Blue Beetle was a highlight of Warner Bros.’ recent output of DC Comics films, showcasing the first Latino superhero with his own feature film. A fun mix of Iron Man, Spider-Man, with a dash of Venom, both critics and fans enjoyed the film. We recently got the chance to chat with Blue Beetle’s director, the Puerto Rican-born Ángel Manuel Soto. He talked to us about bringing the fan-favorite character to life ahead of Blue Beetle‘s Blu-ray debut.
Nerdist: The Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle, compared to other DC heroes at least, hasn’t been around that long. Only since 2006. When it came to crafting the movie, was that more of a blessing or an obstacle, to not have as many years to draw from story-wise?
Ángel Manuel Soto. No, it was a benefit to some extent. Especially the writer [Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer], I have to give him credit for, one, being a diehard fan of Blue Beetle, and two, being open to having fun and picking the “greatest hits” of the things that we like so that we could form a story that is also based on our collective experience as much as we can. We have the opportunity to finally show the story of a Latino hero from the ground up. Often, our stories are told from the middle of the sentence or the middle of the paragraph. We never get the opportunity to show us come into anything. If it’s a villain, we never get a chance to ask “How did he become a villain?” There’s this whole mentality that you’re bad because you’re born bad, and you’re Latino, so Latinos are bad.
And the same thing that we did with Carapax and showing the history of violence that led him to be the villain that he is. We wanted our hero also to show that his heroism doesn’t come from his just getting powers. It comes from the whole history and legacy that his family comes with once they cross the border. So that part might not have been the biggest element of the comic, but we wanted to use that as our own starting point. Even the animated iterations.
The aspect of the Reyes family is so important to why this movie works as well as it does. They’re not even supporting cast, they’re fellow heroes in the end. What made you decide to include them all in the adventure in the way you did?
Soto: Well, right off the bat, one of the things the writer wanted to do is a throwback. The movie has this throwback energy to the origin stories of heroes that we love. But one of the tropes that is very common within superhero movies is that they keep their identity a secret from the people they love, and rightfully so. They’re trying to protect them. It does make total sense. But good luck trying to keep a secret from a Latina mom. So how can we take that reality and apply it to the superhero trope and how that ripples into the film?
So if we know that it’s not a secret, and our families always stick their noses in everything that we do, why not bring them into the adventure? Usually, they’re left in the back. They’re backdrop, they’re props, or they’re one dimensional. And they’re only there to kill one of them, or just to protect them. And for us, we said, “No, what if it’s the other way around?” Sure, exploring the lowest of lows is interesting. But what if instead of the villain using the family as bait, the villain captures our hero, and the family does the rescue mission? That is something new we haven’t seen before. And it’s through that community, family, the community, that extension that you call family, that makes you a superhero.
Xolo Maridueña really owns this role. It feels like it was made just for him. He manages to be funny and light, but really brings the drama in the heavy scenes. Was there a favorite scene you directed him in?
Soto: That’s all him. And that fierceness that he has, and then the transformation to vulnerability and empathy, it’s not easy. Those are big emotions, they have a big gap between them. And that’s where I saw this kid is the real deal. I was moved by that because I saw him go from Cobra Kai to this. Then seeing that manifest when we were shooting was like, “Oh my gosh, we made the right choice.”
I saw the film at an early screening, and you could tell who was Latino in the audience by the laughter erupting from just seeing the Vicks VapoRub. My friend who isn’t Latino has to ask me what was funny about that, but I’m Cuban-American so I totally got it. I know our grandmas use it as a cure-all for everything. Did you get any pushback about gags like that which would only land with the Latino audience?
Soto: Yeah, of course you get pushback, sadly. There is a legacy of fear of the unknown. And by conforming to the status quo, you lose authenticity. And then it’s just fake, it’s a cookie-cutter version of what the US expects a Latino should be. We had to fight a lot of those battles. And some didn’t make it. But the ones that stayed, they paid off. And the thing is, if you don’t know it, just ask. Ask and we’ll tell you. Or just open your minds to other cultures. The whole Vicks idea wasn’t in the script. It was because one of the actresses, Belissa Escobedo, was trying to find out what would wake him up. She said, “Well, my mom used to wake me up with Vicks.” And Nana had Vicks with her, so she brought it in and we just did it.
In the special features for the Blu-ray, the screenwriter talks about how you really drew from the previous versions of Blue Beetle, even if Dan Garrett and Ted Kord weren’t in the movie. Did you ever consider ignoring the legacy hero concept and streamlining it? Or was the legacy angle something you felt you had to do?
Soto: Yeah, we wanted to honor them. In the same spirit of the movie celebrating our family and our ancestors and those who came before us, we didn’t want to brush away the first two Blue Beetles. Although Dan Garrett might not have had a direct relationship with Jaime, he had one with Ted Kord. In the title sequence, we do the montage of the legacy of Blue Beetle. But also, we had his suit in the lair. Jaime does a nod to Dan Garrett when he summons Khaji Da. So we wanted to keep that legacy in it, but also open the doors towards the end so that if and when Ted Kord shows up, we can see what can happen with him.
Blue Beetle hits 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, standard Blu-ray, and DVD on October 31.