Despite the fact he’s one of the most iconic villain in all of fiction, Lex Luthor has been surprisingly short on great adaptations. Gene Hackman’s cartoonish iteration from the Richard Donner Superman films became iconic largely by association; he’s the weakest aspect of those films. Kevin Spacey’s version in the 2006 pseudo sequel Superman Returns was an improvement, but was still held back by his connections to the Hackman version. Michael Rosenbaum did fine work in the role on the teen drama Smallville, but the show around him was never worthy of his nuanced, empathetic performance.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s interpretation of Lex Luthor was an immediate lightning rod for controversy. Casting someone as young and unimposing as Jesse Eisenberg immediately enraged a certain segment of fans, and his eccentricities in early promotional material seemed to be leaning in the direction of Hackman-style silliness.
But this was not to be a silly Lex. Instead, we were presented with perhaps the darkest, most damaged version of Superman’s archenemy yet. A brilliant billionaire fueled by the traumas of his childhood, Eisenberg’s Lex is obsessed with toppling Superman, for reasons even he can’t fully articulate. It’s a dynamic, raging performance, and the best Lex Luthor who has ever graced the silver screen.
These are the 15 Reasons Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor Is The BEST Version.
15 His Theme Music
Superhero theme music has become something of a lost art. You would be hard pressed to hum a theme from, say, Captain America or Doctor Strange. Superhero films tend to use their scores as mood pieces, lacking memorable, dynamic melodies.
The one gigantic exception to that trend has been Hans Zimmer. After his stirring, propulsive work on Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, he was enlisted by Zack Snyder to take on the tall task of reimagining Superman’s theme. He knocked it out of the park; the plaintive, piano driven theme subtly defines Henry Cavill’s more somber Man of Steel. His jungle rock theme for Wonder Woman has also become ironic.
For Lex, his theme evokes another superhero composer heavyweight: Danny Elfman. The mix of foreboding piano chords and slightly off kilter violins sum up this version of Lex perfectly: an amusingly eccentric man who is not to be underestimated.
14 His Daddy Issues
Many previous versions of Lex have either alluded to a difficult relationship with his father or explored it in more overt ways (Lionel Luthor was a major factor in Lex’s internal morality struggle in Smallville).
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice delivers a slightly different take on that relationship: Lex publicly portrays his late father as a "tough love" advocate whose sternness made him the man he is today. In more private moments, however, Lex’s relationship with his father is revealed to have been much darker. He suffered both physical and emotional abuse from the man.
That trauma is not a valid excuse for the amoral man Lex would become, but it makes his desperation to control his world and the larger than life figures in it more understandable.
13 He Knows Clark Kent Is Superman From The Beginning
One of the best changes Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel made to Superman’s mythos was the decision to have Lois Lane know Clark Kent was Superman from the start. It made their relationship more immediately resonant, and sidestepped an uncomfortable truth at the root of Superman’s story: Lois Lane, supposedly a dogged investigative reporter, would have to be horrifically bad at her job to not realize the guy sitting next to her everyday is Superman.
Similarly, Lex Luthor is a man of such vast resources and intellect it never really made sense that he would be unable to ascertain Superman’s identity. Making it something that isn’t even a big dramatic reveal, but something he clearly knows at the beginning of the story, turns Lex into even more of a Machiavellian mastermind, and a much more dangerous antagonist.
12 His Social Awkwardness
There has been an effort in many modern iterations to make Lex Luthor something of a dark mirror of Bruce Wayne: a suave, charming, handsome billionaire who uses his obsessive nature and vast wealth to settle personal vendettas, rather than in service of vigilante justice. This often has the effect of romanticizing Lex into a tragic could-have-been-hero who simply lost his way somewhere along the way.
Eisenberg’s Lex breaks this mold in dramatic fashion. Diminutive, smarmy, and downright repellent to the vast majority of people he encounters, this Lex was never going to be Bruce Wayne. His genius and fortune were never going to help him overcome the fact that he’s such a plainly odious person, and it makes his petty score settling seem much more sensible.
