Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fanwank Corner: Why Jesse Eisenberg is Not Lex Luthor

Okay, let me weigh in on this issue:  Jesse Eisenberg is a terrible choice for Lex Luthor.

Now that I've thrown myself balls-deep into madman comic book fanboy* territory, I need to back up and actually explain myself.  Jesse Eisenberg is not a bad actor, he's a very good actor.  He will not put in a lazy performance for the next DC Superhero movie, and its possible they'll manage to put something thematically together that can make sense for whatever particular story they're cooking up.  I have some faith in Eisenberg, but I really do not have faith in Warner Bros and their "Man of Steel" team, who again, made "Man of Steel".  I have no idea what they are currently thinking with this project, it seems to be absolutely all over the place.  It doesn't even have a title yet, "Superman vs. Batman" is just a placeholder, and probably factually incorrect since now Wonder Woman is involved.  And if we're talking miscasting, forget Einsenberg and Luthor, Wonder Woman is the real tragedy**.  Ben Affleck as Batman has gotten far too much buzz - Bruce Wayne isn't exactly the hardest role in the world, and Affleck will probably be fine.  But getting Lex Luthor right?  That takes a very careful choice, and they blew it.

So far David Goyer, Zack Snyder, and the other faces involved have yet to actually comment on the Eisenberg choice beyond some double-speak about "new and unexpected directions".  There's no trailer yet since the movie seems to be slowly edging closer and closer towards Development Hell, just recently they had Chris Terrio, screenwriter of "Argo", completely rewrite David Goyer's draft.  So whatever idea they have for this new Lex Luthor might already be in flux, or maybe they have no idea at all what they're doing, they just cast Jesse Eisenberg because he's a young actor and was the most attractive nerd they could think of.  Obviously the idea is not the Lex Luthor we all have in our minds:  not the wacky supervillain mad scientist fiend of the Silver Age and Gene Hackman/Kevin Spacey fame, and definitely not the ruthless capitalist mastermind of modern comics and cartoons.  Are they really going to go with making Lex Luthor an Internet entrepreneur, a Mark Zuckerberg?

Maybe it will work.  I am not convinced.  There might be some interesting ideas behind this, but it feels much too topical, too clever for its own good.  And really to explain why this is a poor choice, I need to explain who Lex Luthor is.

The "Other" Superman

Everybody knows the legendary rivalry between the Joker and Batman, two enemies on every level.  Batman is order, Joker is chaos, Batman is fear, Joker is humor, Batman believes in rules, the Joker has no rules, and neither one could ever simply kill the other, because that would ultimately be their own defeat.  If Batman kills the Joker, then he's giving himself over to chaos and violating his philosophy.  If the Joker kills Batman, he'll lose probably the only thing that keeps his life interesting.  I think the Joker actually respects and worse, admires Batman - it would be so easy to just kill this pesky maniac clown, yet Batman does not.  This annoys the Joker so much, since he considers all of life to be a giant joke, and to have something to admire and respect is a metaphysical attack on his whole world view.  (One of these days Batman and the Joker are going to have to settle their differences with a huge sloppy make-out session.  I hope its soon.) 

One of the other great villain-hero relationships that I believe to be as rich and interesting is Superman and Lex Luthor.  On the surface, Lex Luthor is an extremely impressive specimen of humanity.  He's one of the smartest people on Earth, and even within the wild world of DC aliens, gods, and wizards, Luthor is still one of the most intelligent characters in the entire universe.  In a world without super heroes, Lex Luthor would be the "superman", brilliant beyond measure, reasonably athletic and well-built, a mastermind of capitalism and manipulation, and of course, handsome:

DCAU Luthor was based on Telly Savalas, enough said.

The fact is that Lex Luthor has the money, the brains, the cunning, and the will to do just about anything.  He essentially built Metropolis in the cartoons, he became President of the United States for awhile in the comics - if there's any measure of power and success, Lex Luthor can get there.  Unlike most comic book villains, he's respectable.  Luthor is right there at the center of modern society:  he doesn't need a Legion of Doom or a giant fortress to hide behind.  Everybody knows where to find him, and he'll show up on TV - I bet Fox News loves having him as a guest.  He's not insane, he cares deeply about his image, but he's still a psychopath.  The worst kind of psychopath:  the one that looks like a normal human, and will do anything to achieve what he wants.  The Joker destroys, Lex Luthor builds.

With all those advantages and those complete lack of scruples, Lex Luthor is a terrifying man.  The only thing stopping him is one fatal flaw at the center of his psyche.  The man can do anything, unfortunately, the only thing he wants to do is impossible:  to beat Superman.

