[WARNING: Potential Spoilers Ahead!]
Although Zack Snyder's Man of Steel will likely turn out to be one of the most heavily-marketed blockbusters this summer, for now the studio is playing plenty close to its chest. With claims that the theatrical trailers show just the "tip of the iceberg" where action and plot are concerned, a few nagging questions stand out above the others.
For starters, just how much of a hurry Snyder is in to bring Superman's most infamous nemesis, Lex Luthor, to the big screen. All signs have pointed to General Zod (Michael Shannon) handling villain duties for this chapter (even if he's, you know, not a villain), but the newest rumors surrounding Luthor claim audiences could be in for a surprise.
To this point it's been assumed that even if Lex Luthor wouldn't be appearing in Man of Steel in the flesh - and David S. Goyer has pointed out that nobody has guaranteed he won't be - characters may make mention of LexCorp either off-hand, or hinting at a larger role in the future. The same strategy was employed with the Joker tease at the closing of Batman Begins, and even most recently with Norman Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man.
The logic to that structure being a potential set-up for Luthor's antagonist in the Man of Steel sequel (which may or may not already be in development). However, the newest rumor doesn't just claim that Luthor has been cast, but that his role in the Man of Steel proceedings will be more than just a name drop (or limited to looming in the background or a shadowy office).
The newest update comes courtesy of AICN, and due to the fact that the information is the result of piecing separate reports together, we'd recommend taking this with an even bigger grain of salt than usual. The first insider source - using an alias, but trusted - claims that Luthor will be featured in Man of Steel, and unsurprisingly, will be based on the more scheming and brilliant version of the billionaire seen in modern comics.
That take on the character from Goyer, Nolan and Snyder is expected should he ever be included; aside from fitting with the more grounded and realistic tone, it's hard to see a Luthor like Kevin Spacey's in Superman Returns (2006) fitting with the less 'fantastic' slant. But more than just a confirmation that Luthor will be on screen in Man of Steel, the source also provided the name of the actor who will be playing him.
The name given was Mackenzie Gray, that of the Canadian actor who portrayed an aged Lex Luthor clone in the final season of Smallville. For what it's worth, a video interview has Gray confirming that he is going to be appearing in Man of Steel, but can't comment on his character. The cynical movie fans out there might assume that given Warner Bros. and Nolan's habit of secrecy, even allowing Gray to confirm he's appearing means reprising his role as Luthor is even less likely - the connection is too easy to draw based on that alone.
However stranger things have happened, and the performance Gray gave of Luthor in Smallville was well-received. His age (55) won't please comic fans who feel that Luthor should offer some form of physical threat to match his intelligence, but those expectations aren't generally the kind Nolan and Snyder saddle themselves with.
More surprising would be Gray's less staggeringly-impressive resume compared to the rest of Man of Steel's cast, but there's no reason to think an unknown may not be the proper course for such an iconic villain.
Gray as 'Lex Luthor (LX-13)' in Smallville S10E01, "Lazarus"
Contrary to the assumption that Luthor would be held as a third-act reveal or tease, the same source promised that the role would be "substantial." Casting Luthor would be substantial for several reasons on its own, regardless of how he is used in Man of Steel, but unfortunately the source did not elaborate on whether the billionaire genius will be playing a "substantial" role in the entire first movie, the climax, the sequel, or simply by being included.
Conspiracy theorists will certainly like to know that Gray just got himself a Twitter account, and although it is still unverified, the accompanying photo will definitely add fuel to the fire of speculation:
If the smoke does indeed mean fire, and Gray is reprising his role as Luthor, it would leave the doors wide open for more past actors in the sizable realm of Superman TV and movie projects. But who knows, perhaps Gray will appear as Lex's father, playing a role in Man of Steel that doesn't set himself up as the sequel's antagonist, but provides his son with a crusade against the Big Blue Boy Scout. It would certainly be in keeping with the overarching themes of fatherhood and family duty.
At this point we're not convinced that we know enough about the movie's plot to make educated guesses beyond those already made by any fan of Superman, or superhero movies in general. Superman (Henry Cavill) already has several enemies to fight come this summer, possibly competing suitors for Lois Lane (Amy Adams), and more focus on Krypton than will likely leave room for Luthor without seeming rushed or shoehorned in.
We'd love to be proven wrong, but for now this news can be filed under 'rumor' without hesitation. It will be incredibly interesting if true though, so we'll keep you updated as more reports or further evidence arrives.
Man of Steel will be in theaters on June 14th, 2013.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.