11 He’s A 21st Century Business Mogul
Most modern incarnations of Lex Luthor have portrayed him as a classic 20th century industrialist; a smartly besuited titan of industry who’s loathe to crack a smile in public. This is quickly becoming an obsolete archetype. The American billionaires of the 21st century are more likely to be young tech moguls, like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who Jesse Eisenberg conveniently portrayed in David Fincher’s stylish, haunting The Social Network.
Infusing Lex with the billionaire "tech bro" spirit was a smart and easy way to make him both credibly powerful and deeply unlikeable. He’s a young man of such vast wealth and influence that he doesn’t believe any rules should apply to him. His fragile ego is severely threatened by someone as altruistic and all powerful as Superman.
10 His Offbeat Sense Of Style
Most iterations of Lex Luthor have been either buttoned-down, power suit types, or cartoonish dandies like Gene Hackman’s version from the Christopher Reeve films. Eisenberg’s Lex has a style all his own that is hard to pin down.
He favors colorful, offbeat attire not totally divorced from Hackman’s Lex, but it never veers into the ridiculousness of the latter iteration. His checkered prints and loud colors make him seem more approachable, and maybe even a little bit like a nerdy kid desperate for attention.
Paired with his off-putting haircut, this unusual fashion sense seems to be designed to deliberately mask a much darker man than what Lex presents to the world. Nobody suspects the clown… unless you’re in Gotham. Then you should pretty much always suspect the clown.
9 His Complicated Scheme To Use Batman To Bring Down Superman
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was billed as an epic battle between the two most iconic comic book characters of all time, but that was really a bit of misdirection. The movie’s main thrust consists of Lex manipulating the two titans into conflict through an almost absurdly complicated plan. Lex is smart enough to know he probably can’t take out Superman on his own, so he lists the most dangerous man alive to do the job for him: Batman.
It’s genuinely impressive that Lex’s plan probably would have worked if Batman and Superman didn’t have moms with the same name. His creation of Doomsday seemed like a bit of a last ditch desperation move, but his initial scheme to play on Batman’s growing cynicism and paranoia and to frame Superman for the atrocities in Africa is a solid evil plan.
8 He Doesn’t Care About Land/Real Estate
It’s ridiculous that we have to rejoice that Lex Luthor’s big evil plan had nothing to do with real estate, yet here we are anyway.
The obsession with land always made Hackman’s version of the character feel like something of a two-bit crook, and it made his conflict with Superman feel less like an all-consuming obsession (as in the comics), and more like Superman was just another guy in his way. It was ten times more egregious when the real estate obsession was grafted onto Kevin Spacey’s version of Lex in the 2006 sort-of-sequel to the Donner films, Superman Returns.
Framing Lex as a man whose deep-seated insecurities are ignited by the presence of Superman seems like much more fertile storytelling ground than making his ultimate goal to be realtor of the year.
7 His Interaction With Senator Finch
Holly Hunter’s Senator June Finch doesn’t have a tremendous amount of screen time in Batman v Superman, but the Oscar-winning actress predictably makes a meal of what she’s given. The vast majority of her scenes are with Eisenberg’s Lex, as he attempts to manipulate her tough but cautious lawmaker into morally murky watersin order to push his plan to bring down Superman into further motion.
The scene in Lex’s study between the two is perhaps the most telling moment for Lex, as he shifts from charm to threats in nearly the same breath. Unfazed by that meeting where a rather colorful metaphor is employed, Senator Finch later gets to do something it’s safe to say no one else will ever do in any other superhero movie: stare at a jar of urine in a senate hearing and realize she’s about to die by Lex’s hand.
6 The Jolly Rancher Scene
Sometimes a movie can define a character in big, bold ways. Sometimes, all it takes is a small, subtle scene to say virtually everything there is to say about a character. Eisenberg’s Lex favored the latter.
Early on in Batman v Superman, Lex is negotiating with a government official for access to General Zod’s corpse and his crashed Kryptonian ship. The crooked politician is more than happy to oblige, but Lex wants to symbolically seal the deal -- by gently inserting a Jolly Rancher into the uncomfortable man’s mouth.
