In the long list of names that have been thrown around for the part of Lex Luthor in the upcoming Superman vs. Batman film, the 30-year-old Jesse Eisenberg was certainly not at the top. But in a surprise move, director Zack Snyder announced that Eisenberg will don the bald cap — and this signifies the movie's much-needed desire to break away from convention.
As of now, Luthor seems to be the central villain in the match-up between Man of Steel's Superman (Henry Cavill) and the newly-minted Batman (Ben Affleck). Israeli actress Gal Gadot's appearance will mark the first big-screen debut of Wonder Woman, and Jeremy Irons will take the role of Batman's trusted valet Alfred.
As many have already pointed out (and unfairly piled upon), Eisenberg is decades younger than the other actors who had their villainous turns as Luthor in the past: Gene Hackman in the Christopher Reeve films, a not-bald John Shea in the TV series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Kevin Spacey in the failed 2006 reboot, Superman Returns.
But Snyder's willingness to create a bold new interpretation of the character is much-welcomed in this aging franchise. After all, what's the point of rebooting a series if you cast the same exact types of actors in the same exact roles?
Heath Ledger as the Joker in 'The Dark Knight.' Image credit: Warner Bros.
Think back to the backlash that Heath Ledger faced when he was cast as the Joker in The Dark Knight. Many Batman purists doubted how the hunky Ledger could tackle one of the franchise's most recognizable villains. Yet Ledger completely reinvented the wheel, and delivered a now-iconic performance. Much like Andrew Scott as Moriarty in Sherlock or even Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, Ledger proved that initial backlash does not mean a thing, and that you need innovation to keep a franchise going — especially when it comes to villains.
It's also important to keep in mind that the last time we had a young, non-traditional version of Luthor, it worked out pretty well. Michael Rosenbaum's portrayal on the TV series Smallville remains one of the most popular iterations of the character. Rosenbaum was only 29 when he first appeared as Luthor, and his relationship with the teenage Superman was played as a brotherly friendship-turned-sour. Given that Eisenberg is the same age as Cavill, we can expect to see a fresh new dynamic between the two characters.
Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor on 'Smallville.' Image credit: CW
And Eisenberg is the perfect choice to embody a younger, more volatile version of the corporate magnate. After all, he has made a career out of playing cold, megalomaniac assholes: Holy Rollers, Now You See Me and of course, his Academy-nominated turn in The Social Network. Eisenberg's last role as the emotionally stunted, billionaire founder of Facebook might be a particularly apt indicator of what his take on Luthor might be like.
"What's great about Lex is that he exists beyond the confines of the stereotypical nefarious villain. He's a complicated and sophisticated character whose intellect, wealth and prominence position him as one of the few mortals able to challenge the incredible might of Superman. Having Jesse in the role allows us to explore that interesting dynamic, and also take the character in some new and unexpected directions," Snyder said in a statement.
While it's safe to say that everyone would have enjoyed Bryan Cranston in the Luthor role, it also would have been a rather predictable casting. The unlikely choice of Eisenberg as a young, brilliant Luthor shows that Snyder is unafraid to branch out — and that's a good thing.