Producers: John Rickard and Zev Foreman   Director: Ángel Manuel Soto   Screenplay: Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer   Cast: Xolo Maridueña, Adriana Barraza, Damían Alcázar, Raoul Max Trujillo, Susan Sarandon, George Lopez, Elpidia Carrillo, Bruna Marquezine, Belissa Escobedo, Harvey Guillén and Becky G    Distributor: Warner Bros.

Grade: C+

There’s a measure of charm, some goofy and some sentimental, infusing the domestic dynamic in this latest addition to the DC Comics film franchise, a superhero movie that’s truly a family affair (in the biological sense, not the comrade-style one of the Avengers or Justice League).  And the fact that the family is Latino earns it points in the diversity department.

But despite those elements in its favor, “Blue Beetle” emerges as a rather undistinguished example of the genre, marred by a rote origins plotline, a boring villain (played by the starriest member of the cast, no less) and mediocre CGI.

Blue Beetle has been around since the late thirties (though never reaching the top tier of DC heroes, and barely the second), but though the script by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer has allusions to the two earlier versions of he character (Dan Garrett in the earliest incarnation and especially Ted Kord in the reboot of the 1960s and beyond), it’s essentially based on the 2006 revival in the person of Jaime Reyes.  He’s a youngster chosen by the Scarab, a glistening blue MacGuffin of unspecified origin, to meld with it and thereby acquire super powers—enhanced strength, power of flight—when wearing the armored exoskeleton the Scarab encases him in.

In this telling, Jaime (engagingly genial Xolo Maridueña) is returning to his hometown of Palmera City, having recently graduated from college in pre-law.  He finds his loving family in trouble.  His father Alberto (Damián Alcázar) is not only recovering from a heart attack, but has lost his auto repair shop.  Jaime and his younger sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) get menial jobs at the mansion of weapons-manufacturing Kord Industries hard-driving COO Victoria (Susan Sarandon), but are fired by their imperious boss as a response to Milagro’s insubordination and Jaime’s impetuous intervention when Victoria’s thuggish aide Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo) threatens her niece Jenny (Bruna Marquezine), who objects to the company’s priorities.

Jenny invites Jaime to come to the company headquarters the next day in hopes of another job, but instead she accidentally involves him in the theft of the Scarab from the lab presided over by Dr. Sanchez (Harvey Guillén); Victoria had long been searching for the artifact for years in hopes of using its power to complete her project to create a super-soldier (OMAC for short) using Carapax as host.  Despite Jenny’s warnings, Jaime connects with the Scarab and becomes Blue Beetle.

That quickly leads Victoria to take aim not only at him, but his entire gregarious family—his father and sister, as well as his mother Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo), his grandmother (Adriana Barraza) and hi voluble, conspiracy-theorist uncle Rudy (George Lopez).  In the ensuing melee she captures Jaime, intending to drain the Scarab’s power from him and insert it into Carapax.  His family, despite grieving the loss of Alberto in the battle, determines to rescue him, and Jenny joins in the effort, enlisting equipment left behind by her father Ted, who disappeared years ago when he was fighting crime as the earlier, non-super Blue Beetle.  Eventually with the help of his family Jaime escapes Victoria and connects with the Scarab’s essence Khaji-Da (voiced by Becky G) to access its full power, but even then his battle with Carapax, now OMAC, is a close thing that is going badly until the super soldier recalls his own childhood as a victim of Victoria Kord’s private army.

Perhaps befitting its less-than-stellar comic-book roots, “Blue Beetle” was originally intended for the streaming service HBO MAX, and its generally cheesy visuals probably reflect the original small-screen mentality, and look pretty terrible when projected onto the screen of a big auditorium.  Jon Billington’s production design is comparatively chintzy (Ted Kord’s old secret lair is no Batcave, and the literally buggy airship from his storehouse is—one hopes intentionally—comically absurd), and the visual effects supervised by Kelvin McIlwain have a sloppy quality that editor Craig Alpert tries futilely to camouflage with quick, mushy cuts, while Bobby Krlic’s score churns away beneath them.  On might add that the Blue Beetle suit, presumably designed by costumer Mayes C. Rubeo, complete with the familiar pincers protruding from the back, is surely the most ungainly such outfit since Iron Man’s, though the OMAC getup is even uglier, resembling a lumbering Transformer with porcupine spines emerging from its sides.  Under the circumstances comparisons people will try to draw to today’s big-budget superhero extravaganzas don’t seem apt; in terms of its genre portions, the movie is actually more reminiscent, in plot and execution, of a piece of schlock like 1991’s little-seen, justly-forgotten “Guyver.”

That’s exacerbated by Sarandon’s shrill, one-note turn as the ruthless, weapons-obsessed Victoria Kord, the most tiresome aspect of the picture.  Trujillo would be equally dull as her technologically-enhanced super-bodyguard were it not for a turn his character takes toward the close.  On the other hand, once freed of the shackles of the superhero portion of the plot, director Ángel Manuel Soto gives the material some of the giddy air of a Latino sitcom.  That can go overboard: Lopez is so broad that he threatens to turn things into complete farce, while the transformation of Barraza’s Nana into a ferociously grinning revolutionary as adept with a huge laser-firing automatic rifle as with her knitting needles is traded on rather too much.  And while Escobedo’s younger sister is meant to be lovably sharp-tongued, she comes across too often as simply obnoxious.  As Jaime’s mom Carrillo is pretty much wasted (as is Marquezine as his prospective love interest), but Alcázar brings a low-keyed dignity to Alberto, even if the dream sequence in which Jaime, at the point of death, visits him in the afterlife, only to be told that it’s not yet his time, is a bit of maudlin cliché that goes too far.  One can argue that here’s undeniably some stereotyping going on in the depiction of Reyes family, but the affection of the treatment compensates.

There are a couple of stingers in the closing credits.  The first suggests the direction a sequel might take in introducing an additional character, while the second seems to have little purpose but fun.  Stay for them if you like, but if so, you won’t avoid the rush to the parking lot.