‘Blue Beetle’ Director Angel Manuel Soto Is Relieved That His Characters Have a DCU Future

‘Blue Beetle’ Director Angel Manuel Soto Is Relieved That His Characters Have a DCU Future

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Director Ángel Manuel Soto and his DC film Blue Beetle have prevailed over a number of obstacles en route to Aug. 18th’s theatrical release. As the first mainstream Latino-led superhero film in live action, Soto and co. have overcome the lack of proper Latino representation that has existed for generations, while introducing a much-needed hero in Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña), as well as his thoroughly developed Latino family, the Reyeses. 

Blue Beetle producer Zev Foreman originally had theatrical ambitions, but given WarnerMedia’s emphasis on streaming at the end of 2020, the project was designated as an HBO Max release. However, in December 2021, just months prior to WarnerMedia’s merger with Discovery, the powers that be at Warner Bros. decided to upgrade the film to a theatrical release, allowing Latino audiences to finally have their moment in the live-action superhero genre.

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“We wanted to see our history and our legacy on the big screen, in a way that is respectful, and that was an opportunity that we didn’t want to miss,” Soto tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So it was something that we were very committed to, and we wouldn’t take no for an answer. And eventually, Warner Bros. saw it fit, and they allowed us to go back into the theaters.”

Unfortunately, Blue Beetle’s release coincides with the SAG-AFTRA strike, which means Soto’s cast members are unable to promote and share the film through various press opportunities, premieres and fan screenings. But Soto has picked up the promotional slack by honoring his cast’s work in their absence, and he’s also updating them every step of the way in a group text.

“It is heartbreaking. I wanted them to have their moment. This is their moment,” Soto says. “But at the same time, it’s a necessary thing. So, having them actually sacrifice this opportunity to be on the picket line and to fight for a better future — not only for them, but also to secure something better for future generations to come — is a heroic act of its own.”

April 2022’s merger between WarnerMedia and Discovery to form Warner Bros. Discovery eventually led to new DC Studios leadership in the form of James Gunn and Peter Safran. This changing of the guard initially put Blue Beetle in a bit of a gray area regarding the future of its characters and storylines. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for Gunn to anoint Maridueña’s Blue Beetle as the first DCU character, which took a huge weight off Soto’s shoulders. 

“Yeah, that was for sure one of the elements of relief. It’s the fact that all of this effort was not going to die during this regime change,” Soto admits. “There’s also a belief in our characters, who are now going to be part of this new DC universe, especially Xolo’s character and his whole family and Bruna Marquezine’s character. So, knowing that they are going to continue to move forward in the DCU allowed me to feel relief for myself and for them.”

Below, during a conversation with THR, Soto also discusses his initial Bane pitch and why he was hesitant to say yes to Blue Beetle at first.

Well, these are very strange days, obviously, so how’s your solo tour going so far? 

Man, the traveling gets tiring, but the energy of the interviews and the fans and the screenings is so intoxicating that it just gives you a second wind. So I feel great. We’re in Toronto right now, and yesterday’s fan screening had a lot of cosplay. People were waiting in line for hours outside to go into the movie. So, knowing that we made something with a lot of love and that we put our hearts and souls into it — not just me as the director, but all the actors — it’s very reassuring that it’s translating in that way with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

ELPIDIA CARRILLO as Rocio, GEORGE LOPEZ as Uncle Rudy, XOLO MARIDUENA as Jaime Reyes, BELISSA ESCOBEDO as Milagro and DAMIAN ALCAZAR as Alberto in “BLUE BEETLE.”

Elpidia Carrillo As Rocio, George Lopez as Uncle Rudy, Xolo Maridueña as Jaime Reyes, Belissa Escobedo as Milagro and Damian Alcazar as Alberto In Blue Beetle.

Hopper Stone/SMPSP/Warner Bros. Entertainment

Given how significant this film is for the Latino community, it must be heartbreaking to not have your Blue Beetle family with you.

It is heartbreaking, and it’s more than just wanting to have their company. I wanted them to have their moment. This is their moment. We’ve never had a (mainstream live-action Latino-led superhero film) that celebrates our culture, with characters who look like my family and many other families out there. So it’s a shame that they cannot have the spotlight that they deserve, but at the same time, it’s a necessary thing. I do believe that the strike needed to happen. I wish it happened after the release of our movie, but at the end of the day, there’s no better time than now. So, having them actually sacrifice this opportunity to be on the picket line and to fight for a better future — not only for them, but also to secure something better for future generations to come — is a heroic act of its own. So I’m celebrating them through their sacrifice in this moment, while also honoring the amazing work that they did. Representing them gives me the energy to continue doing this.

Have you been keeping in touch throughout it all?

Yeah, I’m sending them pictures and sharing the enthusiasm with them. I talk with Xolo (Maridueña) and Bruna (Marquezine) all the time. We’re all in a group thread with Belissa (Escobedo) and George (Lopez). When I went to Mexico, I had dinner with Damián Alcázar. In Miami, I couldn’t run into Adriana Barraza, but we’ve been talking constantly. Her participation in the movie means so much to us. (Alcázar and Barraza) are two actors that I grew up watching in Mexican cinema, and being able to work with two people I respect so much and also keep them as family is a dream come true. And Susan (Sarandon) has also been super helpful. She’s helped me navigate this process and given me tips. Her expertise is a school that I never thought I’d have the opportunity to attend, and she’s been like a mother to me throughout all this.

