I will give you a second to calm down after reading that headline.
We good? Okay, so here’s the thing. I love Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor. He’s the one I grew up with, and there’s something very delightful about the moment in Superman II when he smugly just asks for Australia as payment from General Zod. I’ll give him that.
But nothing that the Hackman said or did any moment of his time onscreen compares with the ridiculous and amazing choices that Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex makes in almost every single moment of screen time he has in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
When scripts were sent out for this movie, it feels like more than anyone else, Eisenberg really read the title over and over again and acknowledged that he was going to be in a movie called Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Thus, following in such grand cinematic footsteps as Uma Thurman's in Batman & Robin and Eddie Redmayne's in Jupiter Ascending, Eisenberg wins the Gina Gershon Award for knowing exactly what movie he’s in and choosing to make all of the choices. He’s as unhinged and dangerous as Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, but with the added creepy layer of being able to rein it in when it suits his purposes. He shifts from charming to off-puttingly disturbing with ease, from the obnoxious spoiled rich kid to the devious criminal mind warped by years of literal abuse and bitterness, in the time it takes to unwrap a candy container.
Sure, ruling Australia as the lapdog of an alien demigod is well and good, but have you tried placing a Jolly Rancher in the mouth of a politician and getting away with it? Can you imagine [Redacted] from Superman Returns taunting a senator with a jar of his own (I assume) pee to a senator before blowing her up?
That is definitely his own, right? I haven’t watched the extended cut of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but there’s not a deleted scene that I missed where Luthenberg takes a subordinate aside with a jar and just says “I know this is gonna seem weird but trust me, it’ll be HILarious” before his lawyers then swoop in with a nondisclosure agreement, is there? That has to be fresh, right? It’s not like it was brought through security at the Capitol Building. But wait, did someone smuggle in an empty jar and *then* pee in it? Does the Senate just have mason jars in the kitchen in case someone wants to have an Instagram wedding shoot?
Look, the fact that I even have to take a second to seriously debate the mechanics of how Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch came to find herself with a cheeky jar of Granny’s Peach Tea is exactly what makes this version of Lex so enthralling for me.
This version of Lex doesn’t get caught up in weird quirks in his plans. He wants to plant a bomb in an electric wheelchair, he effing does it. He doesn’t think of complicated schemes of sinking California so he can profit off his new oceanfront property in Arizona. Unlike Hackman’s Luthor, Lexie Eisenberg doesn’t just think that after he pulled off his genocide of the entire West Coast he’d be totally off the hook for that heinous crime against humanity just because there was some clever real estate speculation involved.
Nor did he go through all the trouble that a Luthor who shall not be named did of tracking down a technology that creates a literal new continent in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but then choose to make it grow out of a radioactive rock from a dead planet that can’t possibly have any sort of value for enriched soil to feed the residents or digging foundations for building bowling alleys to entertain their kids.
I’m not saying Lex’s plan in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is any less convoluted than those who came before him, what with details about traceable bullets in random war-torn countries and all that, and something about a bell ringing in space... maybe…? Darkseid I guess? That was a thing? The thing that sets Eisenberg’s Lex apart from the others, though, is that when it comes to the fact that his plans have as much rationality as a bag of kittens fighting, he doesn’t seem to care at all.
What he does care about is getting Batman to fight Superman, and guess what, the movie is literally called Batman v Superman so he’s more successful than any other Lex Luthor in moviegoing history before the credits even roll. You can see it in his smug little face the second he introduces Clark Kent to Bruce Wayne at his party. He knows he’s already got them right where he wants them. Even if he never fully expresses why exactly that is to begin with.