What kind of Lex Luthor will Jesse Eisenberg be?

Feature Seb Patrick 1 Feb 2014 - 22:43

What clues to the direction of Batman Vs Superman does the casting of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor offer us?

It didn't take long for the jokes to start: so ingrained was Bryan Cranston as the fan's choice choice to play Lex Luthor in Zack Snyder's upcoming Man Of Steel sequel, that the only possible assumption following Friday's announcement was that someone at Warner Bros had misheard Snyder's request to get "that Heisenberg guy" in. That's quite a good gag, in fairness.

That was among the more common reactions – the others being "Huh?", "What?" and "Well, at least this cuts Affleck a break for a bit" – to the news that The Social Network and Adventureland's Jesse Eisenberg, a fresh-faced, mop-haired thirty-year-old, had been cast as one of comicdom's most charismatic and enduring villains.

That the casting immediately struck the majority of onlookers as so incongruous says a lot about exactly which version of Lex Luthor is the one that's generally resident in the shared consciousness. In truth, over the last 70-odd years, there have been almost as many different takes and interpretations of the character as there have been of Batman. He's been a mad scientist with world domination plans, he's been an ostentatious 'criminal mastermind' with a worrying obsession with real estate, he's been a beloved captain of industry with a secretly evil agenda, and he's been his own self-cloned son with an Australian accent (it was the 90s, best not to ask).

Up until the 1980s, the bald mad scientist persona was pretty much the only take that there had been, although the Gene Hackman movie version had somewhat stripped out the scientist element and made him more of a straight underground villain. But with the mid-80s post-Crisis On Infinite Earths reboot, Luthor became the version that tends to be the first that jumps to most people's minds: that is, the billionaire inventor and tycoon, admired by almost everyone but with a ruthless and murderous hidden streak and an intense dedication to wiping Superman off the face of the planet.

A combination of two different TV series established this version in the wider consciousness: firstly, John Shea's portrayal in the cheesy but better-than-you-probably-think Lois And Clark, and then Michael Rosenbaum as a younger version in Smallville. Shea in particular gave the character an effortless, suave charm – mixed with an underlying psychopathy – and this Luthor seems to be the one that most people (this writer included) think offers the best character and storytelling possibilities when set against Superman.

It's no surprise, then, that Cranston – who could do that dual-facing role standing on his head – was such a popular potential choice, but by contrast it's really not the kind of role that anyone would have associated with Eisenberg. Some have been quick to zero in on his previous role as an unlikeable billionaire, of course – but Luthor would seem to work best when he has the outward-facing charm to win over (or, rather, hoodwink) the general public and keep his less savoury side quiet – and as good as Eisenberg was in The Social Network, he was never really required to give Mark Zuckerberg a charismatic or sympathetic side.

That said, a version of Lex who is rich and successful while still having a slightly sinister and unlikeable air to his public face isn't without precedent – such a take was a major part of Mark Waid and Leinil Yu's 2004 comics miniseries Superman: Birthright, a book that's already had some measure of influence on the Snyder/David Goyer films so far. In that series, even with all his success there's something perpetually awkward about Lex – who we also meet, in a nod to Smallville, as a brief childhood friend of Clark's. He spends his entire life as a lonely, embittered outsider, and seems to want nothing more than to meet some otherworldly race who he feels might be more on his intellectual level than the people who populate his own planet. Indeed, that the first alien he meets turns out to be someone so opposed to his own ethos as Superman is something that fuels his particular hate for the Man of Steel.

It's certainly a take that could be made to work, and if Goyer and Snyder were going in that direction for Lex, then the casting of Eisenberg would suddenly make a lot more sense (although given his public distaste for the first film in the series, it would be interesting to see Mark Waid's reaction to having his works plundered yet further). Casting an actor so young, meanwhile, would perhaps be less of a problem if Warner Bros/DC are setting Lex up as a longer-term antagonist for the film series that they're evidently so keen to make happen. Indeed, it may yet turn out to be the case that Luthor isn't even the main villain of the Batman/Superman film, instead playing a role behind the scenes that will set him up to be more significant further down the line.

It has to be said, too, that while Man Of Steel had extensive problems, none of them really related to the cast, who were uniformly strong whatever you might think of the material they were working with. So we can reasonably expect similar of its sequel. Eisenberg might not be the obvious choice for this character – even less so than Affleck was for Batman in some people's eyes – but he's undeniably a terrific actor, so for all the eyebrows his casting has raised, the biggest question is really whether he'll be given a script and a character that will make the best use of him…

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Not wanting to disrespect Bryan Cranston, or belittle his acting chops, but I can't help but feel that a good portion of the fan support is that his most recent character was bald - because that's Lex's defining character trait, right?

I want an insanely reasonable Lex Luthor. I want a Lex Luthor that, if not for his grudge against Superman, probably would've been a good guy. I want a Lex Luthor that is, in his eyes, completely correct in the belief that Superman is a problem. Lex's weakness should be that he's taken Superman very existence as a personal insult. I want Superman to be his White Whale.

I think it's interesting to see a Lex Luthor for the Zuckerberg generation; the billionaire genius that wouldn't be seen dead in a suit. It's a differing take on the character that still feels true because, in many ways, it is true.

But, on the other hand, I'm still convinced that WB are trying to catch the lightening in a bottle that was Heath Ledger's casting. Not every casting decision has to be controversial.

'Well I hope that'- WHO GIVES A F-
If we're lucky this film will fall into the category of films expected to be bad but ended up okay. Like World War Z. And Avatar part 4.

When I saw the casting news my reaction to Jeremy Irons was a big smile (though I think that has much to do with Greg Proops' 'Smartest Man in the World' podcast as it does the casting decision), then a 'Eisenberg? Really?'

Then I started to think Rosenbaum's young Lex and seeing something that was a mix of that and Eisenberg's Zuckerberg, to create a Lex that is a smart tech-savvy genius of the dotcom generation. A character who the world loves for the inventions he provided, but only really know him through highly polished video packages, but when you meet him is thoroughly unpleasant and downright evil.

Lex being publicly popular has never been something I've seen as a defining feature of him. It's been an interpretation, but Hackman's Lex wasn't popular, by the end of the first season of 'Lois and Clark' Shea had fallen out of public favour, in the cartoons I watched as a kid Lex was an out and out criminal, and most recently in Smallville he was never particularly popular, so I don't think charismatic likeability is important.

I have high hopes for Eisenberg as Lex.

Shea was always my Lex Luthor. Much as Dean Cain was always my Clark Kent (if not necessarily my Superman).


I could buy into the idea of the real Mark Zuckerberg playing Lex Luthor, long before I could buy into the idea of the actor who portrayed him doing it. Zuckerberg's a "real business villain" at least.

Lex Luthor being an outsider would be interesting but that same time it would feel like Batman. But I think making him a Californian style Billionaire could work, since that would be what Lex would be if had been invented today.

He'll jabber at a 1000 words per minute and look annoyingly smug while he's doing it.

don't you mean social network and ZOMBIELAND not adventureland?

Nope. He was in Adventureland as well.

Agreed regarding Bryan C.

Yeah as usual, people go stupid. The breaking bad show as good apparently and Bryan was good in it and guess what! He's bald! So everyone on the net starts jacking eachother off over the idea of him being Luthor. But, to your wants on Luthor, maybe that's why they cast eisenberg; he may well portray a man who, although smart and rich, is not the god he wants to be but superman is. They definitely need to give this character and fully developed background and not just the megalomaniac billionaire he been portrayed as in the past.

I really wonder what this casting director is taking, Eisenberg as Lex, Gadot as wonder woman, Afflex as Batman.... I can't think of a poorer casting choice,

He is going to be an incredibly annoying one.

Casting Director: "So Snyder, we need to cast Lex. I have a great idea. How about we get the dude who played Heisenberg? The fans would love that.

Synder: Great idea! I loved Social Network!

Casting Director: "Er... no. Not Eisenberg, Heise..."

Snyder: "Too later, already calling, cant hear you... Jesse Heisenberg! How's it going? Listen. Ok, I've got a crazy idea, but just go with it..."

This kid is a dweeb. He's nothing at all like lex Luther. Man this super reboot is sucking ass.

If this Eisenberg gonk is to be cast in the new Superman film then he would be more suited to the part of Luthor's nephew, Lenny, than that of Luthor himself. I'd personally throw into the mix the names of Paul Giamati, Jason Isaacs or Mark Strong.

Both characters are underhanded, power hungry, two faced villians. But yeah, everyone else just can't see past the fact that they're both bald(!).

I have never walked out during a film, ever. Because I'm tight.

But there's always a first time.

Actually I just won't go to see it and save my money for something that's actually worth watching, original and good.

Too young.

I wouldn't have thought Bryan would want to do this anyway, it would essentially be playing the same character as Walter White ( which he was awesome as) and I think people are assuming that this portrayal of Lex will be bald. If they are going in a totally different direction, which seems to be the case judging by this casting decision, that may not be true.
Still can't see his style of acting working though.

Personally i dont think the casting nor the writing will be the biggest problem, it will be the studios jostling for who gets to be the second place franchise to the MCU. So expect CGI in place of plot or character development, many poor imitations of "puny god" scenes and several box office bombs, which will ultimately scale back all of the studios super hero plans.

We are in a bubble and will quickly see the ambitious plans for the spiderman and dc universes scaled back once the general public reach super hero fatigue, most people dont care that superman and spider man dont live in the same universe, let alone the politics that prevent marvels creations all being in the same film...

I think we week see a lex who has a head Full of hair in beginning of the film which will be set before the events of superman. He will be in a horrific accident as a result of the actions of superman and or other kryptonians which will result in him losing his hair and maybe someone important to him. This will drive him insane and show he isn't inherently evil but reacting to a bad situation caused by superman.

Could also be how he gains support in government and gains more power

if they wanted a young talented actor to play a convincing bald billionaire business man, why not just get michael rosenbaum. He was one of the best things about smallville and, in my opinion, the only actor to truly capture the devious, duplicitous, conniving, evil, obsessed nature of lex luthor. as great as hackman and spacey were, their incarnations are akin to nicholson's joker - very good to watch, but not at all like the character from the comics. as for batfleck, if they wanted an older, grittier batman, they should have got josh brolin. although, the casting of jeremy irons as alfred is a good one.

With every new announcement for this movie and DCs efforts to create a credible movieverse to rival Marvel's, my heart is sinking further into a pit of despair. I really want DC to succeed but I really can't see it happening. Marvel have a movie out soon with a talking raccoon and yet DC still can't give us anything other than Plan A (Superman) or Plan B (Batman). Plan C (have them both together, with Wonder Woman shoe-horned in as almost an afterthought) speaks of trying something new in a desperate attempt to play catch up with Marvel, but as it's not part of any sort of long term plan/strategy, I think it will ultimately go a bit wrong.

I've said before on other sites, in the comics, apart from justice league (and the occasional bat/supes appearance/team-up) all the titles stand alone and rarely mention stuff that happens in the other character titles. However, Marvel has always had a shared universe that you can read on it's own or as part of the whole and they have translated it very well to the movies. DC's plan has always been superman, then batman, then back to superman, then back to batman. I know they tried Green Lantern, and yes it wasn't a success for various reasons, so what did they do? Back to Superman.

Making movies is a bit of a risk, and yet, in this day and age superhero movies are one of the safer bets to make money and keep fans happy. However, as the watchword these days is "franchise" you need to have some sort of plan in place (and maybe a contingency if everything goes a bit wrong). Marvel is continually talking about it's phases and yet what has DC done in reply? Given us Jesse Eisenberg.

If this movie doesn't perform to expectations, what then? Wait a few years and then reboot bats and supes again? Meanwhile, Marvel are taking a risk with a movie featuring a talking raccoon and an alien tree entity, plus a man who can shrink himself down and control ants. DC can't even bring us a standalone Wonder Woman movie.

Q: What kind of Lex Luthor will Jessie Eisenberg be?
A: A rubbish one.

Brian Cranston shouldn't be Lex either. Its just the Breaking bad morons, who probably want him for every role now, calling for him.

I could imagine Eisenberg as portraying Luthor as a younger Wall Street-type, like the same type of cocky douche as the characters in "The Wolf of Wall Street".

That joke sounds awfully familiar.

Regarding Cranston, you can't seriously believe that a large percentage of fans would only consider him to be Lex because he was bald. Can you?
I think it's more the fact he can pull off the power hungry, intelligent egocentric extremely well.
As stated in other comments though, that was literally his last role so playing Lex just isn't realistic for him right now.

But I tell you this, if he could've been Lex, his rendition would blow Eisenburg's out of the solar system!

I've seen enough people confuse design with character to not believe that one of the main reasons Cranston has been considered the only choice is because he's the first actor that comes to mind that doesn't have hair.

Cranston is a good actor, don't get me wrong, and it would be interesting to see him in the role, but do you honestly think Cranston would have have been such a fan favourite if Walter White had a lush head of hair?

I see your point for a casual viewer, but which casual viewer would actually be able to put name to face?
The 'casual viewer' would say: "yeah, that's Heisenberg. Oh, what, they're trying to make a Justice League?"

Whilst me or any other fan said "Hell yeah Bryan Cranston would make a brilliant Lex! and I know Dean Norris is also bald, but I just don't perceive him to be able to be evil enough."

So what I'm meaning is, no, I don't think that to be the reason.

Luthor in no way disregards his scientific genus persona in the classic 70s-1980 Superman films! I don't think the script makes the best use of the character (Hackman did well with what he had, but Otis was probably just too silly…though, again, Beatty did well considering what he had to work with and the Salkinds' original campy vision). Luthor is portrayed as an egotist engrossed in his private library and browbeating his two companions with his supposed intellect, while coming up with a way to defeat US security and reroute nuclear bombs, as well as devising a way, regardless of the Clark Kent disguise, to communicate with Superman in order to arrange a meeting (he broadcasts a message over New York/Metropolis at a sound frequency too high for normal humans to hear, threatening to blow up a building, then, a step ahead of Supes, simply waits in his lair for Superman to human-drill through the sidewalk (classily asking folks to step aside in that polite, mid-century decency Christopher Reeve alone was ever able to quite pull off) and find him there, so they can have their discussion about plate tectonics--it's a character building exposition scene between two superior intellect, one wholesome and naive, the other murderous and having turned mankind's destructive science against him/her. So, I would argue that this comment about the Hackman portrayal is simply inaccurate.

In the 2nd movie (somewhat distorted because Hackman refused to reshoot any footage with the garbage director they hired to finish the film at a somewhat inferior standard), Luthor plays a minor role, but grasps that an alien invasion is happening before anyone else (partly due to an advanced radiation detection device he's built in prison), and manages to negotiate directly with Zod and company to his own utterly immoral benefit, demonstrating both scientific acumen and wit (Though Reeves' character is not quite so naive as he arrogantly assumes, in the end…). Otherwise a good article, thank you.

Same people who said Heath Ledger would suck probably saying this

I'm in the major minority who think Jesse will be evil and genius in this

I think that really was a lot of it. They watched Breaking Bad (cause apart from me, who didnt?). Then they go on pretty much any hollywood/media news site and see an article saying 'is this the next Lex Luthor?' with pictures of him and pictures of Lex and they go 'oh yeah he should TOTALLY be Lex'. No other reason lol

I for one want Cranston as Jim Gordon. He's played him (via voice) once and rocked it.

He's the same age (30) as Henry Cavill

He'll be fine I bet. And to those saying too young? He's 30. The exact same age as Henry Cavill.

At least Ledger had already proved he could act.

Social Network showed how calculating and cold he can be. Zombieland showed he is funny. the Hunting Party showed he can act.

Well I'm looking forward to it. Trust in the Snyder! At least he didn't pick the in vogue bald actor. (stay positive!)

