Now this is where we get to have some real fun here. I'm about to tell you why I think that Lex Luthor is the best on-screen villain that we've seen in a comic book film since the Joker in The Dark Knight.
Alexander (Lex) Luthor Jr.
Now I am not ignorant to the fact that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is perhaps the most divisive comic book movie of all time and that it is as reviled by many as it is loved by many, but I have seen it a number of times, dissected it with others, looked for allegories, metaphors, and done my best to take my fandom out of my critical view of the film and maintain the belief that this is my favorite comic book movie of all time and will become widely viewed as one of the most underrated films of all time. But alas, we are not here to talk about the movie, we're here to talk about it's villain.
This is without a doubt the most universally disliked aspect of the film. Many complaints that I've heard thrown around about him are that he is too eccentric. That he is very reminiscent of the Riddler. He has no real motivation. He is annoying. It gets more ignorant the more you look through the internet, but hey, we all know that the internet is a mob.
From the start, we meet Lex in his element — at his office displaying his unique, bubbly personality telling a US Senator about his company's discovery of a possible "silver bullet" to keep Superman in check. Not long after this we begin to see the classic Luthor manipulation game. Remember the Jolly Rancher? It's cherry. He is so eccentric that when he is talking to you it's hard to tell if he's mocking you or being incredibly friendly. He KNOWS that he is the smartest man in every room he walks in to, and he proves this with style by the end of the film. Not only does he exact revenge on the senator for inconveniencing him by giving her a jar of piss, but he lines a certain wheelchair bomb with lead so it can't be seen by the one person who could stop it. He causes Superman to doubt himself and break him down emotionally. He pins the whole thing on a victim of the battle of Metropolis while sending Bruce Wayne cryptic letters to feed into Bruce's distrust of the Superman.
But all of this brilliant and complicated scheming is not at all what I love about this character. Lex Luthor is a broken man. There is a specific scene that is played as background noise, but is actually very revealing of Luthor's motivations and his current state of mind. This is during the charity gathering that Lexcorp put together where Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne first meet. In the background we see Luthor get called up to the stage to make a speech. In this brief speech is revealed a great deal about Lex Luthor's character:
"...Gods and men. Prometheus went with us and he ruined Zeus's plan to destroy mankind and for that he was given a thunderbolt. CHROO!
Books are knowledge, and knowledge is power. And I am... hehehehe... No I'm...what am I...no...what was I saying...
The bittersweet pain among men is having knowledge with no power, because that is PARADOXICAL! And uhm hehehe..."
Above is most of what is audible during his party speech. Luthor references the story of Prometheus, who gave men fire and was punished by Zeus for it. This brings up some interesting questions. There is no coincidence to this speech. This is a subtle look into Lex's psychology. We get a glimpse at his MOTIVATION, something that "critics" love to rail on, saying that Lex Luthor lacks it. This is one of many scenes that subtly gives us an inside look a Lex's character and his mindset during the film. This speech implies that he feels powerless when a god-like figure shows up, as most men would. Not only that, but the hate that he has developed for Superman is in large part because of what he says in the speech about having knowledge with no power. He knows that he is mostly powerless or at the very least inferior even though he knows he is the smartest man in nearly every room he walks into.
Luthor also mentions early on that his father of the same name used to tell people that he named the company after his son as a sales pitch. This actually reminds me of another movie called There Will Be Blood, where the main character, Daniel Plainview, travels around with his adopted son, H.W. for the simple reason that he is a cute face that aids him in becoming an oil tycoon.
By the end of the film there is a time jump of around 15 years where Plainview has become the oil tycoon he wanted to be, but has simultaneously isolated himself from any person that may have ever cared about him, including his son, and they share a pivotal scene that reveals that he never actually loved the boy he raised for so long; that he was nothing but a means to an end, and it is absolutely tragic.
This is how I imagine young Lex Luthor's upbringing was like. Being named after a father who is incredibly accomplished means that you are no doubt living in the shadow of a better man, Lex let's his true colors slip in a few moments during the film. In a climactic scene where Lex and Superman finally come face-to-face and Lex reveals his true self, he paints a beautiful picture of why he is consumed by his hatred of Superman.
Said scene begins at 1:06
Lex reveals a very strong hatred towards God. It's implied that this hate spawns from his obviously strained relationship with his father. He reveals that there was some physical abuse that he had to suffer through and he was helpless crying out to a God that apparently wasn't listening to him because it never stopped. He hates God because he never did anything for him, and being an entitled child born into wealth gives you certain notions that you deserve things from people, even God. But unfortunately God did not answer his prayers, and thus began a hatred for anyone whom he felt powerless against.
There is a fantastic line that Alfred says to Bruce Wayne as they do their brooding and detective work in the Batcave. He says: "That's how it starts, the fever, the rage. The feeling of powerlessness, that turns good men, cruel." As much as this is aimed at Bruce Wayne, I think it also heavily applies to Lex Luthor as well. For so very long he had God to hate, and he projected that hate to his earthly father because he represented a physical form of a higher authority that he could despise. Then his father dies (of circumstances we are unaware of). Now, Lex has nobody to project his hate onto. Then comes the Superman, who some actually believe to be a god. He indirectly takes part in destroying a large part of Metropolis and now Luthor finally has someone to hate.
Lex Luthor is obsessed with the notion that God cannot be a perfect entity, otherwise he would always have his way. He says that God can neither be all-good, nor all-powerful. It would be logically impossible in his mind to be both. He says, "They need to see the fraud you are." Lex is so obsessed with exposing Superman as a menace because of his hatred, and he will do whatever he can to see that through, including creating a world-destroying monster just to destroy him.
Now, I actually will not be talking about Doomsday as a character, but as an extension of Lex Luthor. This reanimated corpse of General Zod is the physical manifestation of Luthor's hatred toward Superman. In a way, Luthor is using his own history (albeit a warped and tainted version) to destroy him. What is especially interesting about this creature is how Lex used his blood in the creation, cutting his hand and letting the blood drip on Zod's skin as he began his transformation.
Keep in mind that this is all Kryptonian technology so there was no need for Lex's blood to be added, but this instance is so intimate for him that he wants this monster to be an extension of himself, hence the blood. It's incredible the lengths he went to exact his plan. He achieved his goal to kill Superman, though not the way he wanted, as the Man of Steel was still looked at as a savior and martyr after his death. During his incarceration however, Lex meets a familiar face.
This final face-off between Batman and Lex Luthor includes one of the biggest revelations of the entire movie. After his incarceration, Luthor is ruled insane and unfit to stand trial. This just feeds into Lex's genius. It gives credence to the theory that his eccentric and wacky behavior was all facade, or at least a large part of it was. It implies that even while he is defeated and in shackles, he is still scheming.
This would mean that next time we see Lex we could be seeing the more stoic and collected Lex Luthor that has become the staple version in most fans' minds. But that remains to be seen. As of now this is still a young Lex, experiencing his first bid in jail, which will give him much to think about. And imagine the bone he's going to have to pick if a certain caped hero ever returns. We have seen the beginning of a brilliant incarnations of one of the most beloved villains of all time, and hopefully there is much more to come.
So do you still hate Lex? Or does his character start to make some more sense now? Let me know in the comments!