Earlier this week, fans received the news that Latin hip-hop multi-hyphenate Bad Bunny (or if you prefer, Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio) would be playing a superhero. This announcement came by way of Sony Pictures, who saw the potential in him due to his upcoming appearance in Bullet Train. Sony, on the heels of the tepid reception of Morbius at the box office, was understandably in no position to receive goodwill from comic book movie fandom. Yet, for the general audience, the news was even more perplexing when it became apparent exactly which member of the Sony Universe of Marvel Characters Bad Bunny would be playing: the Lucha pro-wrestling-themed antihero El Muerto.
It’s obvious that the initial response to the news prompted a million Google searches. I’m sure the Marvel site appreciated the spike in traffic, but in El Muerto, aka, Juan-Carlos Estrada, Sony has gone deeper than the deepest of comic character cuts, and across the social media world, that confusion quickly gave way to negativity as it was perceived as yet another example of Sony misusing the Spider-Man IP. But is it?
Obviously, one of the reasons to adapt a comic’s character is to capitalize on the existing fanbase of that character as they move to a new medium. And El Muerto has none to speak of, his two appearances in Spidey comics notwithstanding. However, in Bad Bunny, Sony has an international superstar with a global following in music, as he is Spotify’s most-streamed artist for two years running. The 28-year-old is currently well-positioned to leverage his substantial stardom into a Hollywood vehicle, and a superhero movie, like other action films, will afford him the opportunity to show charm, charisma, and likeability to a broad audience.
And when you consider the fact that the El Muerto character he is portraying has no profile in the source material to speak of, there will be no constituency of fans decrying the manner in which Bad Bunny imbues the character with Bad Bunny qualities. If Juan Carlos Estrada becomes synonymous with Bad Bunny in the minds of the moviegoing audience, that’s no slight to the comic-reading audience, who probably never thought about Juan Carlos Estrada at all before this week. The bar is low for his performance, even if ultimately he just ends up playing a version of himself.
Furthermore, there’s a pro wrestling aspect to this character. Bad Bunny, a huge wrestling fan, competed in a celebrity wrestling match in 2021’s Wrestlemania that many observers rank among the best celebrity performances of all time. And we’ve seen the pro wrestling audience activated before when it comes to supporting movie projects based around wrestlers. According to Deadline, Bad Bunny himself chose the character as the ideal fit after meeting with Sony executives, no doubt because of the opportunity to bring together heroics, pro wrestling, and perhaps the most important selling point of the movie: Latin culture.
Yes, right off the bat, we have to acknowledge that the character of Juan Carlos Estrada is Mexican, and he competes in Mexican Lucha libre as a masked performer, while Bad Bunny is Puerto Rican. As of yet, it has not been confirmed whether the character will be reimagined as Puerto Rican or whether Bad Bunny will portray a Mexican, and obviously, either outcome would be less than ideal for an authentic representation of the culture that the character was originally conceived as embodying. However, it should not be discounted that Hollywood projects which cast Latinx leads are tremendously rare, despite that group representing a substantial segment of the moviegoing public, and with respect to major superhero movies, El Muerto and DC/WB’s Blue Beetle will be the first.
And for all of the things, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done well, giving Latinx communities the opportunity to enjoy a film that celebrates and features cultural elements that resonate with them is something the studio has somewhat dragged its feet on. There is a tradition of lucha-style wrestling in both the Mexican and Puerto Rican communities, and the El Muerto hero arc in particular touches on themes of family legacy and the responsibilities of carrying on the tradition, which should resonate with these groups if handled by capable creatives.
And ultimately, that’s the biggest “if” of all with respect to this film. Will the diversity we’ve come to expect behind the camera when a project centers on a demographic other than a white male protagonist be realized, and will that result in a group of creatives on El Muerto that will raise its ceiling in terms of quality and authenticity? In a vacuum, the announcement of a film about a Lucha pro wrestler who is also a superhero might be viewed in a positive light (though when it comes to the project as a celebrity star vehicle, your mileage may vary).
From a special effects standpoint, the film shouldn’t have to do much to convey the character’s power set, which means that the budget can stay fairly low. And with an international superstar aboard who is enthusiastic about the project, marketing should take care of itself. The movie just has to be good. And while concern about that part is certainly understandable, we fans would have those concerns no matter which Marvel character was being adapted by Sony. But ask yourself: Wouldn’t you rather roll the dice on a character that you don’t care about them getting wrong as opposed to one that you do?