He was the best Clark Kent!

I like both of your ideas, and I think they are absolutely compatible. I'd love to see that. I still think that it is a weird choice, I can't picture Eisenberg without his hair, but he's a solid young actor, I think he can bring a new air to Luthor. Even though he's not the obvious choice, I think he'll do well if he has a good script. And that is the big IF.

IMO he can do great, he's a good actor. Not the obvious choice, but that isn't necessarily bad.
I think Michael Rosenbaum was my favourite Lex Luthor ever. He played a fascinating character, I was more invested in him than in any other character in the show.

I think they are going to portray Lexcorp as a young hip modern company such as Google and I think Jesse is the kind of actor that could pull off the young forward thinking tech savvie billionare CEO role.
I do believe he can act and I'm willing give him the chance to develop and portray the twisted calculating character of Lex

Have you never told a joke you heard elsewhere before?

This movie will bomb so bad, I'm not even going to illegally download it.

I think if he channels the side of his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg that was confrontational, direct and aggressive with character beats unique to Luthor then we could have something really interesting from Jesse.

I just hope this film will be more enjoyable than Jeremy Irons Cereal.

"no prizes at the bottom... just more cereal"

Heisenberg, Eisenberg, Zuckerburg, Facebook, MyS- GUYS, GUYS, STOP THE PRESS! We got it all wrong! Everything's gonna be ok

I think you'll get that as he is'nt necessarily seen as a new hope for mankind in the first one. I am also hopeing from a comic piont of view that they build it up to lex getting his armoured suit for future films!

I actually laughed out loud at this.

I NEVER do that...and admit it.

I'm gonna throw a movie out there for y'all to consider: Lords of Dogtown. He was amazing in it, amazing.

If this is the direction they are going with Lex, I would have loved to have seen Cillian Murphey take on the role of Lex.

He can do smart, clever AND evil. Jesse will just come off as annoying.

All the time. It's just that your joke was already in the article you were commenting on.

If the seventh(?) Superman film and ninth(?) Batman film can surprise & intrigue me then I'm on board.

Not being a fan of the Superman comics, and as such not aware of each character's intricate back story, I wonder if the image of the Lex character doesn't automatically conjure up an older man in the role. Someone who has a lot of street miles under his belt. Intelligent, urbane, charming and ruthlessly evil. A man who, whenever he walks into a room, will immediately command the respect and attention of everyone there, even if you didn't know who he was. Someone you will take seriously, because of his charisma and presence.

I don't think the movie is automatically going to fail because Eisenberg is Lex Luthor, but I am struggling to associate him with my interpretation of Luthor. Although he is a fine, and accomplished actor, he always ends up playing the part of the nerdy underdog, or the perpetual youth. He just has that look about him that he can easily portray a teenager, because he looks like one, despite him being 30.

But perhaps he was chosen because he will fit the tone and look of what the director is looking for in his movie. Time will tell, and I predict it will do well at the box office, but as for its critical reviews, well that will be a whole different argument.

Well, it was mentioned. But there was no actual joke in this article.

It's the classic trap, but to be expected. We only know what someone has already done? Remember when Ledger couldn't be the Joker because "all he can do is be a pretty boy, gay cowboy."?? How did that end up working?
While most of these guys have tendencies, they do what they are asked. If Eisenberg is scripted to be a manical, evil, egomaniac, he will be.

OK. Sorry to trouble you. (I must be more careful with Heisenberg jokes. They are so difficult to pin down.)

I accept your apology.

Please make sure you pin down the right Heisenberg joke next time.


yeah but Singer isn't Nolan. Nolan knows what he's doing.

I'd prefer to see Brian Cranston play an older Jim Gordon. He did a great job voicing him for Year One and I think he could very easily have the look.

But how do you even know that when you haven't seen the script, the trailer, the costume or ANYTHING yet?

Read my first comment.

I agree with your statement but mainly wanted to say how much I like your Mask avatar!

I've gotten to the point where I only like the film because it got me into the comics.

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