Superman is the plateau Lex Luthor cannot reach.  It infuriates him that there could ever be a man greater than himself, and worse, Superman is infinitely greater than Luthor.  The proud businessman is driven by a terrible inferiority complex, and unbelievable jealousy to defeat Superman and prove himself superior.  Luthor wants to be out there flying in the skies and picking up skyscrapers, but he can never have that.  The existence of Superman might have at first been an inconvenience for some of Luthor's criminal enterprises, but eventually it eats away at every aspect of his life.  He might have started as a simple unscrupulous industry titan, but Superman's existence drives him to more ridiculous levels of villainy.  That's where the power armors come from, the crazy schemes, the destructive madness, its from an obsession to win a battle that cannot be won.  Perversely, I don't think Lex Luthor even would care about Superman if he wasn't so unbeatable - he wants most what cannot be had.

 "If it wasn't for Superman, I'd be in charge of this planet!"

Two Americas

Superman represents the American Way:  truth, justice, unbreakable purity.  Lex Luthor, also is deeply linked into the American psyche, but in a more sinister form.  He is the American Dream:  the quest for power without limits with an unquenchable thirst for consumption and control over more and more.  Luthor is every disgusting, unscrupulous, uncaring monster that fights his way up the corporate ladder, screwing over everybody in their way, all in an endless dream to gain more.  Doesn't matter what that "more" is, if he doesn't have it, he wants it.  There aren't that many Supermen in the United States anymore - the myth of our purity and divine place on the world stage has been broken for decades.  But there are plenty of Lex Luthors.

Superman's existence annoys Lex Luthor in a way that no other character ever could.  To Lex, life cannot ever be simply good and evil, probably because his life and his actions would be anybody's definition of 'evil'.  But here is Superman, 'good' in its truest form.  Luthor's world is one where the is no damnation and no objective honesty, morality is whatever he needs it to be.  Superman's world is much simpler and easier.  There are bad guys, and he will defeat them.

Faced with this, Lex Luthor has to undermine Superman, he has to fight against this character.  He conjures up all of the petty arguments that people have used to explain away why Superman doesn't matter.  He's a boy scout, he's a goody-two-shoes, he's an alien, he's arrogant, he's anti-humanity***.  Its all nonsense, desperate rationalizations of an awful man who cannot face how terrible he really is.  But its almost compelling.  Luthor is so close to ourselves, he's one of the most sympathetic and understandable characters in the whole Superman mythos.  Take just the slightest mental misstep and suddenly you're thinking exactly like him.  He's that compelling that he might even be able to draw you in, and that's where he's so dangerous.

The man sure is comfortable in the Oval Office, isn't he?

Luthor, is, in many ways, Superman's biggest problem as well.  Superman is the Light to show us the way, and Luthor is the human who will not be shown any way.  If anything, Luthor is the false light, leading people the wrong way.  He will not be lead, not by anybody, he will never accept his own limitations or his own weaknesses.  This is the very evil Superman is here to lead mankind away from.  And then, insanely, Luthor himself is such a great person, so close to being a hero.  If he could be more humble, he could be a great president, a great capitalist, a great builder.  Luthor could be Batman.  Or more likely, in a world without Superman, Lex would wind up being "Watchmen"'s Oxymandias... which is probably far worse now that I think about it.

But that won't happen.  He won't ever be able to make that step to become something more than a criminal, because Superman is a block in his mind.  Superman checks Luthor, Luthor checks Superman, the battle will never end.

Why Eisenberg Fails

Now back to the main point again.  Why is Jesse Eisenberg wrong for the role.  The problem is simple, and I'll be very frank about it:

He's a twerp.
I'm not trying to be mean or petty, but that is the fact right there.  There is nothing particular menacing about Jesse Eisenberg, as much as there is not anything menacing about most sixteen-year-olds.  The guy is a fine actor, but he's not one with a great deal of range.  He walks around with this endless shrug of eternal sarcasm, as if the entire world is ever so slightly boring to him.  I like Eisenberg in "Zombieland", I thought he was perfect for "The Social Network", but he's wrong for Luthor.  But he's never been a charismatic leader, or a formidable character.  It was that twerpishness that made him so dangerous in "The Social Network", because he was too much of an obvious prick and too small in stature to ever be seriously considered a threat.  Then he backstabs everybody and becomes a billionaire, which is, yes, Luthor's version of the American Dream, but probably not Luthor's way of doing things.

Lex Luthor's greatest flaw is egomania.  He could never consider the concept that anybody could ever be superior to him, and then with the indisputable evidence of his own physical and moral inferiority with Superman, it drives him mad.  Jesse Eisenberg is not an ubermensch.  He walks around with an extremely shaky smugness in his movies, exactly the false front of somebody who has spent his entire life reminded constantly that he is inferior in so many ways.  When he acts dominant you can hear in his voice the petty revenge for a million minor slights he suffered in fifth grade.  Luthor fills up a room, he dominates everything he can.  Eisenberg's Zuckerberg hides behind nasty jokes and a laptop screen.  It just doesn't work.

Hey, maybe Eisenberg will surprise me.  He might have a great round skull and maybe he'll look great bald.  Throw in a few months at the gym, and some acting talent, Eisenberg might inhabit the role.  I'm sure he's a great person in real life, if he reads this, I sure hope there's no hard feelings.  But on some level, actors can never really become things that they are not, just as people cannot truly change who they are.  Eisenberg becoming Lex Luthor is as unlikely as a rabbit becoming a lion.

