This news dropped on my birthday or else I would've gotten to it sooner, so easy on me! I also knew I'd have to tie it in to a larger angle to make it a compelling blog, which was going to take some thought. Say what you will about Jesse Eisenberg and his polarizing performance as Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — Ultimate Edition, he's heard the worst you could possibly say about him. As I always have, I will go out of my way to make a point that the 30 minutes longer Ultimate Edition of that movie is excellent, and if anyone's character suffered most from the butchered theatrical cut Warner Bros. released, it was Eisenberg's Lex.
No matter how much more Luthor's motivations were fleshed out in that extended edition, though, Eisenberg's unhinged, twitchy, grunting and seemingly upper/stimulant-fueled turn as the youthful Lex was always going to divide viewers more accustomed to the elder, balder, more grounded and methodical Luthor from comic books and other Superman adaptations. You still see the high intellect and mad genius at work. It's just a raw, immature incarnation where Lex doesn't so much have a master plan to sabotage Superman as he does an unwavering, scattered objective to make the mighty hero look like a monster at any possible opportunity. He largely succeeds.
Is this my favorite movie villain ever? No, not really even near the top. Do I think it's the disaster many people make it out to be? Not at all. In today's culture, it's either, "JESSE'S LEX IS THE GOAT!" or "THAT WAS THE WORST VILLAIN OF ALL-TIME!" and little space spared for nuance. Director Zack Snyder had final say on many DC character castings and put up a pretty damn good batting average during his run. Snyder went for a Lex Jr., with the idea that he'd have a lot of room to grow and that he was influenced by a father who's more in line with the classic interpretation of the celebrated baddie. Then, Eisenberg would transform over time and get closer to that guy. Alas, Warner Bros. refused to see Snyder's vision through, abruptly cut it short, and set the stage for the whole mess that is DC Films these days.
Beyond Batman v Superman itself and the discourse around Eisenberg, I'm almost more fascinated by what could have been. Not long after he was initially cast, The Hollywood Reporter revealed other actors who were in the running who just so happen to be two of the greatest of this or any generation.
Warner Bros. toyed with luring a veteran to tackle the role of Lex Luthor in its untitled Superman-Batman film, but the studio ultimately stuck to a next-gen mandate. In fact, newly anointed Lex Jesse Eisenberg (CAA, Felker Toczek) was not the only 30-year-old courted for the role: A source says Girls' Adam Driver was approached to play Superman’s nemesis but had a conflict, and Joaquin Phoenix passed.
Although I doubt it very much since hot scripts are flying at them left and right, I do wonder if these gents ever talked about that project. They crossed paths often during the awards season rush as Best Actor Oscar nominees not long ago. Phoenix's incredible work in Joker topped Driver's part in Marriage Story. Phoenix is a very choosy guy and went on to get the golden statue for an even more legendary DC villain, so that worked out for him, and Driver had committed to Star Wars. I'm 99.99999% sure that's the "conflict" referenced in the THR report. It's wild that BOTH actors were under serious consideration for Luthor, which would've changed the trajectory of their careers in extraordinary ways. Driver's in particular…imagine if he passed up Kylo Ren! Who could've even done that part nearly as well in his place?
If Eisenberg does come back as Luthor, maybe it's as a sort of SnyderVerse-adjacent variant who's more in line with Classic Lex. After all, The Flash will establish the multiverse in DC movies. Joaquin Phoenix would never go for playing a Lex from another timeline at this point since he's already Joker. His or Adam Driver's take on BvS Lex would've been SO different and I can't help pondering whether or not the movie would've been better-received if either of them had signed up.
Hollywood "what if?" casting stories fascinate me to no end. That may be a cool blog at some point. Not to get too far afield, but the Nicolas Cage-Tim Burton Superman movie that nearly-but-never was still throws me for a loop.