SPOILERS AHEAD FOR BLUE BEETLE
Aside from the questions about how it connects to the overall “DC Universe” continuity, screenwriters could benefit from watching Blue Beetle and looking at the difference between a protagonist and a main character.
In most stories, the protagonist and main character are one and the same. The protagonist's choices drive the story, force the antagonist to respond, and fuel the plot's central conflict. However, some stories separate the character who takes center stage from the one who keeps the plot moving.
In the case of Blue Beetle, Jaime Reyes takes on the mantle of the classic superhero when an alien artifact invades his mind and body. As a result, he gains the powers of flight, invincibility, and the ability to manipulate energy into tangible weapons and shields.
So, if he has all of these powers, why does he need his sister, his mother, his elderly grandmother, his paranoid uncle, his love interest, and an antiquated flying bug to rescue him from the bad guys? Even if he can't use his powers, why can't he use his own knowledge, intelligence, or skills to engineer his escape rather than relying on his inexperienced and unqualified family (except Nana) to come to his aid?
While this approach can deliver on vital themes, such as the importance of family, it also undercuts the central character's ability to work their way out of their own problems. This issue arises when the central character lacks the essential elements needed to make them a protagonist.
As the VOTE METHOD demonstrates, characters need four vital elements to make them compelling to both actors and audiences:
VICTORY: What does the character want?
OBSTACLES: What stands between the character and their Victory?
TACTICS: What does the character do to overcome the Obstacles and achieve the Victory?
EMOTION: What emotional need drives them to pursue the Victory?
In Jaime's case, the script defines his VOTE early in the story:
VICTORY: He wants a fulfilling, good-paying job.
OBSTACLES: He lacks experience, connections, and the “right” background to get a break, especially with how Victoria Kord and Kord Industries run Palmera City.
TACTICS: He approaches Jennifer, Victoria's niece, about getting a job.
EMOTION: He needs to live up to the expectations he feels that his family has placed on him.
Jennifer has all of the elements needed to make for a compelling protagonist:
VICTORY: She wants to keep the Scarab away from her aunt Victoria.
OBSTACLES: She lacks access to the modern technology at the Kord laboratories.
TACTICS: She employs her father's outdated technology. She also enlists the help of Jaime and his family.
EMOTION: She needs to prevent her father's legacy from becoming an instrument for Victoria's warmongering ambitions.
Jennifer's decisions move nearly all of the story's major plot points:
- She stands up to Victoria when she meets Jaime.
- She steals the Scarab and gives it to Jaime for safekeeping.
- She goes back and steals the “Tedwatch”.
- She takes Jaime and Rudy to the “Beetle Cave” to find a cure for the symbiosis between Jaime and the Scarab.
- She leads the family in their rescue of Jaime from Victoria.
As an antagonist, Victoria also has all the elements of the VOTE:
VICTORY: She wants to regain control of the Scarab.
OBSTACLES: Jennifer, Jaime, and his family have the Scarab and can't/won't let it go.
TACTICS: She employs her private SWAT team, including her “One Man Army Corps”, Lt. Carapax.
EMOTION: She needs to prove to everyone (including herself) that her father was wrong to pass the company on to her brother before his disappearance.
While the conflict between Jennifer and Victoria drives much of the plot, the action focuses on Jaime learning how to use the Scarab and how he deals with his family. Instead of developing each of them as characters with agency through the VOTE, the script uses Jaime and his family as pawns in the battle of wills between the two women.
The purpose behind this analysis isn't to dismiss Blue Beetle as a film or Jaime Reyes as a character. The film makes him out to be an earnest young man with a loving family and a desire to make a difference.
These aspects make him a likable character who can connect with an audience on a surface level. However, the script leans on these aspects after his transformation rather than allowing his choices to drive the story.
So what can screenwriters learn from Blue Beetle?
A script that relies on a relatable central character is a nice place to start. A script that has a proactive protagonist is the key to a truly compelling story.
You can learn more about the VOTE Method by working with an award-winning screenwriter.
Story Into Screenplay offers one-on-one consulting sessions that can walk you through the VOTE METHOD and take your writing to a new level.
You can schedule your FREE 30-minute session today.