One more superhero: Xolo Maridueña as the titular DC hero in ‘Blue Beetle’.
BLUE BEETLE **1/2 (128 minutes) M
While sitting through Blue Beetle, the latest so-so superhero soiree from the DC stable, you might detect a persistent background sound. Imperceptible at first, it grows ever louder until it becomes a major component of the film.
You don’t need to be a genius to quickly figure out what it is – it’s the unmistakable sound of a studio scratching the bottom of the barrel for another comic book character to franchise (or sub-franchise, as all these fantasy-adventure films from DC and Marvel are meant to link up and form a super-narrative for fanboys to pore over.)
The issue for Blue Beetle is not so much whether the little-known character can survive to have its own series, but whether it can make it to the end of the film without delivering yet another super- expensive bland out.
Alas, the film serves up exactly what we now wearily expect, an over-egged slice of super-powered mulch with all the standard ingredients – blurs of action; overlong fight sequences; incoherent storytelling; and, of course, plenty of blue energy bolts.
The story template is all-too-familiar: poor Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) gets a super-secret alien gizmo called a “scarab” attached to his spine, imbuing him with a host of off-the-shelf powers such as the ability to fly, create weapons with thought and grow large cool-looking blue talons out of his back. (The film suggests these automatically appear whenever he is sexually aroused.)
He’s fighting evil corporate girlboss Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon, looking great at 76) who wants to use the technology to set up a Robocop-type army of super soldiers. Standing in her way is her neice Jenny (Bruna Marquezine) who Jaime teams up with.
Plenty of the usual battles ensue, with the mandatory fast cutting and swish panning making the film look pretty much like all the other superhero movies we’ve been hammered with since 2008, the year Iron Man came out and ignited the superhero movie wave.
If director Angel Manuel Soto and writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer intended to give Blue Beetle any signature style or sense of self, they’ve tanked miserably, sorry to say.
To be fair Blue Beetle is an OK sit-through as far as multiplex fodder goes, and the presence of comedian George Lopez adds some comic spice to the shenanigans.
As for the storytelling, Blue Beetle is another marker of just how blasé filmmakers have become about the post-content cinema they churn out.
Example: a central storyline of the film is supposed to be how Jaime, despite his powers, refuses to kill anyone. It’s meant to be a big deal, yet Jaime doesn’t bother telling the rest of his clan who merrily dispatch anonymous goons en mass without a moment’s hesitation.
This renders whatever humanitarian messaging the film intended utterly meaningless. It’s the latest in a long list of big movies that rely on the audience having virutally nil attention span.
The film is also intended to herald the first Mexican superhero, and is peppered with associated cultural references, from cuisine to Cheech & Chong bobble heads to the binding power of family values.
While noble, this “family is all” theme has recently become something of a cliché in big films, perhaps due to its prominence in the latter-day Fast and Furious movies.
And it’s getting a bit tiring, especially given how anyone with any life experience knows that the positive values of family often come with a dark and damaging underside.
As for the film representing some triumph for diversity against the mythical homogeneity of Hollywood, efforts to read too deeply into this are largely wasted, given how ethnicity plays virtually no role in the plot.
This stands in contrast to Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, which did a much better job rendering the same idea without blaring about it.
Besides, it’s a moot point – an arguably a little insulting – given how entwined Mexican talent is in the American filmmaking firmament, as the success of The Shape of Water, Roma and Gravity attest.
Experiencing Blue Beetle in a D-Box theatre had its challenges. The film was full of shakes and rumbles as the seat vibrated to everything from explosions to gunfire to footsteps to somebody walking through a damned door. You pay a premium to see a film in this format and it obviously cost a dollar to fit out an entire cinema for it.
Still, the process is rather annoying, especially if you’re trying to take a sip from a drink, and you can spend much of the film fiddling around with the controls, learning how to adjust the level of vibration and – thankfully – how to turn the effect off.
Footnote: As luck would have it, there was a security incident during the Friday afternoon screening at Hoyts Highpoint when five guys tried sneaking into the cinema. They were quickly flushed out with torches by the manager and a security person, who had the louts escorted off the premises.
A quick chat to Tegan, manager of the facility for seven years, established how the gang first tried getting in by saying they wanted to use the toilets. They didn’t have tickets and were told to use a nearby public facility.
They refused to move on, loitered in the bar for a short while, then barged in, only to be rounded up and ejected.
Well done to the Hoyts team for dealing with the incident so promptly. Tegan said such incidents happen from time to time, especially during holidays.
No images of the offenders were taken, so a suggestion: when episodes like this occur, how about taking photos and video of the idiots. These can be shared with other staffers and head office in case they return, and can also be posted across social media.
After all, if said morons are so desperate for attention, why not give it to them?
LAST FILM SHOW **1/2 (112 minutes; subtitled) M
Here’s another loving, heartfelt ode to the magic of cinema in the spirit, though not the league, of such films as Cinema Paradiso.
In a remote, impoverished Indian village, energetic nine year-old Samay (Bhavin Rabari) dreams of escaping to the wider world and finds succour in the offerings at the nearest cinema, a ramshackle establishment a train ride away.
Under the nose of his disapproving father (Dipen Rava), Samay befriends the projectionist Fazal (Bhavesh Shrimali), who lets him see movies for free from the decrepit projection booth in exchange for lunches made by his mum (Richa Meena).
With his friends, Samay tries to recreate the enchantment of the projected image using everyday items. These scenes are quite lovely and well-conceived by prolific writer/director Pan Nalin (Samsara), who has spent his career making films outside the Bollywood song-and-dance model.
Though the leisurely paced film does meander a tad, Nalin builds to a memorable sequence where digital technology replaces the need for analog equipment and film, which are promptly broken down and repurposed.
Lovers of those giant old-school film projectors might find some scenes in the film hard to take.
A HAUNTING IN VENICE ** (103 minutes) M
As enjoyable and luminously attractive as Death on the Nile was, Kenneth Branagh’s latest murder-mystery as Agatha Christie’s Belgian super-detective Hercule Poirot turns out to be a bit of a snoozer.
Confined mainly to a gloomy former orphanage during a nocturnal storm, Poirot and his moustache must figure out who killed a young woman a year earlier.
With neither the star wattage nor scenic locations of Nile (2022) or Murder on the Orient Express (2017; Branagh’s first foray as Poirot), it’s a plodding, muddily plotted affair that looks suspiciously like it was designed for small-screen streaming.
Tina Fey co-stars as a murder-mystery writer searching for inspiration, Michelle Yeoh pops in also as a psychic medium. A pretty drab whodunnit, unfortunately.