XOLO MARIDUENA and director AANGEL MANUEL SOTO on the set of BLUE BEETLE.

Xolo Maridueña and director Ángel Manuel Soto on the set of Blue Beetle.

Hopper Stone/SMPSP/ DC Comics/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

So you originally had a meeting with DC in order to pitch Bane, but you instead walked out with Blue Beetle. Is that actually how it went down? 

During the pandemic, I had a general meeting with DC after the response to Charm City Kings winning (U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast) at Sundance and then streaming on HBO Max. So I got a call from Galen Vaisman, one of the executives at DC, and for a general meeting, you have to be prepared if they ask you what you want to do. And I’ve always wanted to explore the origin story of Bane. It’s super intriguing, especially where he comes from and the different topics that could be explored if we take into consideration that maybe he’s the hero of his own story. So it was very interesting to be able to talk about situations that have affected the Caribbean and Latin America for centuries through the character of Bane.

So I came in with that idea, but that was Matt Reeves’ universe with The Batman, and I don’t know what’s going to happen now with this new regime. But that was my main attempt, and Galen was like, “Okay, that’s a good idea, but we wanted to pitch you something.” And that’s when he introduced the idea of Blue Beetle. Now, I was already aware of the character of Blue Beetle. I have a lot of friends that have been fans of his, not just because he was a Mexican-American superhero, but also the pop culture impact that he has had with cartoons like Young Justice. I also used to play as his character in the Injustice 2 game. 

So I got the call to do it, but I was a little bit hesitant at first, because Hollywood has had a history of misrepresenting us or putting us in a box of stereotypes. So I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to participate in perpetuating any stereotypes, and Galen reassured me, “Don’t worry about it. We have a guy from Queretaro, Mexico writing the script. His name is Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer. So just read the story, and if you don’t connect with it, then we can talk about something else.” And when I read the story, I saw not only an honest depiction and a window into Latin American culture through the Reyes family, but I also saw a lot of myself and a lot of the same situations that have affected me as a Puerto Rican. So I connected with the shared experience that we have as Latinos, and that’s when I was convinced that this movie had to happen.

In December 2021, four months before the Discovery merger, Blue Beetle became a theatrical release. Who deserves the credit for moving the film from HBO Max to theatrical? 

It was a collective effort. When I came onto the project, it was already labeled as an HBO Max thing, but (producer) Zev Foreman, who brought the project to DC, always intended it to be a theatrical release. And then with the streaming mandate that was happening at the time, it fell into that. But when we were doing all the concept art and the world building, we really went above and beyond in trying to make this story feel worthy of the biggest screen possible. I wanted to present the film as a collective experience, because it makes a world of a difference. Conversations and dialogues can spark out of seeing a film with other people, but it was also to see our families on the big screen. We wanted to see our history and our legacy on the big screen, in a way that is respectful, and that was an opportunity that we didn’t want to miss. So it was something that we were very committed to, and we wouldn’t take no for an answer. And eventually, Warner Bros. saw it fit, and they allowed us to go back into the theaters.

ADRIANA BARRAZA and director ANGEL MANUEL SOTO on the set of BLUE BEETLE.

Adriana Barraza and director Ángel Manuel Soto on the set of Blue Beetle.

Courtesy of Hopper Stone/SMPSP/DC Comics/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

How did you approach practical versus digital elements? 

This film has a budget that is way less than a lot of all these big movies, but we still wanted to make it bigger than life. So our production team and our VFX supervisor (Kelvin McIlwain) understood the challenges of maximizing our budget, and we used as much practicality as possible. It was not just the practical Blue Beetle suit, but we also used real locations so that we weren’t heavily dependent on visual effects. We didn’t want to exploit the VFX artists as much as they have already been exploited. And using real locations allowed us to have better integration of the practical suits, so the VFX serve as an enhancement. It’s a tool, not a dependency, and that really helped to make this whole thing feel bigger than life. We shot the third act in a real 500-year-old fortress in Puerto Rico. The communities depicted weren’t a set. We went to the barrios of Puerto Rico and shot there. A lot of the people in the background are people from that community. So being able to make the film as lived in as possible felt worthy of the big screen experience.

When DC bosses James Gunn and Peter Safran told you that Jaime Reyes would continue on in the new DCU, was it a huge relief to know that your hard work would not be in vain?

Yeah, that was for sure one of the elements of relief. It’s the fact that all of this effort was not going to die during this regime change. We survived regime changes throughout this whole process, and that was a testament to the hard work that everybody put into it. There’s also a belief in our characters, who are now going to be part of this new DC universe, especially Xolo’s character and his whole family and Bruna Marquezine’s character. So, knowing that they are going to continue to move forward in the DCU allowed me to feel relief for myself and for them. It’s a testament to the amount of heart and talent that they have.

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Blue Beetle opens in theaters on August 18. This interview was edited for length and clarity.