[This story contains spoilers for Blue Beetle.]
Blue Beetle director Ángel Manuel Soto is hopeful about the future of his characters and storylines, and the mere presence of the film’s mid-credit scene is a big reason why.
DC Studios co-CEO James Gunn has already confirmed that Xolo Maridueña’s Jaime Reyes/Blue Beetle has a future in the new DCU, which officially kicks off with 2025’s Superman: Legacy. But Soto previously told THR that he expects Jaime to have company, including the extended Reyes family and Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine).
With the mid-credit scene revealing that Jenny’s father (and the second Blue Beetle) Ted Kord is still alive, Soto likes the odds of this thread continuing since Ted is also tied to Booster Gold, a character that has a Max series in development. And considering that Gunn and his co-DC boss Peter Safran have cut a number of scenes from the last remaining DCEU films in order to not get anyone’s hopes up for a future that doesn’t exist, the fact that Blue Beetle’s mid-credit tease remained is a reason for optimism.
“We really wanted to find a way to bring Ted Kord back. We’ve always liked that relationship between Jaime Reyes and Ted Kord, as a mentor, but also Booster Gold,” Soto tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So, when [DC Studios co-CEOs] James Gunn and Peter Safran came into power, they already promised the whole idea of exploring Booster Gold, and it helped us to keep the idea that Ted Kord is still alive. So, in my mind, if the movie can perform, there’s more adventures to come for Jaime Reyes, and Ted Kord is a part of that setup.”
Below, during a spoiler conversation with THR, Soto also discusses how additional photography resulted in his favorite aspect of the film: the antagonist’s (Raoul Max Trujillo’s Carapax) backstory.
I’ve always liked Raoul Max Trujillo, and Carapax represents a huge opportunity for him. Was the character’s School of the Americas backstory something you pulled from your Bane pitch?
Yeah, when we were building the character of Carapax as a Latino villain in the movie, I purposefully wanted him to have a reason why he’s a villain. Oftentimes, when Latinos are villains in movies, they never tell you why. They’re just bad people, and I think that stereotype has been very harmful to our community. There’s a lot of obscure history in Latin America that the history books don’t teach us, but all of Latin America knows it. A lot of the violence has been perpetrated in part by U.S. military interventionism, and one of the more obscure topics is the School of the Americas, which started the whole neoliberalism movement. Even before it was called the School of the Americas [in 1963], it was a more organized attempt from the CIA to inflict the same type of interventionism, only they were using locals to do it for them.
So this history has never been taught in schools, and we wanted to have our characters live in a world that is grounded in the realities that affect us. And when we were developing Raoul Max Trujillo’s character, we always had the idea that maybe Carapax and Bane came from the same experiments. Of course, the backstory of Bane is different. His whole journey is very different from Carapax, but the fact that they’re both victims of historical exploitation in our communities is something that I wanted to share. Maybe they brushed shoulders or maybe they never saw each other, but they’re both victims of a similar experimentation.
So, for most of the movie, Nana (Adriana Barraza) is this seemingly harmless grandmother who watches her stories and uses her sewing machine. But when her family is attacked, she springs into action and the former revolutionary in her reawakens. Has anyone pitched a prequel series yet?
Let’s do it! To tell her origins would be an amazing spinoff. It’s an untapped story about the woman responsible for the Zapatista movement and the revolution in Mexico. This story is also a celebration of our families and what makes us strong, and it would’ve been a disservice to not show that some of our families have gone through way more stuff than we could ever imagine. The sacrifices that our parents have made and everything they have done for us to have a better future is heroic. But with Nana, we wanted to give her the legacy of the Zapatista women that were also an integral part to the liberation movements of Mexico. We wanted to have her be that celebration of strong women and that matriarchal energy that we respect so much in Latin America. A lot of other cultures can also feel represented, especially with Nana being the eldest of the group.
