This morning I was surprised to read on The ol’ Ain’t It Cool News that Lex Luthor and Alfred had been officially cast for SUPERMAN V. BATMAN. When I opened the story I glanced the name Jeremy Irons and assumed he was playing Luthor. It seemed like an okay but boring choice. It’s hard to imagine him caring about playing another fucking bad guy. When I realized that he was playing Alfred and Jesse Eisenberg was Luthor I coulda done a spit take.
And my instinct was sympathy for the vocal hateful nerd community of the internet. Like “Maybe you guys were right.” As you know, the default internet stance on everything is negative. The nerd community in particular tend to be against most things that exist other than the TV shows Community and Sherlock, most of the Marvel movies (for now, but there will be a vicious backlash in a few years guaranteed) and… bacon I guess. According to the products on the websights, bacon is one of the main things they respect. I’m old fashioned, I don’t think of bacon as something a man puts on his shirt, so alot of times I feel like I’m on the other side from these guys. But for a second when I read this I thought “shit, I know how they feel.”
For a second. I mean, I was gonna join up. I was gonna buy a clever t-shirt that mashes up Legend of Zelda with BACK TO THE FUTURE, Dr. Who, Breaking Bad, Firefly and Game of Thrones, but drawn in the style of Calvin & Hobbes. Available today only!
I guess I had a picture of the type of guy I thought would play this character. A real intimidating guy. I never liked the goofball Lex Luthors in the previous SUPERMANs. I thought Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey both had what it takes to play a good villain but weren’t allowed to in those movies. And I assumed this time a guy would be allowed to.
Somewhere deep in the bowels of the MAN OF STEEL comment thread there was a discussion about who should play Luthor. And I forget who it was (let me know and I’ll update this), but somebody suggested Denzel Washington (who much later was rumored as the actor Snyder was trying to get). I loved this idea because although in one obvious way Denzel does not fit the traditional physical characteristics of the character as previously presented (he’s not bald) he really fits what I think is the essence of the character, which is that you have to believe that he’s the smartest guy in the room, that he knows it and looks down on everyone because of it. We would have to get used to a guy who looks different from how Luthor has always been drawn, but he could really represent something important about the character that they didn’t do in the previous movies.
(assuming they didn’t have him wear a funny wig and fuck an old lady and have a comedic old timey girl sidekick like they did with Hackman and Spacey)
Obviously Eisenberg doesn’t fit the traditional physical image of Luthor either. He’s probly younger and definitely dweebier than the various ways he’s been drawn. And to me, in this case, that’s a more significant difference than if he was a reasonably fit and grown up black man like Denzel or, say, Idris Elba. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that Eisenberg has that same quality I liked about Denzel: he’s good at playing a dick who’s smarter than other people and has a superiority complex.
I expected Snyder to be more of a comic book traditionalist. I didn’t realize he was in “blow their minds with unexpected choices that are so crazy they just might work” mode (aka The Michael Keaton Precedent). Eisenberg wouldn’t have been my preference, but I can see why he could work as good or better than who I woulda chose. MAN OF STEEL’s approach was to pay homage to the traditional elements of the Superman story (the costume, the Kryptonian heritage, the powers, Lois Lane, Zod) while also finding little unexpected ways to tweak these ideas, often with a modern concept of “realism” in mind (Lois figuring out Superman’s identity immediately, the military not trusting him, the other Kryptonians having trouble adjusting to the powers that he’s had his whole life to develop, Jonathan Kent’s fear of Clark revealing his powers to the world). It would be in this same tradition if asshole CEO Lex Luthor became young genius Lex Luthor. After all, who would be a bigger threat to a real Superman: Donald Trump or Mark Zuckerberg?
From what I understand the businessman Lex Luthor is not even the original character. According to Wikipedia, Luthor started as a red-haired “diabolical genius” who lived in a dirigible and tried to steal earthquake machines and shit like that. Here he is wearing an evil cultist or wizard type robe:
They later gave him an origin where he was a young aspiring scientist who was friends with Superboy but turned against him when he mistakenly thought Superboy purposely destroyed his lab and a robot he made that he treated like his child. It wasn’t until 1986 (in a series also called “Man of Steel”) that Luthor was re-created as, in Wikipedia’s words, “a villain that the 1980s would recognize: an evil corporate executive.” And that’s been pretty much the way he’s been interpreted since then I guess. A businessman and later politician (he became president).
By the way, at first this executive Lex was not a bald muscular guy, or even the fat guy shown above. For a while he had some red hair on the back and kind of a paunch, like this:
So what if Snyder cast Louis C.K.? Would the internet have had to accept this because he looks like in the comics? Is that the most important thing?
I don’t want to make too many assumptions, but I think we all suspect that Eisenberg was cast with THE SOCIAL NETWORK in mind. We know from MAN OF STEEL that there is a “Lexcorp” company already, so this guy is a young innovator (unless they say he inherited the company). If he is indeed playing a Zuckerbergian Luthor then they’ve got elements of the original technological Luthor and the ’80s corporate reinterpretation, but with a little tweak that fits him into the world as it exists 30 years later. In 2014 the most well known CEOs and billionaires are computer genius nerds: Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, before him Bill Gates. (An alternate take could be a Mark Cuban-esque Luthor. But I don’t see why Eisenberg can’t be blowing his top at a basketball game.)
