“Blue Beetle” debuted in mid-August to a $26 million opening weekend, dethroning “Barbie”’s No. 1 spot and sparking a round of critics asking if the little-known DC hero had broken the oft-cited “superhero fatigue.”
The answer, naturally, is not a straightforward “yes” or “no.”
In terms of box office success, it’s likely that superhero movies – like the comics that inspired them – experienced their golden age, which occupied virtually the entirety of the 2010s plus a couple years before and after, peaking when “Avengers: Endgame” became the second highest-grossing film of all time.
Since then, there’s been more superhero media in the form of streaming series and movies than ever – but aside from 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” none have come close to the success of “Endgame.” None released since 2020 (again, besides “No Way Home”) have cleared a billion dollars worldwide.
And the argument that big expanded-universe films which need multiple other movies and a streaming series to adequately contextualize the story has been done to death.
So maybe beating superhero fatigue is the wrong lens to look through. Rather, what “Blue Beetle” does is offer a model of a superhero film that can still be critically good and commercially successful, even though the heyday of the genre is over.
Part of what makes the film as strong as it is is that it’s not just a superhero story – like other good superhero movies, it uses the genre as a pretext to explore a very focused theme or idea in a particular way. “Blue Beetle” isn’t just a story about great power and great responsibility (as much as you can do with that). It’s a story about community power – in the form of a Latino family living in urban America – taking down an exploitative corporation, and grappling with themes of belonging and cultural assimilation. As NPR’s Glen Weldon put it, they’re not just the hero’s sidekicks – they’re a whole team. It’s also the first of the genre to star a Latino superhero – a breath of fresh air in an industry where Latino stories are shockingly underrepresented.
The overall point: it’s a different and novel way to tell this story, and if it wasn’t self-evident from the trailers, word-of-mouth traction and positive press is doing the work to make it known.