Comic book casting decisions have a history of causing digital conniptions across social media, blogs, and message boards. Just look no further than the heated reaction to Heath Ledger being announced as The Joker back in 2006 and Robert Downey Jr.’s casting as Iron Man as prime examples. The saga continued earlier today when Warner Bros. announced that Jesse Eisenberg will be playing the iconic role of Lex Luthor in its upcoming Batman/Superman movie.
The instant the news hit the Internet, untold thousands banded together for the type of simultaneous nerd rage that has become synonymous with hypersensitive fanboys. But while the casting choice was unexpected, once you sit back and think about it, it’s actually brilliant.
A brief history lesson:
Lex Luthor first appeared in Action Comics #23, in 1940. He was a villain for his time, an evil genius who used his intellect for destruction, rather than altruism. During this period in history, one of the greatest threats to the world was scientists who were putting their gifts to use to create atom bombs, hydrogen bombs, and a wealth of other weapons designed to wipe out humanity.
That was basically what Luthor was until the ‘80s when he was re-imagined as a ruthless businessman, which was, again, one of the great threats facing American prosperity during the Ronald Reagan era. Since then, his businessman status has fluctuated a bit, and now he is more of a hybrid of the two versions in the comics.
Why Jesse Eisenberg is perfect as Lex Luthor:
As the studio tries to modernize the world of Batman and Superman for this movie, it would make sense for Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor to be a young, tech-savvy entrepreneur who has the ability to make or break society with his genius. We’ve seen Eisenberg pull this type of role off flawlessly as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. He has the ability to get under your skin as someone with a massive intellect, but also a sociopathic streak that can make him extremely dangerous when he goes rogue.
This is the type of evil our world faces today. Eisenberg’s Luthor can be someone with the brains to create killer apps (in the literal sense) and use his technological prowess to gain power and leave society writhing in agony.
What difference does it make that he’s younger than what Lex is typically portrayed as? Zuckerberg is one of the most influential people in the world...at 29. Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger of Instagram are barely old enough to rent a car. Theirs is the identity of power today, and in the world of comic books, that can also be the face of evil. They’re young, handsome, and insanely rich. You’re meant to despise them.
Sure, Bryan Cranston would have been great, but didn’t we just see him as a bald bad guy for long enough? Let's use our imaginations here. Joaquin Phoenix would have been better, but you can’t cast people who don’t want to be in your movie. In the end, Eisenberg makes complete sense, even if you can’t see it yet.
This isn’t Gene Hackman’s pitch-perfect campy Lex from Superman: The Movie, or Kevin Spacey’s derivative version from Superman Returns, or Michael Rosenbaum's take from Smallville. This is a Luthor for the tech age, and he will (thankfully) be completely different from every other comic book villain on screen.
We should consider ourselves lucky—the role could have gone to Michael Cera.