It’s easy to accept Eisenberg having Luthor’s brain, the only complaint is him not having the same body. But this is the least important part of the character. Luthor is a human, he’s not gonna get in a fight with Superman. He could be Randy Couture, it wouldn’t matter, he couldn’t fight him. If he’s young and scrawny it almost makes him more frustrating for Superman. If Superman tried to do anything to this guy physically he’d look like such an asshole. Plus, I understand Luthor sometimes has a badass female bodyguard (Gina Carano in my opinion), and hiding behind her when Batman shows up will make his smarmy ass all the more infuriating.
It’s also worth noting that Snyder has a track record of mostly good casting instincts. In DAWN OF THE DEAD he gave Sarah Polley her one Sigourney Weaver-esque strong woman protagonist character. In 300 he gave Gerard Butler, Lena Headey and Michael Fassbender all major roles before the rest of Hollywood had caught onto them. WATCHMEN had a super hero team with no A-listers. Jackie Earle Haley was clearly a master stroke, Patrick Wilson was quite good casting as Chubby Owlman, Billy Crudup was great as Giant Blue Nude, Jeffrey Dean Morgan had a charisma that still too few roles have been able to take as much advantage of, plus Carla Gugino got one of her more complex roles. In SUCKER PUNCH I gotta give him credit for casting Oscar Isaac as the weirdly charismatic villain. He’s great and complex and that was the first thing I noticed him in. And for MAN OF STEEL he found Henry Cavill, a guy I never heard of before, who I think is a great Superman.
In my opinion his one major misstep could be Matthew Goode in WATCHMEN, but considering Goode’s performances in other movies I think it wasn’t really a fault in casting but in how they chose to portray that character. So there is reason to trust that Snyder knows what he’s doing. Let’s just hope Luthor doesn’t wear silver rubber muscles. Or this outfit, in my opinion:
But if it’s important for you guys that he be the same as in the comics then I am willing to accept that outfit, if it fits into the movie they are creating. I will keep an open mind. The hat is pretty cool, I admit.
A WORD ABOUT THE WORD “NERDS”: I know it offends a couple of you when I use it. Like any term used to generalize a group of people (hipsters, bros, douches, bikers, stamp collectors, panty sniffers, candlestick makers) it can promote stereotypes and etc. But also it can be useful shorthand. In my case please understand that I don’t usually mean it as a judgmental or bullying term. The culture has changed drastically since the original nerds dreamed of revenge through sexual assault of sorority girls in the 1980s. The nerds won, they control the culture now. Most relevant in this case: they control the movies. Super hero movies are no longer a niche, they are the big movies now, they have replaced the big action sequels we used to watch in the summers. We all watch these movies so we share this culture. We are all nerds now.
The “nerds” I’m referring to in this post are the people who run and who comment on the movie websights I read (The Ain’t It Cool News, Badass Digest, Slashfilm, etc.) as well as the people I read on Twitter and what not. They are “nerds” because they care about these comic book movies just like I do. Most of them would proudly self-identify as either “nerds” or “geeks” and assert that as people who have read many comic books that they have some kind of ownership over who gets cast as Lex Luthor and Batman and everybody.
It’s obviously important to them, otherwise they wouldn’t obsess over their in my opinion weird interpretations of MAN OF STEEL, for example the widely accepted headscratcher I keep seeing today that it shows “a Superman who doesn’t save people” (even though he clearly saves numerous people throughout the movie and one of the central dramatic conflicts is his insistence on saving people when his father doesn’t want him to). Or the one about “Superman caused massive destruction by fighting a bad guy who was causing massive destruction in the climax and somehow I find this VERY, VERY offensive.” That one is so widespread that I suspect Snyder is using it as a motivation for Batman and Luthor to be against Superman.
But that’s the thing, this is a sequel to a movie that many of these angry people hated. Most of them hate the work of director Zack Snyder, almost all of them hate the work of writer David Goyer (his name on the three best comic book movies of all time doesn’t count for shit because one of them he was only co-writer).
What I am proposing to you friends is that since I actually like MAN OF STEEL as well as Snyder and Goyer I should get a certain ownership over the sequel whether or not I can present a valid Nerd Card, and even though I had to read the Cliff’s Notes to know some of the history of Lex Luthor. I declare that SUPERMAN & BATMAN: THE CRACKDOWN is for me and I say maybe Eisenberg will work and mind your own business.
I completely understand watching sequels as a completist or for masochistic or overly hopeful reasons, but just like I shouldn’t whine too much about specifics of another TRANSFORMER sequel (because it’s not for me) maybe some of these guys need to let the MAN OF STEEL series go if it hurts them so. Trust me, BATMAN AND ROBIN wasn’t the end of Batman, and SUPERMAN RETURNS wasn’t the end of Superman. Give him another shot the next go ’round, why don’t ya? And let me have this one.
And anyway what if Snyder makes Eisenberg get huge and buff for the movie? Henry Cavill, Jack Hughman, Chris Hemsworth, all these guys got bulked up for their super hero roles. Chris Pratt got rid of his beer gut and got muscles for GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. What if Eisenberg gets fuckin ripped? WHAT THEN, TURKEYS?
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.