DC has often felt the pressure of its overachieving step-sibling, Marvel, but the new release, Blue Beetle, has had more attention than most. In light of the recent failures of Black Adam, The Flash, and Shazam 2, the brand needed an unequivocal win. As a surprise to most, reactions to the superpowered college grad far outreached expectations.
Variety announced that the superhero film made $10 million on opening day, which kicked a certain fan-favorite film about a classic Matel toy out of the top spot. Greta Gerwig’s Barbie drew audiences like moths to a flame for a collection of reasons. Not just a film about the plastic doll that challenged women’s self-worth for decades, Barbie actually has something to say. It confronts the notion of the patriarchy head-on and makes no apologies for it. Barbie (Margot Robbie) enters The Real World to find that feminism hasn’t spread like Barbieland thought it would. Proving that audiences are thirsting for topical conflict and nuanced character performances, Blue Beetle is an interesting spiritual successor.
Though the film does fall into the often-trodden territory of special effects and larger-than-life set pieces, Blue Beetle also delivers a missive of cultural critique. After young Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) discovers an alien scarab that gives him superpowers, he faces off with a corporation that wants to lay claim to the technology. However, that isn’t the heart of the film. Critics are commending Blue Beetle for the emotional representation of a Mexican-American family. The film is an admirable addition to the DC universe, which has struggled in recent years to find its voice.
Despite Blue Beetle outreaching critical expectations, the DC film failed to live up to the box office aspirations its studio would have liked. Superhero films have become a hot commodity for theaters that struggle to get audiences into seats. These films are typically part of a genre guaranteed to attract viewers in person. Even ultimate critical failures like Shazam 2 had a decent cinema showing. The Zachary Levi-fronted superhero movie debuted at around $30 million, even though the quality was a steep drop from the first film.
Comic book franchises—and movies in general—are ultimately a business, but that shouldn’t discourage studios from making character-central stories. Blue Beetle is Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes which could be a precursor for what is to come with DC. James Gunn, who has recently taken over the brand, is quite vocal about his insistence on writing compelling stories, not propping up IPs. If Blue Beetle and Shazam are proof of anything, it’s that big numbers don’t always indicate it’s a good story. This could be a new chapter for a DC Studios that may finally have a unified vision.