Jaime, el graduado universitario que adquiere superpoderes de un escarabajo azul brillante. | Fotos AP

Xolo Maridueña plays Jaime, the college grad who acquires superpowers from a shiny blue scarab.

AP Photos

Cut to the Reyes home, with Jaime surrounded by his family, including his father, his mother (Elpidia Carillo), his Nana (Adriana Barraza), his plucky sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) and his conspiracy theorist/tech genius/wacky Uncle Rudy (George Lopez). Despite Jenny’s warnings, Jaime opens the container, picks up the scarab — and the thing attaches itself to Jaime in slapstick comedic fashion, instantly and permanently becoming a part of Jaime and giving him a magic, Iron Man-like suit and some pretty impressive superpowers that Jaime will have to learn to harness. Because that’s what happens in these origin movies, right?

“Blue Beetle” contains a number of not-so-subtle commentaries on the treatment of immigrants, from the casual racism of a receptionist at Kord Industries to Victoria not bothering to learn the name of a Latino scientist who works for her. A scene in which Victoria’s henchmen swoop down on the Reyes household is filmed in a manner that reminds one of the INS raid on the Miami home of 6-year-old Elián González in 2000.

We also learn Jenny’s father was a kind of low-budget Batman who designed a makeshift Blue Beetle costume and invented a number of cool gadgets, some of which actually worked, some of the time. Meanwhile, Susan Sarandon stomps about unconvincingly as the evil Victoria Kord, who excuses her heinous actions by saying they’re “for the greater good,” while Raul Max Trujillo does fine work as Conrad Carapax/Indestructible Man, who is part human, part killing machine, and has his own layered back story.

All well and fine. We enjoy spending time with the Reyes family, and there’s a lovely relationship budding between Jaime and Jenny. Alas, the final act is a reminder that the gimmick of blasting a heavy metal rock tune or a hip-hop number to accompany a special effects-laden Extended Climactic Battle Sequence has been done, and done again, and done to death. Two late attempts at sentimentality in the form of fantasy and/or flashback sequences are mildly effective, though overly manipulative. Blue Beetle might yet find a place in the superhero major leagues, but he’ll have to step up his game if he wants to play with the Big Bugs.

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