Thursday, August 31, 2023

DC Plays to its Strengths in Blue Beetle

DC films have been all over the place. They've screwed up a considerable number of them, and even the ones they've done well have their own errors, used characters that let them dip partially into where DC shines without full embracing it, or have leaned on the ones they've screwed up to continue trends.

Until Now!

Anabelle's been a fan of Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle from his appearances in comics and the excellent adaptation (like most of them) in Batman Brave and Bold. This led to the finagling required for a family trip to the movies the weekend she went back to college. Bonus points for the early morning show having on screen subtitles!

This film one hundred percent felt like it existed in the Comic Book DC Universe.
Not a slice of it, 
Not a tribute to it,
Not a parody of it,
And not an incorrect interpretation of it.

It did this by hitting key elements that the DC comic book universe does best.

In their correct interpretation, the lead super heroes of DC comics do not kill people.
I'm not writing another dissertation on this, there have been enough in the past.
I know what I'm talking about.
The movies either have gotten this wrong (particularly with Batman and Superman), have focused on anti-heroes who never follow this code (Suicide Squad, Black Adam) or ones that have had so many different personalities over the years that it was open for interpretation (Wonder Woman, Aquaman). However, in general, not killing people is a big part of what makes many main DC heroes and their associates who they are. It is an intrinsic belief, not something they learn through trial and error in their heroing days. This way, if something happens later to make them briefly doubt their stance momentarily, it is a challenge to their core belief, setting up a powerful character moment.

Jaime comes into his powers with this morality, and sticks to it when advised otherwise. Because of that, when he is later pushed to a point that he doubts this mindset, the fact that the belief was part of his core has inspired others who talk him down, and remind him of it before he goes over the edge. This doesn't (and shouldn't) happen frequently, but both Batman and Superman have reached this point in their long comic careers, and it shows how their iconic status inspiring others comes back to build their own character and illustrate that their way of doing things is correct. 

Note, this is what separates "Super Heroes" from standard heroic individuals, or even family members of those Super Heroes.
Don't mess with Nana.

I'll say this again, for those who've missed the insane amounts of other times. 
In general... 
Marvel comics has "Characters." 
They are relatable because they have multiple human problems and weaknesses. 
DC comics has "Icons." 
They serve as inspirations and ideals.

DC, however, spends a great deal of energy showing the heroism of normal people, especially when placed in extraordinary circumstances, and often inspired by those icons. Supervillains, alien invasions and other comic book happenings are the metaphors for the real world crises real world people have to face. Batman gets inspiration from Gordon and Alfred that validates his approach. It's not Superman's powers that make him a hero, it's his unerringly choosing to do what is right instead of what is easy which came from his humanity, as demonstrated through his bonds with Lois, Jimmy, Perry, his parents and others.

Jaime is the super hero, but his family are also moral, heroic and inspirational. What he learned from them leads him to becoming a Super Hero in the classic DC mold and working his way to iconic status.

While Jaime's family is Mexican, and many of their experiences and elements of world view are based on that, it does not prevent them from being relatable to wider groups. There are a boatload of moments and reactions of the Reyes clan that have real resonance for Peruvian families, Italian families, or just about any other ethnicity. 
(Maybe not those real "WASPy" folks, but we've all tried to introduce them to:
closer yet welcoming families, 
open and honest expressions of emotion, 
more strongly flavored food 
and better music, 
for a long while now. 
Maybe its time we gave up and moved on.) 

Yes there have been a giant pile of origin stories, but they are still great grabbers. The origin of a new character also allows the wonder of discovering super powers different from what have been highlighted before to be experienced by the audience. However, one of DCs strong points since the Silver Age has been their legacies. The JSA, JLA, Titans, Young Justice tier system from the late Nineties still exists in some form. 

Aside- Character timing and behavior makes an excellent map to these generations in my head:
JSA (Ted, Alan, Jay, Carter, the old guard)- "The Greatest Generation" - tied to World War II
JLA (Bruce, Clark, Diana, Arthur, the ones everyone knows)- "Boomers" - The group in power, set up the current system
Titans (Dick, Wally, Donna, Roy, the first sidekicks grown up)- "Generation X" - The "lost" middle group between technologies and ideals, strong "found family" bonds, equal parts students and mentors
Young Justice (Tim, Bart, Conner, Cassie, Steph, the post crisis kids)- "Millennials" - Were "the youngest" but have been around long enough to be established and are making their own paths.
"Teen" Titans (Damian, Jon (till he aged up) Wallace, Crush, and versions of Jaime, the current kids, I don't think they've ever all been a formal team) - "Generation Z" The youngest group now coming into the picture finding their way.
Yes, this may have been a pointless diversion here, but if I try to make this it's own write up, I will get obsessed and it will grow to hundreds of pages as I explain my internal logic. No one has the time for that. 

In this film, we got to meet the new Blue Beetle and his supporting cast, but it also took the time to recognize his predecessors, the Golden and Silver Age Blue Beetles, as well as demonstrating what made them unique, and (dare I say it again) iconic. Ted Kord's daughter, while she doesn't exist in the comics, was a good fit and added directly to the legacy idea, providing a reason to showcase Ted's brilliant but goofy approach to super heroics.

Jaime was a lot like Kyle Rayner was in the comics. He's a gateway new character, who doesn't know the Legacy he's inherited at first, but through his discoveries the audience learns about the past as well.

DC has an amazing assortment of rogues to challenge it's protagonists. Many  of them are identifiable as real world evil, with boosts to handle super heroes. Ra's Al Ghul is a leader of a terrorist organization, who is also functionally immortal. Lex Luthor is a corrupt corporate executive that's also a scientific genius. 

The main physical villain of this film is a dark reflection of Blue Beetle himself. However, the big bad follows the Lex Luthor corrupt business model, with a privately funded consciousless  army at her beck and call. It's cool that they balanced the villains with one in that role due to circumstance, and one as irredeemably evil. It's a nice illustration that while everyone has a story you don't know, some people just suck.

Gotham, Metropolis, Fawcett City, Keystone, Blue Valley and others are important to DC stories. It's part of the iconic feel that the locations are not quite real world but are tailored to the characters and have specific personalities in their own right. Palmera City is like multiple Florida locations, but is very specifically tooled for Blue Beetle and his role in it.

The story was fun, with the required bit of origin inspirational tragedy. The actors did an awesome job as the characters, who were all interesting and entertaining. The bad guys were "boo" worthy, the good guys were inspirational, and the hero had a visually exciting power set that acted like a mix of Green Lantern, Iron Man and  Venom.

All in all a great trip into a correct vision of the DC universe.

And because of past box office failures, rebooting the universe again, and highlighting a lesser known character, its underperforming.

Hopefully the notion that James Gunn knows what he's doing is true, and we won't lose this part of the DCU as he continues to build the rest of it. Also hopefully it will get the respect and love it deserves through word of mouth, or more likely, on home releases.


longbow said...

I've only seen the trailer. I was hoping you'd react to George Lopez's line" Batman is a fascist"

Jeff McGinley said...

It fit with his Lopez's character.
And its part of giving Ted Kord (Silver Age Blue Beetle) his due, which he deserves.
thanx for reading.