You sometimes think you know everything about your parents, but that history can be so distant that maybe there wasn’t an opportunity to show their children where they came from. When people move to the U.S. and become citizens or try to become citizens, you pledge allegiance to a new flag and whatnot. And with my American family, they might have left Puerto Rico, but they brought it with them. But through the process of assimilation, that history can get lost, as you try to protect your children from racist attacks or from being judged. So you try to embrace the culture that you’re in now. And for the young kids in the movie, they’re first-generation Mexicans, and it was very exciting for us to have a moment for the elders to tell a lot of those stories that the kids have never heard. It allows the kids to feel the sacrifices that have been made for them to be there, and that history translates into this lived-in, loving family.
Ted Kord is alive per the mid-credit scene, and the fact that the scene is still a part of the movie suggests that this storyline has a chance to be continued someday. Are you optimistic about its chance since no one told you to cut it?
Yes. 100 percent. This is a movie with a Latino cast and no A-list stars running the show, and it’s a demographic that hasn’t had this type of spotlight. So we always wanted to continue the story. This movie is the first act of a saga. [Screenwriter] Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer and I always had that mantra, and we wanted to push for it. So that’s why the first film feels like an introduction to the family. That’s also why we started with no rush to the explosions. We knew they’d come; it’s a superhero movie. But we wanted people to fall in love with the family, the community and to really understand everything that makes up this hero.
And by introducing the character of Jenny Kord, played by Bruna Marquezine, we wanted to keep the energy of Ted Kord alive. We really wanted to find a way to bring Ted Kord back. It’d not only be a part of the family drama that we’ve explored in the movie, but canonically, it’s also something very special. We’ve always liked that relationship between Jaime Reyes and Ted Kord, as a mentor, but also Booster Gold. So, when James Gunn and Peter Safran came into power, they already promised the whole idea of exploring Booster Gold, and it helped us to keep the idea that Ted Kord is still alive. Now, where is he? Well, what happens next is up to the success of the film. The movie has to perform in the eyes of the studio. So, in my mind, if the movie can perform, there’s more adventures to come for Jaime Reyes, and Ted Kord is a part of that setup.
The family loses their patriarch, Damián Alcázar’s Alberto Reyes, in the middle of the movie, and the family home is also burned down by Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon). Did it take a lot of fine tuning to get that tone just right?
It was a balance of how intense we wanted it to be. We wanted the experiences that the family has to not just be this intergalactic accident. We wanted their experiences to be something grounded that could happen right now and something that has been happening for a long time. So we wanted the experiences of the Reyes family to be visceral and relatable to the experiences of many Latino families in the diaspora. And that sequence was originally way more intense. I like intensity. I do like to go hard on the intensity of the emotions. I didn’t want to water it down, but in the process of getting there and making it shorter and not exhausting audiences that are not used to this type of cinema, we found that balance. We kept the emotion in a way that still creates empathy for our characters, and at the same time, it allows us to understand that this wasn’t something unfathomable. This is something that happens a lot. It takes the whole idea of gentrification to the extreme, as memories have been destroyed by the ambitions of a power-hungry military complex. By displacing these people, it feels like they’re blowing up everything that they have done and built up in their lives. And Alberto’s [Damián Alcázar] loss, it’s not that something fell and killed him. It’s actually the stress of losing everything that he has fought for. He crossed the border 20 years earlier, and he’s been trying to keep his family where they are now, but they lose everything. So that’s what causes the heart attack. It was an emotional death, and it allowed us to freely explore how Latinos deal with grief and loss.
As you just touched on, Rudy (George Lopez) makes the point about how crossing the border was difficult for Alberto, but the 20 years that came after were significantly more challenging. People often overlook that part, don’t they?
I’m Puerto Rican, but I can relate to the struggles of immigration. And when it comes to the Mexican experience, it was beautiful to have the writer and everyone else validate the fact that while crossing the border is hard, so is everything else that happens when you’re trying to build a life in America. If you let anybody else tell this story, they will tell the story in a superficial way. They’ll tell the story from what you see on the news without having any connection to it. But by having Mexicans tell this story, the movie can take the proper time to say, “Yeah, crossing the border is hard and it’s a problem, but you’re not paying attention to everything else that happens afterwards and how they’re trying to make an honest living.”
