Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor: Miscast or Inspired Choice?

Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor? A
Karwai Tang/WireImage

Reporters debate the choice of "The Social Network" star

The announcement from Warner Bros. today that Jesse Eisenberg had been cast as Lex Luthor in the untitled Superman-Batman sequel scheduled for 2016 was met with howls from the blogosphere.

But in this case, the Internet might actually have a point. Eisenberg, who received an Oscar nomination for playing Mark Zuckerberg in 2010’s “The Social Network,” doesn’t exactly scream evil comicbook villain. And he’s a departure from other names that had been floated for the role, such as “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston.

Variety’s Ramin Setoodeh and Justin Kroll debate the pros and cons of casting Eisenberg in the much-anticipated tentpole opposite Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman.

Ramin Setoodeh: Do the citizens of Metropolis even use Facebook? The decision to cast Eisenberg as Luthor is unexpected, to say the least, and combine that with Affleck as Batman, and I’m a little worried about the future of WB’s “Man of Steel” franchise. (By the way, unlike the critics, I loved the first outing starring Cavill, which came out last summer.) I guess what concerns me most is what you’ll get when you combine the normally good-natured Eisenberg with Zach Synder’s uneven directing.

Synder has been known to put his special effects above his actors (see 2009’s “Watchmen” or 2011’s “Sucker Punch”), which is why the younger stars in his films usually get washed out. Bryan Cranston was previously rumored to be up for Luther, and I think that would have been a much better choice. I could even see his “Breaking Bad” co-star Aaron Paul in the part. But Zuckerberg — I mean Eisenberg — wouldn’t be my top pick.

Justin Kroll: Well, at least we agree on one thing, because I also enjoyed “Man of Steel.” For the first time, Snyder allowed his actors to be at the forefront. A perfect example of that is the scenes with Kevin Costner as Clark Kent’s father, where the human story is the important part, and not the action. I think it shows Snyder’s maturing as a director.

Now that I’ve said that, I think this is a great outside-the box-casting decision by Warner Bros. Eisenberg isn’t a terrifying, menacing figure like Heath Ledger’s Joker or Michael Shannon’s General Zod, but remember, neither was Gene Hackman when he played Luthor in the first “Superman.” Luthor isn’t supposed to be that. He is the person behind the curtain, the man pulling the strings. When you first meet him, you don’t expect him to be the evil being that he is.

RS: But I wouldn’t consider Costner playing Clark’s father a stretch. You could see how that performance would take shape. There’s a difference between taking a risk in casting and casting a movie that feels disjointed, and for the new Superman-Batman, I fear the worst.

Let’s also remember that Luthor, a crazy scientist, has always been played on the big screen (starting with Lyle Talbot in 1950’s “Atom Man vs. Superman,” Hackman in Richard Donner’s 1978 “Superman” and even Kevin Spacey in the underwhelming 2006 “Superman Returns”) by an actor older than Clark Kent. Eisenberg is 30 — the same age as Cavill — but he looks about 25, and he might not be physically imposing enough. And is he going to shave his head? He’ll look like he stepped right off the “Smallville” set.

JK: Look at you, dropping the Lyle Talbot’s name into the mix — I’m impressed. First, I want to make a point about the age difference, because it is a good point. In the DC universe, the Luthor-Superman storyline has gone through various interpretations and in a couple Luthor and Superman arcs, the two are the same age; in fact, in one arc, they even grew up together. Much like the Nolan “Batman” movies, WB has shown that it wants to shake things up, and I think this is a shakeup that needs to happen to separate previous “Batman” and “Superman” films from this one. While “Smallville” may have talent from the CW Network, its showrunners still knew their DC comics history.

RS: For the sake of comicbook groupies everywhere, I hope you’re right about Eisenberg. I am rooting for the movie to work, because Superman and Batman on the big screen could, and should, be an epic Hollywood blockbuster. I really hope Synder puts his characters before his CGI budget, especially since he won’t have Christopher Nolan this time helping on the script like he did on “Man of Steel.”

JK: You joked earlier when you mistakenly referred to Eisenberg as Zuckerberg and I want to touch on that. In “The Social Network,” Eisenberg is extremely unlikable, unremorseful, almost sociopathic in how he completely betrays anybody he cares about. That’s what Luthor needs to be. He needs to be someone I’m not afraid of, but someone I dislike and hate so much I want to jump into the film and throttle him myself and Eisenberg can bring that to the screen. That said, I think we can both agree Jeremy Irons is going to kick some ass playing Alfred.

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  1. zach trevors says:

    he literally looks perfect for the role. far better than Michael Rosenbaum.×700.jpg

  2. Michael Rosenbaum from Smallville would have great. He is the best Lex ever.

  3. Cayce says:

    I do not think Jesse Eisenberg can pull off a great villain like Lex Luthor. I have pretty much watched every Eisenberg film and each one he portrays his characters similar to the previous ones in both acting and in tone. It’s almost pointless to believe he could pull this one off. There are many other actors who have much more potential and talent who would be perfect for the role and deserve the opportunity instead of ruin it like Eisenberg could do.

    Ben Affleck is another bad choice for Batman as well. He has already played Daredevil and ruined that superhero, why give him another chance and ruin Batman too? Isn’t everyone tired of the same actors playing multiple superheroes or is it just me? He’s a good actor, but he is no Bruce Wayne.

  4. yes. But wouldn’t it be great to finally have someone play him straight and full of malice and not as a flamboyant showman. Thats what hackman brought to it. He was magnificent. Spacey was great too. It is inspired casting. It is a heath ledger type of casting. It is Eisenberg’s chance to re-invent himself. He’s not just the nerd anymore. He should have carte blanche. Let him run. I’m looking forward to it.

  5. James says:

    There is too much risk and I don’t see zukerberg being menacing and super mans biggest villian like joker is to batman. I agree with the breaking bad duo being better choices. I was not a fan if this las attempt to be honest and I was willing to go ona limb for Ben affeck but not both actors. Perhaps the next reboot will work because I have little faith in this one

    • i love bryan cranston. But that’s too abvious. I mean can you look at a bald bryan cranston and not think of walter white? That should be enough to not cast him. As awesome as he would be.

  6. Uncle Morty says:

    WB: We need them to commit to at least 3 films…and we DO NOT want to pay star money!

    AGENTS: Well, you’re not getting my talent for that little money and commitment!

    EISENBERG’S AGENT: Hey! No one likes my guy and his time horizon is up soon! We’ll take the deal!!

  7. Ken says:

    The headline asks: Inspired or miscast? My answer: Miscast. Mr. Eisenberg has absolutely no big screen appeal for me. And this upcoming flick increasingly holds less and less interest to me. MAN OF STEEL (2013) was big, noisy…and exceedingly dull. My fond memories of Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder AND Gene Hackman from the 1978 blockbuster remain intact and unsullied.

  8. Uncle Morty says:

    Man of Steel

    worked w/human characters

    because it was produced (really co-directed by)

    Chris “Humanity-in-Heroes” Nolan

  9. “He’s a departure from other names that had been floated for the role, such as “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston.”

    Why is Variety floating fan wankery as credible?

  10. nate rockefeller says:

    Aren’t studios suppose to build a movie up before it premieres? All the news about this movie lately has been a downer especially Eisenburg and the Wonder Woman choice….Are there any geniuses among those suits at WB? I think not. P.S. Get rid of Snyder.

  11. Christopher says:

    “Synder has been known to put his special effects above his actors (see 2009′s “Watchmen”)”

    What?! Where exactly has he put special effects above the actors in Watchmen?

  12. Drossvirex says:

    While Heisenberg would have been a good choice, I can actually see Eisenberg. Like it says in the article, he is an genius borderline psychopath in Social Network. I think some people that have seen Smallville would agree that in some regards Jesse could be something like the Lex portrayed there. I was never into comics, but I’m guessing that Lex uses more brains that in the movies and I think Jesse could easily pull that off.

  13. This movie is DOA! Worst cast they could have EVER put together… Jesse Eisenberg as LEX is a bigger joke than Ben Affleck as Batman which is a joke in itself. This movie is cast worse then Greedo shooting first! I’m done with this movie, and I will NOT be watching it. You have lost my interest. 100% lost me as a fan DC.

  14. A shame they didn’t sign Bryan Cranston for the role. Then they could have had Heisenberg instead of Eisenberg.

    I thank you.

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