It’s important to point out that while many now view Jesse Eisenberg as an indie-movie artisan, it wasn’t long ago that he was referred to in the same breath as Michael Cera, pigeon-holed into playing lovable, charmingly awkward dorks. But when David Fincher – the mind behind the likes of Fight Club, Se7en, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – selected the quirky, insecure comedic actor to play the cold, alienated star of his Social Network, the result was a performance that few had trouble accepting.
He may have moved out of the spotlight with his recent work, but starring in a broad comedy like 30 Minutes or Less or Zombieland is a feat often taken for granted by causal movie audiences. The ability to draw laughs with his mile-a-minute dialogue and nervous neuroses is clearly one of his strengths, but acting alongside the likes of Aziz Ansari, Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone without ever standing out is no coincidence.
Nor is it a knack for being ‘just good enough’ that made him seem to fit right alongside Harrelson (again), Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine in Now You See Me. Granted, the film had its shortcomings, but Eisenberg’s cocky street magician is rarely cited as one.
As Marvel’s own ‘godfather’ of comic book movies, Joss Whedon, has explained that he’s always inclined to hire comedic actors for serious parts since “comedy is the harder one.” It’s clear Marvel has agreed, casting the likes of Chris Evans, Chris Pratt and Paul Rudd to play some of their biggest heroes. Screen presence is screen presence, so it’s up to the writers and director to determine whether the actor is being funny or not.
Fans are quick to imagine an actor’s most familiar role when passing judgement on their suitability for their next, but that is as flawed an approach to casting as one can imagine. At this point, Eisenberg has worked with some of the industry’s most respected and discriminating talents both in front of and behind the lens.
We’d wager that those who claim Eisenberg is a one-trick pony, playing the same role over and over are likely to also claim that Ben Affleck’s skill in acting, writing or directing is similarly suspect – something that critics, mass audiences and award committees have all disagreed with.
It’s Something New
Before rumors of Lex Luthor casting began, and fans everywhere named their picks based (consciously or not) on an actor’s baldness, the question arose: why does he have to be bald? The character has sported hair in the comics, in movies, and on television, proving that a bald head wasn’t a prerequisite for a faithful version, and surely in Snyder’s universe – occupied by an African-American Perry White, Jenny Olsen, and a red-haired Lois Lane – appearances matter much less than the, you know, acting.
If nothing else, one thing should make fans happy: Zack Snyder is looking to give audiences something they’ve never seen. Which would be more underwhelming? To hear that Snyder was casting a young, unconventional actor to play what is clearly a different approach to the role, or that he had picked yet another middle-aged, bald-headed actor used to playing villains?
Tradition is valuable, of course – but fans of the conventional portrayal of Lex Luthor in live-action already have Hackman and Spacey’s versions to elate them. Should fans of the actual groundbreaking comics that sought to make a modern Lex be completely overlooked for the sake of doing something that’s already been done?
Michael Rosenbaum’s time in the role on the WB’s Smallville started to move Luthor towards the somewhat sympathetic, misunderstood figure the comics have begun to adopt. But to see a Superman film that takes its heroes and villains seriously, giving each time to develop so they can represent a moral conflict, not just a physical threat, would surely benefit from a fresh take on the character of Lex Luthor.
There’s a chance Snyder and Goyer may decide to break with the trend seen in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and offer a traditional, unsurprising treatment of Superman’s most famous foe. But if nothing else, it’s just easy to ask an audience to hate an arrogant, wealthy businessman. We’re all for interesting, provided those leading the film have a clear picture of what they’re after. And they certainly seem to.
It’s still too early to tell whether Esienberg’s casting will be a stroke of genius, and a new approach to an antagonist who’s never really made an audience question Superman’s moral compass, or if his previous roles are his most successful for a reason. But as our argument shows, anyone who believes that this Oscar-nominated actor’s casting is somehow a sign of trouble may want to re-examine the facts on which they’re basing their fears.
Be sure to leave your thoughts on our case in the comments. We’ll keep you up to date when the studio begins releasing more information.
Man of Steel 2/Batman vs. Superman hits theaters May 6, 2016.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.