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.”