What I suspect Snyder, Affleck, Goyer, and Terrio are thinking is a totally new Luthor.  This would be a younger, meeker, geekier Lex, which some focus test might have told them would sell better.  They want a smaller character, a guy nobody could think actually would be a threat, and then turns out to be one.  That could make for some great cinema, but it hardly compliments Superman as a character, and it would never be more than a boss battle at the end of an action movie.  This would not be the King forever denied his Crown of most modern Lex Luthor depictions, but rather a jealous dork who uses his cunning to fight Superman.  But that's just not as interesting, at least not to me.

The tragedy of the old Lex Luthor was that he was a man who could do anything and doesn't, he turns towards evil.  There is no tragedy in that hypothetical Eisenberg Luthor, and that's why this is a huge mistake.  They have never actually filmed the comic book Luthor, and its a shame we're missing that for something that I predict will not be worthy of Superman.

So Who Should They Have Gotten?

That's the real question.  And, I know, this is going to be a dumb answer, but there is only one actor in my mind for Lex Luthor:


Why Billy Zane?  Because Billy Zane is awesome, that's why.  He's got the voice, he's got the looks, he's got the hair, he dominates his movies - to be fair, his movies lately have all been straight-to-DVD crap.  But he's the man.  You could also have picked Mark Strong, Bryan Cranston, Michael Fassbender, or Faran Tahir.

On the other more positive hand, they're hiring Jeremy Irons to play Alfred.  That's probably going to rock.

* Or more precisely "Superman: The Animated Series" fanboy.  I don't really follow the Superman comic books unless its something epic like "All-Star Superman" or "Superman: Red Sun".  Does that make me more intelligent, objective, and wise?  No.

** I have already said this about six billion times already, but if you're looking for an actress to play Wonder Woman, the name you need to be thinking of is "Jaimie Alexander".  She is so utterly perfect for the role it is a coincidence of historic proportions, an opportunity that filmmakers get once every twenty years, and they've blown it, instead casting Gal Gadot, AKA: "that one chick from 'Furious 6' who was dating the Asian guy and might have died, I don't quite remember".  Hell, if you want a "Furious 6" actress, get Gina Carano, who in real life is six times more badass and strong than the fictional Wonder Woman could ever be.  So mistakes are getting made all over the place.

*** A possible explanation for last year's "Man of Steel" was that it was a propaganda movie made by Lex Luthor himself.


  1. There were rumors earlier (obviously now proven false) that they were planning on casting Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Luthor. I thought that might have actually worked.

  2. Deer Lourde... Why did I never think of Billy Zane? That is damn good idea right there. I'm with you though, Blue... This movie is shaping up to be a disaster. I remember a few years ago I subjected myself to the biggest steaming pile of shit ever called Epic Movie and I never thought I'd see something come close. Now that it has come out that The Rock may play Green Lantern, this movie may surpass it. Fuck you Zack Snyder. Fuck you.


    1. Wow "Epic Movie". Thems fightin' words.

  3. Yeah, not really sure what possessed me to watch a film that I knew would suck. Those were dark times.


  4. So Blue, have you seen the news on the upcoming Sonic cartoon series/video game, Sonic Boom? The internet is blowing up on it right now, and I'd like to hear what you have to say about the changes.

    1. Knuckles looks funny. Amy is eye-fucking me. Tails is winking at me for some reason, WHAT DO YOU KNOW THAT I DON'T KNOW? WHAT ARE YOU WINKING ABOUT? And Sonic is Sonic.

      I haven't really seen enough of the game itself to make a judgment, but hopefully it will be better than Sonic Lost World, which sucked ass.

    2. Why is everyone getting so up in arms about the designs? Personally I love the new look. It kinda add character to them rather then everyone just being a template of Sonic with different colours and, on occasion, boobs. Except the sports tape. The designers went a tad bit overboard with the sports tape. Plus look at the gameplay! That thing is AMAZING!

    3. Wait, SLW was shit? News to me since i enjoyed it

    4. I played about five minutes of it at a GameStop and got through two levels. The controls felt like my legs had been replaced with rusty spatulas and I had been asked to do an Irish Riverdance. Wisps are a thoroughly stupid idea too.

    5. Fair enough. Ill just say that all of the Wisp are skippable and you don't have to use them, and the controls, while having a high learning curve the controls do feel nice once you get with the game's groove and don't try to play it like a previous boost game.

      But like I said, if you didn't like it, that's okay.

  5. I'm tired of Sonic over and over promoting the same old capitalist ideology, that wealth is only for the fittest. The fastest. The coolest. Sonic needs a new side kick. One who doesnt have a ridiculous 1000 dollar haircut, and turns Sonics gold coins to Milk and Cheese. Bread and Fish. So that everyone in the Sonic universe can enjoy the luxury of a full stomach!