Usually, crossing the border and immigration is tied to all sorts of negative aspects, so it was important for us to show that the majority of the people that cross the border are honest, hardworking people who are trying to do the best they can with what little they have. And being able to honor that legacy of what truly makes us Latino is something that we’ve never had the opportunity to do before, much less in a superhero movie.
Can you say what you went back and added earlier this year during those couple days of additional photography?
To be honest, we didn’t add anything that wasn’t in the script already. We shot things that were in the script, but we just didn’t have time to do them [during principal photography]. In order for me to finish the movie, we needed those extra days. So they weren’t necessarily reshoots, but we did reshoot one scene to make it tighter. Everything else was a lot of the backstory that was very important to the story and Raoul Max Trujillo’s character. It was very important for me to tell the backstory of our villain, and that was pretty much the reason why we continued shooting. So I don’t call it reshoots; it was just finishing what was promised to me.
Besides the Nana reveal, Carapax’s backstory was my favorite part of the movie, especially since it led to Jaime (Xolo Maridueña) showing compassion.
I fought for that scene and to be able to tell the story of the interventionism in Latin America. If you go through Latin American cinema, all this stuff has been explored, but it’s never been explored in mainstream Hollywood. So we had a minute to showcase this history of violence and how the exploitation and the weaponization of somebody else’s trauma has been used, historically, to inflict more violence on behalf of corporations that only want greed and power. So now that you mention it, it was very important to show that, and I think that is my proudest moment in the movie. We need to recognize that these issues are not just fantasy. They’re very, very real, and if we’re more aware of stuff like this, I believe that we can have a more compassionate and empathetic world.
And revealing Carapax’s backstory in reverse probably had a lot to do with the moment landing as well as it did.
Yeah, doing it backwards was a creative decision. We designed that whole sequence as a peeling back of layers to get to the root of Carapax’s trauma, which was the fact that this kid witnessed the death of his mom. And then through that experience, he now understands that the woman [Victoria Kord] who’s been exploiting him was responsible, to some extent, for everything that caused his trauma.
Speaking of Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), she addresses Harvey Guillén’s character as “Sanchez” the entire movie, only that’s not even close to his actual name. Is that a pretty relatable situation for a lot of Latinos?
Latinos are often overlooked. This story is a snippet of this family’s life, and while Latino experiences are as vast and diverse as our cultures, there is stuff that connects us. Of course, I have nothing against Mexico or Mexicans; they are my people. But every time I come to the U.S., someone will say, “Do you speak Mexican? Did you drive here? Come here, Jesús. Hey, José.” And then I’ll say I’m from Puerto Rico. So there’s zero regard for our humanity.
My name, Ángel, is sometimes hard for people to pronounce, and a lot of English-speaking people just don’t care how it’s actually pronounced. They’ll call me Ayn-juhl. It’s spelled like that, but it’s pronounced Ahn-hehl. So we really wanted to play with that, not just with Jaime/Jamie, but with “Sanchez,” too. It’s about being overlooked just because you are Latino or Hispanic and showing how certain people don’t care.
There’s a lot of power to our names. They come with a lot of history from our ancestors, so giving “Sanchez” that moment to say, “That’s not my name. This is who I am [Dr. Jose Francisco Morales Rivera de la Cruz].” And then he has that moment where he saves Jaime. So a lot of our strengths come from embracing who we are.
Decades from now, when you’re reminiscing about the making of Blue Beetle, what day will you likely recall first?
There are so many, but it’s seeing Belissa Escobedo’s character wail at the death of her father. It still rips my heart apart when I watch the movie. She’s such a funny girl. She’s so charismatic and she’s always throwing jokes and busting Jaime’s chops, but then you see her go through that trauma. It’s one of the worst nightmares that can happen to an immigrant family, and the way she was able to go into that state and deliver that visceral performance is something that I still think about. It was intense. So it was an exciting set piece to create, but being able to witness the range of an actor as she taps into this vulnerability, I hope it helps Belissa have a bigger future.
Blue Beetle is now playing in movie theaters. This interview was edited for length and clarity.