With the release of the Comic-Con trailer for Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice, there has been a lot of discussion (or controversy for some) regarding Jesse Eisenberg's rendition of Superman villain Lex Luthor. While an overwhelming lot are quick to criticize this new portrayal with comments such as "Jesse Eisenberg playing Jesse Eisenberg", "Maybe he'll show Superman a magic trick.", among others that are done half to death. Anyway, I wanted to put my two cents on the matter and to not only defend this casting but I'll make the claim that this might be perfect casting for this version of Lex for this new DC Cinematic Universe. Now before I get into my analysis and defense of this casting, I want to make a few things perfectly clear:
1- This is my speculation/understanding about what this version of Lex will be in this universe, so I could very well be wrong in my assumptions and descriptions of the character once I watch the movie.
2- This is the most important one here: All film is subjective, for every group of people who hate something, there will be a group of people who will love it. So you don't have to agree with me, my goal is not to convince you of anything but rather to show you another side of the argument and to show that this casting has potential.
3- If you're going to have a discussion in the comments, please for the love of god have a well structured argument that is based on reason not simply what your preferences are. Everything has a context, so make sure you put that into consideration.
Alright now my argument will be split into three sections, the first being how I think the character will be established in this cinematic universe, second being the comic book roots and inspirations being used in this version of Lex and finally why Jesse Eisenberg is perfect casting when considering all this elements put together.
1) In the context of the DC Cinematic Universe, it should be public knowledge that DC is establishing their universe in a more grounded and realistic world. Their goal essentially to not only bring these characters to life but to present them in a way that is believable that they could exist in our world. Now a Lex Luthor that is depicted in the Animated Series or even the comic books is really hard to make convincing in a real world setting. The Lex Luthor in those mediums assembled a company that controls all aspects of Metropolis from public works, technology, transportation, and even became a major defense contractor all with the purpose of not only satisfying his greed, power and wealth but also to position himself as the face of the city to hide his criminal activities and intentions. Now when you think of the rich and powerful in our world, who comes to mind? It's the internet/ technological entrepreneurs, the Mark Zuckerbergs, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, etc. So this Lex Luthor is (by my assumption) to be in this category of how he obtains his wealth and power. Someone who is seen positively and well respected in the public eye and someone who has ties to government (as you see in the trailer when Lex gives his speech to the senator). This is clearly a character/villain who's power is not only based on his intellect but the resources he has at his disposal.
2) Now in terms of comic book inspiration for this Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman, it's obvious the creative team are borrowing from Superman: Birthright (which was also an inspiration in Man of Steel). Essentially the Lex Luthor in this comic is a quirky outsider who had a very evil presence that people could see.
What these pages from the comic really hammer home is that Lex even at a young age in Smallville was an outsider and was socially awkward. Lex was a quiet genius, but his intelligence alienated him from everyone around him. Lex's parents were unloving and ruthlessly trained him to become the next Einstein. Clark muses that "they were underestimating him". Despite his contemptuous exterior, Lex warmed to Clark when he discovered they shared a common interest which was astronomy. Unfortunately, Lex was so "fundamentally disturbed" that he started spending increasing amounts of time locked in his makeshift laboratory next to the Luthor mansion. So if I'm correct in my assumptions, this Lex he also had a superiority complex (as the second image shows). So with this comic being a clear inspiration, I feel I should discuss the key essential elements of the character. When observing the reactions to Jesse Eisenberg's casting, one of the more common criticisms was that he didn't look intimidating enough. My issue with this criticism (both as a comic book fan and movie fan) is that Lex Luthor was never a character that was intimidating in terms of his presence or appearance but rather what he was/is capable of as a person. Now when talking about the key essential elements of the character, they consist of the following: Lex is a genius, he's resourceful, rich, powerful, manipulative, condescending, obsessive, tortured, and more importantly he's very prideful and thinks highly of himself. Now Lex Luthor's pride and arrogance has many explanations. In All-Star Superman, Lex really disliked Superman because Lex worked hard for all the power and influence he has whereas Superman those qualities were given to him from the get-go.
In other comics (and generally speaking the more common reasons), his hatred for Superman ranged from "he's a hero who's messing up with my plans" to "This caped hero makes me feel inferior and small" and also sometimes "I'm not trusting of this alien". Now in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, it seems like this Lex will have all of these qualities but I believe his reason to hate Superman will be a mixture of both in relation to his pride and distrust (besides obviously being an evil villain). Again this is my speculation based on what information is at my disposal so I could very well be wrong.
3) Now with all this information considered, I believe we will get a great rendition of Lex Luthor in Jesse Eisenberg. In just the trailer alone, we saw three different characteristics of this version of the character: in the scene where Lex is given his "oldest lie in America" to the senator we have the manipulative side of the character and it implies he's a well respected public figure to have a senator come to his doorstep. In his "God vs. Man" speech, that shows the villainous side of the character and it almost had an obsessive tone in the way the line was delivered as if Lex was eagerly awaiting his plan finally coming together. Then we have the "Red capes are coming", which shows the quirky side of the character (as well as villainous) but I also got this outsider vibe. That scene almost looked like Lex was just speaking to himself, which could be considered obsessive as well in some way. With the key essential elements of Lex Luthor and the context of the world he exists in, I honestly believe it plays to Jesse Eisenberg's strengths as an actor. We've seen him play this qualities in movies like The Social Network as Mark Zuckerberg as well as Now You See Me.
While I do hate Lex Luthor's hair, I'm willing to give it a pass not only because his hair is inevitably going to disappear by the end of the movie but in many incarnations the character has had a wide range of different types of hair (some good, some bad). But performance wise I have no problems with Jesse Eisenberg's rendition and I'm sure with Chris Terrio's writing, the character will still have that complexity and will still be a threat that will make him a worthy villain for the Man of Steel.
Which brings me to an issue I feel I should address, the impulse of DC/comicbook fans have when news like this comes out. We've seen so many iterations of these characters in many different mediums, so we tend to connect with variations of the characters that are common to us. Because of our attachment to what we consider to be common, we as fans are very quick to criticize anything that is different from what we're used to or what we consider to be "definitive". I believe we should be more open to different interpretations of these characters we love and to embrace the change. What we should value is whether this version of the character fits the key essential elements of said character and is this character executed in a compelling and interesting way. I think we are in for something special, but the only way to determine this is to wait until the movie is released and to witness the reaction of the audience. I'll reiterate, this casting could very well suck when we get the full execution of the character in the movie. They could miss the mark no doubt, but damn it they are at least aiming for the right mark and for me that's all that matters for right now.
I hope you guys enjoyed this piece. If you have any criticisms regarding where I can improve in my writing (I might have not expressed myself well on certain topics or might have forgotten some information) and analysis please let me know in the comments. If there's another subject you would like me to tackle also put that in the comments. Thanks.