Buzz for Zack Snyder's Man of Steel film is at an all-time-high - following favorable test screening reports that soothed anxiety in worried Superman die-hards. The full length Man of Steel trailer teased epic action set pieces and subtle moments of emotional drama but great marketing doesn't necessarily mean a great movie. As a result, fans were eagerly awaiting word on the quality of the actual film - from someone who didn't work on Man of Steel or belong to the Warner Bros. PR department.
However, trusting unconfirmed word-of-mouth from untested sources creates a very slippery slope - a lesson that should be familiar to anyone following the back and forth reports about Christian Bale in the Justice League film. For that reason, take the following rumor with a massive grain of salt: Lex Luthor could be referenced, but not appear, in Man of Steel.
The latest DC rumor comes from the least reliable place on the planet - a forum posting (via CBM) - and the only reason we're reporting on the details is to ask the question: should Lex Luthor even be mentioned in Man of Steel? He's Superman's arch-nemesis after all. But more on that in a bit.
For anyone who is interested in jumping down the rabbit hole of pre-release rumors, the source forum post was published by a moviegoer who claims to have been a guest at a recent Man of Steel screening. Unlike JoBlo's "trusted source" who provided the "Nolan story with Snyder effects/action" description of Man of Steel, this viewer is not affiliated with a media outlet and it's entirely possible that any information provided could be entire fabrication. That said, Warner Bros. has been holding Man of Steel test screenings and the poster's descriptions line-up with behind-the-scenes whispers we've been hearing - so anything is possible. A lot of ground is covered, from superpowers to fight sequences - so, for anyone interested in unsubstantiated speculation, there's a lot to unpack - you can read the full forum thread - HERE - (NOTE: be careful of potential spoilers).
Still, one bit of information that jumped-out, was an answer to the question: Does Lex Luthor have any sort of cameo? And if so, does he get any screentime or lines?
The poster's response could be considered a MILD SPOILER (if it's even true), so turn away now if you're attempting to avoid even the most minute Man of Steel story information.
Answer: He's never shown but he is referenced in the way Norman Osbourne is referenced in [The Amazing Spider-Man]. They state in the movie that he is working on a new AI that will "revolutionize technology unlike anything Metropolis has ever seen."
If true, it's not much of a stretch to assume that Snyder could be setting up a Brainiac storyline for the potential Man of Steel 2. However, as indicated before, there's no reason to get worked up about where the story could go - as, regardless of whether or not the information is accurate, we're a long way out from a Man of Steel sequel. A lot could change between now and then.
Still, the post raises an interesting topic of discussion that hasn't been touched-on in a long time (not since rumors suggested Bradley Cooper was up for the Lex Luthor role): should Snyder (along with writer David Goyer) touch on Lex Luthor at all in this movie or intentionally avoid any mention of the iconic evildoer altogether? Recently, the Man of Steel cameo speculation has centered around post-credits Justice League tie-ins - specifically Wonder Woman or Dark Knight teases - instead of mentions or nods to mainline Superman characters.
Since Man of Steel already has a charismatic and dangerous villain in Zod (along with Faora), who is a physical match for Superman and is intimately tied to the hero's origins, it's understandable that actually putting Lex Luthor in the film (especially with a high profile actor in the role) could have been more of a distraction than an actual benefit. We've seen plenty of superhero adaptations that were weakened by the "me too" inclusion of franchise villains. Great antagonists reflect and juxtapose the values and struggles of the protagonist - meaning that too many characters of conflict in a single film can muddy the success of the character drama (think Spider-Man 3).
Yet, if Snyder includes a small Lex Luthor reference (let alone a cameo), it could still undercut the central Zod/Superman rivalry - since the character is a domineering personality in the comic book (and film) series cannon. Of course, Luthor could easily be name-dropped in the aftermath of the Zod battle as a knowing tease toward looming danger still on the horizon (similar to The Joker card at the end of Batman Begins). Similarly, fans have been exposed to several high profile versions of Luthor over the years (most recently on Smallville), so Warner Bros. might be motivated to give the arch-villain a rest - in the interest of bringing him back in a big way down the line.
However, what if the character is not mentioned at all? Will audiences embrace a Superman film that doesn't (at least) mention the existence of Lex Luthor? Probably but, keep in mind, Luthor was a major factor in 4 out of the last 5 live-action Superman films - and the one that left him out completely (Superman III) was regularly criticized for swapping the villain out in favor of the similar (but less interesting) Ross Webster character. Without question, Superman III was a misfire for a variety of other reasons but it's still the only modern Superman movie to push Luthor entirely out of the spotlight.
Even if Zod is an extremely appealing evildoer, moviegoers have been trained to see Luthor as an integral part of the Superman series story. After all, Snyder included plenty of fan-favorite Superman characters for payoff down the line: Lois Lane (played by Amy Adams), Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), and possibly Jimmy (or Jenny) Olson. For that reason, it's likely that some viewers will want to know where Luthor fits into the new mythos as well - and will be disappointed if there isn't a single nod to the evil genius in Man of Steel.
Conversely, if Warner Bros. is looking to Man of Steel before launching their Justice League campaign, there's only so much they can hint-toward ahead of time. The pre-Avengers Marvel film build-up worked because each installment directly referenced the next film in the series - stitching a singular thread from one to the next. While Lex Luthor might play a role in the Justice League movie, too many references teasing into the future could easily undermine the present Superman story.
Is Zack Snyder (not to mention Warner Bros.) willing to run that risk?
Let us know what you think by voting in the poll below and continuing the discussion in the comments.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for more on Man of Steel as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.
Man of Steel is currently in post-production and will hit theaters on June 14, 2013.