This weekend I went to two movies that on the surface are both about aliens, but honestly could not have been more different. One is a blockbuster DC Comics movie, while the other is an absurdest arthouse genre bender, yet both are attempting to do different things with a genre that has been pretty stagnant for the last few years. Both are deeply flawed and ridiculous, but absolutely worth exploring.
First I caught "Blue Beetle," the 14th movie from Zach Snyder's DC Extended Universe that began with 2013's "Man of Steel" and will end with this December's "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom," before the entire studio is rebooted as the DC Universe by Peter Safran and James Gunn. That's right, after "Aquaman" we'll be getting a new Superman, Batman and all kinds of stuff. Already. I'm actually kinda excited.
"Blue Beetle" was originally supposed to go directly to streaming, but director Ángel Manuel Soto had a vision for the character the studio liked and got behind. I can see why, because there's something deeply refreshing about "Blue Beetle" and a lot of it has to do with having a charming Latin family as its emotional center.
The plot is focused on a piece of extraterrestrial technology known as the Scarab that gets inadvertently attached to the nervous system of recent college graduate Jaime Reyes, creating a living suit of armor he can summon at will called the Blue Beetle. A different incarnation of the "Blue Beetle" was the first comic book I ever purchased as a kid, so my nostalgia for this character is huge.
While all of the superhero origin story mechanics are fairly boilerplate, it's the family at its center that gives the film its heart.
"Blue Beetle" doesn't do anything different with its super hero origin story center, but it still feels singular for finally giving representation to a great Latino superhero and the family that supports him.
Next was "Landscape with Invisible Hand," a dark comedy, sci-fi satire about a supposedly benevolent alien takeover of Earth that results in the class divide of humanity becoming even more pronounced and ugly. The aliens are the Vuvv and look like "fleshy coffee tables." They're obsessed with the idea of romantic love (their species doesn't have it), so humans that have been economically destroyed (by the Vuvv's tech they sold to the highest bidders) can wear a device on their temple that livestreams their every waking moment to the aliens. The Vuvv's favorite thing to watch: people in love.
It's almost a genuinely great film, but eventually falls apart under the weight of its own ideas, which is a shame. Writer/director Cory Finlay combines high-concept science fiction ideas with a dark view of the class struggle, a satirical deconstruction of America's obsession with celebrity and influencer-led monetization. So many big ideas on the same plate lead to a few of them slipping onto the ground. Even though neither movie is perfect, one managed to recapture my nostalgia in exactly the way I needed, while the other got the wheels in my mind turning in new and interesting ways.