The symbolism of the moment speaks for itself, but the genuine glee Lex seems to gain from such a small, humiliating moment speaks volumes about the utter disdain he holds for seemingly everyone.
5 His Final Scene With Batman
When Batman visits Lex at the end of the film, Lex at first appears to be a broken man, shaved bald in his cold, colorless prison cell. Batman is ostensibly there to intimidate Lex; even in a high security prison, Batman knows Lex is a wild card who could still cause serious trouble, especially knowing everything he does about not only Batman and Superman, but all the other eventual members of the Justice League.
Surprisingly, Batman does not find Lex to be a broken man. Indeed, Lex is almost gleeful in his belief that he’s set in motion a much greater plan that will see him victorious. Something horribly is coming, and with Superman taken off the table, Lex is confident he’ll be on the winning side of that war.
4 His Speech About Gods To Superman
As Superman realizes that Lex has kidnapped his mother and forced him into conflict with Batman, the young billionaire muses on his dark, bitter personal philosophy. People perceive Superman as a god, which fundamentally offends Lex.
As a man whose childhood was colored with constant emotional and physical abuse, Lwx rejects the notion of a benevolent God. As he says, "if God is all powerful, he cannot be all good. And if he is all good, he cannot be all powerful."
It’s not exactly a new philosophical idea, but Eisenberg sells the moment brilliantly, giving the audience a brief glimpse into the broken heart of a little boy who has become the sort of monster he once feared. That lack of self-awareness is ultimately Lex’s undoing… for now.
3 He’s Smart Enough To Exploit Zod’s Corpse To Create Doomsday
Lex Luthor is a smart guy - that’s a given. His ultimate scheme to maneuver Batman and Superman into conflict is a neat little web of deception and lies. It took more than a little know-how to get access to Zod’s corpse to begin with, but the ability to exploit the Kryptonian technology to weaponize him into the monster known as Doomsday is a whole different level of genius.
There’s an argument to be made that Lex was able to cobble together that information because he’s simply that much of a genius. There is, however, an entirely different theory as to how he could pull off such an otherworldly feat that would result in Earth’s most powerful hero ending up in a casket in Kansas. We’ll get to that one in a minute, but either way, this version of Lex is, at the very least, the intellectual equal of Batman.
2 His Ruthlessness
Lex Luthor is almost always a jerk, and often makes a lot of noise about all the people his schemes will end up killing. This version of Lex, however, doesn’t really need to talk up his homicidal tendencies.
Part of Lex’s master plan involves recruiting a man, Wallace Keef, who was gravely injured in Superman’s battle with Zod over Metropolis in Man of Steel. Lex provides Wallace with a new, state of the art electric wheelchair, which Wallace takes with him to a senate hearing where he intends to speak out against Superman.
Unbeknownst to him, Lex rigged the wheelchair with a bomb (lined with lead so Superman couldn’t detect it) that kills hundreds of innocent people, including Lex’s assistant, Mercy Graves. It’s a dark, cold decision that proves this is a Lex Luthor who is not going to pull punches to get what he wants.
1 His Connections To Apokolips/Darkseid/Steppenwolf
So how is Lex able to create Doomsday with such a limited knowledge of Kryptonian techonology? The answer may be hidden in plain sight (or, if you prefer, a deleted scene): just before he’s captured by the authorities, Lex is seen to be communing with a demonic entity that would appear to be Steppenwolf, one of Darkseid’s lieutenants, and the main antagonist of the upcoming Justice League film. Lex is also pretty clearly alluding to the coming of Darkseid in his final scene with Batman.
Is Lex consciously aware that he’s been helping the Lord of Apokolips to take Superman out of the picture? Is he a willing tool of Darkseid, or is he being manipulated in ways even he doesn’t understand? We’ll likely have to wait until Justice League to find out.
There’s never been a version of Lex Luthor who is seemingly linked in such an intrinsic way to the most powerful force of evil in the DC Universe. Lex’s continued role in the DCEU likely depends on this connection, which is a bold direction for an already dynamic reinterpretation of one of DC’s most storied antagonists.
Are you a fan of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Let us know in the comments!
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