Who is Jesse Eisenberg actually playing in “Man Of Steel 2”?
There’s not a trick answer to this. When Warner Bros. announced last week that Jesse Eisenberg had been hired to play Lex Luthor in the sequel to last year’s “Man Of Steel,” that is correct. He is playing Lex Luthor. But when they say that, it’s still not a definitive explanation of what you’re going to see when that film arrives in theaters on the now-scheduled date of May , 2016. Which Lex Luthor is he going to play? For comic book fans, there are many possible answers to that question, and for fans of the various live-action and animated interpretations, there are even more possibilities in the mix.
I contend we’re not going to see a Luthor we’ve seen before. Not exactly. “Man Of Steel” was controversial with fans, and there are people who hate the choices the film made, as well as plenty of people who think those choices are what made the interpretation interesting. I think Zack Snyder and David Goyer have set out to tell a particular story, and if I know Snyder (and I think I do after this long knowing him and covering his work) and if I know Goyer ( and I think I do after this long knowing him and working with him and covering his work), then they’re going to continue telling that story in the sequel. Even if they are introducing more super-powered characters into the world, they’re doing it as a building reaction from Superman’s introduction.
This is really no different a game plan than Nolan’s in the the Batman films he made. His first movie was about a world struggling to adapt to the idea of a lunatic dressed in a bat suit doing something to try and fight the corruption of a city. The second film is about escalation and what happens because of that lunatic’s arrival. The Joker is a response to Batman as much as anything else. He exists because Batman needs him to exist. The Joker gives Batman a reason to fight. Only Batman can fight him. Only Batman can stop him. It’s his justification as much as it’s his creation.
In “Man Of Steel,” one of the things that people seem to have been upset by is the level of destruction that we saw. There were some quick little Easter Eggs in the film during that destruction. One featured a satellite that said “Wayne Industries” on it. Another featured different things with the “Lexcorp” logo on them. They’re quick little visual cues, but they’re going to be important building blocks for the next film.
Lex Luthor, in the world of “Man Of Steel” is someone young, someone who’s built a tech company that’s worth a ton of cash, and someone who has a legitimate reason to dislike Superman right away.
And except for the young part, that’s also a pretty fair description of Bruce Wayne.
Here’s what I predict, and I hope the people who hated the destruction in “Man Of Steel,” the people upset about Superman killing Zod, the people who feel like Superman didn’t save anyone… I hope they all go see the sequel… because Lex Luthor is going to speak for them.
That’s right. I’m calling it. Lex Luthor is the voice of the section of fandom who hated “Man Of Steel.”
Lex is going to bring Bruce Wayne into things when he reaches out to him as another person whose business was impacted by the actions of this reckless dangerous alien thing called Superman. And I’m going to bet that Lex is going to be presented as someone who sways a good deal of public opinion to his point of view. I don’t think he’s going to be an overt villain. I think he’s going to be using Superman’s actions to make him into a threat, and I think doing so is going to benefit Lex in every way.
The great thing about casting Eisenberg is that it removes any question of a physical confrontation from the equation. If Superman hits Jesse Eisenberg, even once, he is dead. Period. He’ll be a stain. It’ll look like someone stepped on a grapefruit. That’s all that will be left. There’s no contest there at all, and Superman knows it.
Can you imagine Jesse Eisenberg standing face to face with Superman and calling him a murderer? Calling him out for every person he failed in “Man of Steel,” bitching him out for every building destroyed, every dollar lost in the mayhem? Knowing full well that Superman can’t do anything to him without looking like a giant super bully? The same is true of Affleck as Batman. He can’t beat the hell out of Lex Luthor, no matter how much he might want to wipe the smile of his face. Luthor is a threat they’ll both have to defeat in some way besides a big boss fight, and that alone is reason to be excited.
When Warner Bros. hired Ben Affleck to play Batman, they told him, “Just don’t read the Internet for a while.” They are aware of this burst of “I HATE THIS!” that erupts with each new decision. They are absolutely aware of how many times people second-guess every tidbit or scrap that is released. And they just shrug it off at this point because no matter what, they are making the choices they’re making, and they’re making the movie they’re making. And hopefully, in two and a half years, you’ll like it. But they can’t sweat the microreactions to every little decision right now… nor should they.
The bigger question is if they listened to fans who weren’t happy with the first film, and I’m going to guess that part of what they did in that movie was set things up that may well change people’s minds when they pay them off in this or future films. I think the way Lex is used will be a big part of that, and while I’m not telling you that I know exactly what Eisenberg and Snyder and Goyer and Affleck and Chris Terrio are cooking up, I’m telling you that they’ve laid enough groundwork that it’s possible to make a very educated guess about where they’ll go with the movie.
Eisenberg has a gift that is becoming more pronounced with each new role. He can make the person opposite him feel like they are a bug on a pin, and he’s a kid just poking at them to see what happens. He’s got a cruel wit to him, but a capacity for real depth as well. He’s a great actor, and has been since “Roger Dodger.” He’s an excellent pick for Warner to have made, and it signals that, more than anything, they are not bound to any sort of single interpretation of these characters. I hope all the choices they make for the film are this bold.
There are many things that we don’t know yet. While I’ve heard some rumors of Metallo as a villain in the film, I’ve heard there have been other names in the conversation, and it’s still possible that could shift. I don’t know what Luthor’s ultimate role in the film is.
But I’ll bet when we meet him in 2016, a lot of what he has to say sounds familiar to people who were part of the conversations about the film in 2014, and it’ll be fascinating to see if Luthor changes their minds about the series overall.
“Man Of Steel 2” or “Batman Vs. Superman” or whatever they call it will be in theaters on May 6, 2016.