Ángel Manuel Soto opened up to ET about casting his lead, Xolo Maridueña, and why it's 'bittersweet' for the film to premiere now.
Blue Beetle is the newest hero in the DC universe, and he's got his work cut out for him!
Director Ángel Manuel Soto recently sat down with ET's Ash Crossan to talk about making the first major superhero movie with a Latino lead -- and the uphill battle that has been releasing it amid the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.
"The strike was not in my bingo card," Soto admitted. "But at the same time, you know, actions like that are necessary and they have to happen when they have to happen. Unfortunately, it happened while we were on premiere, and it's no secret that it affects us disproportionately, people of color and marginalized communities, for that matter, and minorities."
"But the truth is that our actors, our talent -- which is the main reason why we want to support them -- they really, really gave it all... They gave their heart and soul," he added.
The film's talented cast is anchored by its lead, Cobra Kai and Parenthood star Xolo Maridueña, who steps into the role of Jaime Reyes, a young college grad who becomes host to the Scarab, an ancient alien relic that gives him the powerful exoskeleton armor to become the superhero Blue Beetle.
Soto told ET that watching Maridueña play Miguel Diaz on Cobra Kai helped him realize that he was the perfect actor to take on the lead role in the Blue Beetle movie. As a bonus, the young actor already had plenty of martial arts training. But that wasn't ultimately what won Soto over.
"It really struck me, his personality," he recalled. "A kid who was like, the star of this TV show, who happens to be his age, acting his age, but really wise. He had all this charisma and energy with him, and on top of that, his family was always with him... Those were qualities and values that I respected for a kid his age."
Soto also joked that Maridueña's personality felt like a "copy-paste" of the comics' Jaime Reyes.
"Right off the bat, it was, 'It's him or him,' type of scenario," he admitted. "It was really cool to see how the studio backed me up in that decision, and even better seeing him stepping up to the plate."
The Blue Beetle has gone through three major iterations in the history of comics. The character was first introduced by Fox Comics in 1939, as Dan Garrett took on the mantle -- first as a police officer and then, in a later revamped version from Charlton Comics, as an archaeologist, tapping into the ancient Egyptian powers of the Scarab.
Ted Kord was the second Beetle, a student of Garrett's who took up the mantle himself in the Charlton Comics, and later, DC Comics runs. When Jaime Reyes was introduced in 2006 as a successor to Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle origins were retconned to be an alien being.
"Once I came to the project, it was always the story of Jaime Reyes," Soto explained. "We wanted to focus this film solely on him and his family."
However, Susan Sarandon's role in the film as Ted's sister, Victoria Kord, adds a new layer of canonical intrigue to the story.
"We didn't wanna keep away from the fact that the legacy of Ted Kord still looms and intersects with the story of Jaime Reyes," Soto explained. "So in the film, we do mention and honor the Blue Beetles that came before Jaime Reyes... There's plenty of Easter eggs."
While Soto was motivated to keep his Blue Beetle story "self-contained" within the newly-created "Palmera City," there are also references to what might pop up for the character in the future of the DCU. Jaime studied at Gotham Law, and there's a background newscast mention of Bruce Wayne, but Soto said his goal was to keep references to other well-known DC characters to a minimum.
"This serves as an introduction card for Jaime Reyes," he said of his film. "If anybody has any questions what his background is, anybody can go back to this movie and know where he came from."
Where Jaime/Blue Beetle might show up in future adventures, however -- and who he might fight alongside -- remains to be seen.
"This project has survived through regimes, this project survived cancellations," Soto noted. "To have James Gunn now communicate openly that Blue Beetle is the first hero of his new DCU is definitely a testament to the effort and the love and the passion that everybody has put into this project, especially our actors."
"We always saw this movie as the first act of a bigger saga," he continued, explaining what it meant to him to introduce the first Latino superhero to lead a movie. "We wanted to introduce this character into the world. We wanted to introduce our community, our values, our history, our relationship with our family front and center. Because we've never had that opportunity before. We wanted to show the world who we are before we start fighting cosmic battles and saving the universe. We wanted to keep it grounded. personal, intimate, so that then the next movies that come, we can dive into the whole action sequences. We can go crazy with all the explosions."
That desire to keep things intimate and personal doesn't always translate when promoting a superhero blockbuster, however, and Soto lamented that his cast was missing out on the chance to "receive their flowers" amid the strike. But he reiterated that the Blue Beetle stars "understand that there's a heroic moment right now, that they need to be part of the right side of history."
"They know what this means, not just for the cultural side, but for every other kid out there who has never seen themselves represented, being able to do that for them," he marveled. "For me, having them fight the good fight, knowing that all the sacrifices that they're doing are gonna pave the way for future generations to enjoy better pay and better treatment it only fills me with energy to keep promoting this film for them."
"The best way to recognize, not only their sacrifice, but also support them for their future careers, and hopefully, the future of more diverse storytelling by people who come from those communities, is by showing up in theaters on Aug. 18 and letting the people know that we have their backs," he continued. "It's taken us this long to be here, and it's sad that the strike is happening right now so that they cannot receive their flowers when they're supposed to receive it. I think the best way to show them that we love them is by showing up in the theaters."
The film also stars George Lopez, Harvey Guillén, Bruna Marquezine, Belissa Escobedo, Adriana Barraza, Damián Alcázar, Raoul Max Trujillo, Elpidia Carrillo and Becky G as the voice of the Scarab, Khaji-Da.
Blue Beetle flies into theaters Aug. 18.