'Blue Beetle': Director Angel Manuel Soto Talks 'Injustice' Influence, 'Power Rangers' & Ari Aster [Interview]

Angel Manuel Soto is a filmmaker who directs to capture specific, authentic experiences, especially if they relate to his heritage. Born in Puerto Rico, many of Soto’s earliest short films – including several non-narrative works such as “The Second Line: A Parade Against Violence” – as well as his feature directorial debut, “La Granja,” contrast a pride in his Latin roots against the inequalities that come with it. Three years ago, Soto’s film “Charm City Kings,” centered around an inner city Baltimore youth whose ambitions at a future in healthcare get sidetracked by the mystique and false allure of a local biker gang, put the director on the radar of a wider American audience, by relating the same ideas by his earlier work to people who didn’t necessarily look the same as Soto, or come from the same place. “You don’t have to water down who you are in order to reach other people. I think that says more about the receiver than the receptor,” said Soto.

READ MORE: ‘Blue Beetle’ First Reactions Praise Latinx Representation & A “Funny” & “Emotional” Film

Now, Soto might prove to be a key figure in the future of the DCU. In the wake of a rocky transition between chairmen of the larger franchise, “Blue Beetle” – Soto’s third directorial feature – is the first entry to debut a new hero under James Gunn‘s stewardship. But despite the circumstances surrounding it, “Blue Beetle” is Soto’s film first and foremost, one which is both the film he wanted to make, and one whose message is close to his heart. Starring Xolo Maridueña as the titular hero, Soto got to tell a story which is, in his words, “representative of the general Latino experience.”

“Of course, not every Latino experience is the same, and that’s the beauty of the Latino experience, because we’re not a monolith,” said Soto. “I’m a true believer that, in the specificity of our cultures, also lies the universality of who we are. We were blessed to have not only a character whose family is Latino in the fiction world, but to also have [screenwriter] Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, who’s Latino, who has lived with this family and can speak for them. By being able to hone into that, you’re not trying to be Latino doing the things that you do, you’re just trying to be. You find that stories can be told differently to what the status quo is demanding.”

READ MORE: ‘Blue Beetle’ Star Xolo Maridueña Has Talked To James Gunn About The Future & Wants To Do “12 More Years” In The DCU

Soto also deliberately searched beyond the boundaries of superhero cinema to find the right collaborators on “Blue Beetle,” including Ari Aster regulars, cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski and composer Bobby Krlic. “I didn’t know them beforehand, but I wanted to work with people that had different sensibilities,” said Soto. “I loved that, even with Pawel being Polish, the farthest from Mexican, he read the script and it connected with him. And the way that a film like Blue Beetle resonated with a Polish artist, that meant a lot to me. And with Bobby, I was definitely looking for a sound that was not expected of a superhero movie. We wanted to hone into the nostalgia of a vapor wave aesthetic and homage to the Tangerine Dream soundtracks we grew up with.”

However, while Soto searched beyond superheroes and comic books for some of the influences and aesthetics of “Blue Beetle,” at the end of the day, he’s a fan of these properties, and he still consulted various pieces of source material as well. “We definitely based a lot on not just the comics, but things like ‘Young Justice,’ too.” The film’s final battle, for example, is spectacular, and is partly framed like a fight from the video game “Injustice,” in which Blue Beetle is a playable character. “Yeah, there’s a couple combos from ‘Injustice’ in there too,” Soto confirmed, which is sure to please fans of the game.

“Blue Beetle” hits cinemas on August 18. Check out our full conversation with Angel Manuel Soto below, where we get into all things “Blue Beetle,” the cultural and historical significance of its story, the film’s practical suit and effects, and a hint of Soto’s proposed Bane movie: