Whenever a trailer for Batman v Superman plays in a theater I hear some snickers from the audience when Jesse Eisenberg delivers Lex Luthor’s faux-enthused “I just love bringing people together!” line to Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent. I assume that it’s a derision directed at the long-locked, mega-money-posing-as-a-hipster vibe that this Luthor appears to have, in opposition to his more classical depictions of a business suit-attired, economical with words baddie that’s depicted in the comics (I wouldn’t know, though, because I’m not a comic reader). But I’m intrigued about the modern direction Zack Synder and co. are taking with Luthor.
Without devoting time to canon, you can choose to say that I’ve no reason to comment on Luthor’s marketing representation, but I won’t be alone in people who contribute to the box office without picking up Action Comics. I do know that comics have moved toward adapting characterizations to modern shifts in society, and don’t continue to exist only in their bubbles of WWII-era America, though. So shouldn’t movies as well? Lex Luthor has already been classically portrayed in multiple films (a bit gleefully by Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey). Having another suit staring down at citizens from a Metropolis tower is detached, chilly and potentially uninteresting.
Eisenberg’s Luthor wears Converses with his Chinos, and designer t-shirts under unbuttoned blazers to add some “chill” to his flair. And per images and “interviews” with Wired Magazine, LexCorp provides a relaxing atmosphere to Luthor’s employees with a basketball court and three variations of bowling alleys (including duckpins for the Baltimore transplants). Just like the tech industry that this Luthor has made his billions in, this presentation is calculated to present a fun atmosphere that distances itself from classical business standards in both attire and workplace environment. Modern work should be play. And what games have been played more throughout society than simulations of world domination? It’s the same game; it just looks more casual, even though the ramifications are perhaps even bigger. With the tech world, and the combination of a global and shared economy, many of the classical business standards do not apply to these realms.
More telling than Luthor’s shades, chinos, and hardwood activities is that line of dialogue that’s been receiving snickers. This Luthor is, through yet defined ways, is attempting to bring together the titular grudge match between the bat vigilante and the alien superhero whom Luthor believes is neither “super” nor a “hero”. Staging such a smackdown of epic proportions speaks to the entitlement of new, young money we are witnessing on a constant basis.
When attempting to stage a superhero film in a grittier, more realistic world, taking a few visual cues that appear to be ripped from the headlines rather than ripped from the comics, can ground the film more for an audience. In terms of young billionaire douchiness, we have many examples, and some have even become “the most hated man in America.”
In one corner of real life, you have the hedge-fund managing pharmaceutical bro Martin Shkreli, who’s taken advantage of an under-regulated health care system and the sick citizens in it by purchasing an AIDS drug called Daraprim and jacking up the price from $13.50 per pill to $750. (Aside: in terms of imagery, suit-and-tie businessman/current presidential hopeful/demagogue Donald Trump said Shkreli “looked like a spoiled brat,” which is how many have described this new Luthor). How does Shkreli pass his free time? Trolling the Internet, reveling in his infamous stature, and feeling entitled to be the only owner of specific pieces of rap music. After offering an album via private multi-millionaires only listening parties, Shkreli bought the only copy of Wu-Tang Clan’s album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin for (a reported) $2 million. Shkreli also attempted to buy every copy of Kanye West’s newest album, The Life of Pablo for $10 million dollars, so that none of his millions of fans could hear it. At the very least, Shkreli boasted that his offer would delay fans a few days from being able to receive it. Depriving access and self-promoting (at 10,000 direct messages today) appears to be Shkreli’s only drive. Perception be damned.
On the other side of modern entitled douchebaggery (and February’s new “most hated man in America”), we have Justin Keller the creator of a database management system who wrote to San Francisco’s mayor about his concern of the rise in homelessness in the area. His words show that his concern is that he has to see it. “I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day. I want my parents when they come visit to have a great experience, and enjoy this special place.”
Already a familiar story in Silicon Valley, this bro entitlement is now a familiar and enraging national story. A young entrepreneur—who is constantly reassured that their earning potential makes them the most vital and intelligent human being for the world, and going unchecked, increases their own sense of self worth and satisfaction—feels like they should be able to purchase anything that fits their fleeting fancies, or erase any inconveniences they might experience. That entitled separation from regular people, all while giving the presentation of normality, is what creates new “most hated man in America” seemingly every month.
This is what we should want from Lex Luthor, something that already is detestable to viewers now. This is a quality that Eisenberg already brings with him, having already played Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg to perfection in The Social Network. A specific generational type of actor, Eisenberg routinely plays entitled bros that really just need a good hug, followed by an open ear. Eisenberg himself has a casual openness that’s got him into trouble with fans, comparing Comic-Con’s screaming fans to screams from genocide. In a way, it’s all potentially so perfect.
Ah yes, potential. Because who knows what his Lex Luthor actually is right now? Outside of some images, fake interviews, a graph of crushing earning potential, and a viral video that says LexCorp gives us “the freedom you want and the safety and confidence you need” (an ad that has current shades of Apple’s oppositional stance against the FBI, reinforcing that these douchey characters and ideas of tech security above governing security are so entrenched in the tech circle that a film and ad campaign—that was designed long before any of these mentioned scandals—could almost predict all of them), admittedly we don’t know much, and there’s plenty of room for surprise. So if this all sounds like I’m basing too much on images of a flowing-haired tech mogul, and one line of dialogue from a movie trailer, well so are the people who snicker, or scream foul at every image that isn’t a bald head in a suit (plus we already know he gets there anyway due to, you guessed it, a promo shot).
I’m hoping we get a modern villain we truly deserve. Because as these comic book movie universes continue to expand, we do deserve to have elements that reflect our current world, not just characters who look like their 1940 ideations. And if the world can balance both canon and some modern character injections, then that is truly expansive.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice opens March 25th. For more of Collider’s “Superman Week” coverage, peruse the links below: