Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor and Why I Defend It

So far, the DCEU has been pretty terrible.

  • Man of Steel was an overly serious and pompous trainwreck that fundamentally misunderstood the character of Superman and managed to make the two plus hours of non-stop action dreary and tiresome.
  • Batman vs. Superman had a few decent moments of pathos that were tied more to our memories of Chris Nolan’s Batman than anything the movie actually gave us, but those were largely mired in a poorly paced mess of a plot that relied on a number of assumptions and the feeling that we’d “missed something”. Plus making Gotham Metropolis’ Jersey City was a strange choice.
  • Suicide Squad was another trainwreck that felt like it should’ve been the second movie in its own franchise and was edited so haphazardly that I think they were going for a Tarantino feel but without an ounce of finesse; fans cheered it against critics because a) they’re fans, b) everyone hates critics, even when they’re right on occasion, and c) Harley Quinn fangirls & boys.
  • Wonder Woman was heralded as brilliant because it was the first entry into the franchise that was a competently done film.
  • After watching creepo Ezra Miller try to pressure an uncomfortable and embarrassed looking Gal Gadot into saying his Smash-the-Patriarchy BS during a promo interview, I figure I’ll wait until my gym picks up Justice League to watch it.
  • The fact that they’ve hired Ava DuVernay to direct New Gods suggests that WB & DC are entirely unserious about the prospect of making good movies in the immediate future.

LuthorNow for my dangerous claim: the one bright spot of the DCEU was Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. It was the one genuinely interesting thing that the films did in terms of storytelling, direction, and acting. His Luthor was not without problems, of course—the biggest being that his character was named Lex Luthor.

 

The main complaint I hear about him is “He’s not Lex Luthor; he’s not my Lex Luthor,” and no, he’s really not. Which is why it’s a damn shame they call him Luthor, because now you CANNOT do anything else with the character. Lex Luthor is usually portrayed as either a criminal mastermind, a mad scientist, or evil corporate billionaire with tons of resources at his disposal. In most cases, he’s set himself up as untouchable, and in fan favorite portrayals (StAS, L&C:NAoS) he’s often a cool, calculating and collected character—quite the opposite of Eisenberg’s portrayal. You need that aloof, powerful and untouchable nature to remain an ongoing villain to Superman. Yet the Luthor portrayed in BvS is a fantastic Batman villain and far more interesting than your typical portrayal of Luthor.

At its core, Batman vs. Superman is a story about three men who are living in the shadows cast by their absent fathers*. Their fathers have shaped who they are, what they do, what they believe, and they are constantly trying to live up to ideals that they think will make the ghosts in their memories proud. Eisenberg’s Luthor is shattered by this pressure. He’s the broken mirror that’s held up to Batman and Superman; could they turn into this broken and groveling man who is desperate to make Daddy proud? Many times in his adventures, Bruce Wayne comes close to this; he approaches the edge and often has be pulled back by his friends and loved ones. He sees himself, to a degree, in a character like Eisenberg’s Luthor, and it terrifies him. He wears the mask of the happy playboy billionaire, but every day inside he’s asking himself “Am I making my father proud?” And it makes Bats and the folks watching him wonder “How is he going to avoid ending up like that? Can he? How similar they are!” Like I said, A GREAT BATMAN VILLAIN!

Now, I understand why a lot of people don’t like him, I really do! And I agree, he’s NOT Lex Luthor, and his character should NOT have been called Lex Luthor. Calling him Lex prejudiced fans against character and ensured that this intriguing villain, great in his own right, cannot be used or explored further in future. It’s a shame, because really he was the one worthwhile thing the DCEU gave us.

*:One aspect that sets Supes & Bats apart from Luthor in the film is their love for their mother—something which Luthor is not shown to have—which brings them together against him at the movie’s climax, but that’s like an essay unto itself, right there!

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Guardians of the Galaxy: Not Exactly a Review, But…

While I may have been content to wait for Hobbit 3: The Manhattan Project to come out on DVD so I can watch characters with the same names as those from a book I read once spend 3 hours flailing about trying to kill a dragon, my Dad, bless his heart, wanted to see it in theatres, and who am I to turn down a christmas gift movie, especially one that my girlfriend is excited to see (she loves the Jackson LotRs movies even more than I love the source material)? Well, we show up to find that it has been sold out.* Our fallback plan was to watch Guardians of the Galaxy, which my dad had on bluray from Netflix.

I’ll start this off by pointing out that I’m more of a DC person, and beyond a few fairly run of the mill Marvel series and events, I don’t know jack about the Marvel Universe. But never again will I say “DC is better than Marvel at Cosmic Crisis stories”, because Guardians of the Galaxy did a fine job of it, even if it was in a very ‘by the book’ sort of way. Alien bounty hunters & pirate lord? Check. Escape from a maximum security space prison? Check. Strange Kowloon-walled-city-esque outlaw collective in space? Check. Guardians of the Galaxy was probably one of the most troperiffic movies I’ve seen in awhile, but it was still good fun. Miles above the bloated and writhing pomp and self importance of Man of Steel (again, if Chris Nolan can’t make a good Superman movie, no one can).

My girlfriend pointed out that if it weren’t for the somewhat excessive swearing, it easily could’ve made for a great family movie. Then again, these days, swearing may not be a thing? Just the other day, I saw a lady say motherfucker in front of her kid 4 times, and only one of those times was in context of “I’m gonna slap you in your motherfucking mouth if you don’t be quiet.” I know that you want people to take your movie with a pissed off raccoon man and his tree friend (time to start a tally of how many ultramax space prisons Vin Diesel breaks out of) seriously, so sure, keep them swears a comin’ I guess.

Again, it’s a part of the Marvel-verse I’m only cursorily familiar with. The nerd in me lit up like a pin-ball machine when they mentioned the infinity stone thingies. “Orite! Thanos is always looking for the Infinity Stones to destroy the universe or something! I remember now!” Indeed, my only real exposure was that a friend of mine lent me the Infinity Gauntlet back in highschool. Thanos may be a poor man’s Darkseid (blue lady and green lady even kind of strike me being knockoffs of Darkseid’s furies), but he at least got to be in a decent live action movie before Jack Kirby’s ultimate dark god villain.

On something of a tangent, I remember once that someone checking me out at walmart asked if I thought that Dark Knight Rises or the Avengers was the better movie. It was a difficult question to be asked in a checkout line, because the real answer may have been too complex and nuanced for appropriate store-checkout-line small talk. Ultimately, I said “They’re both good, but they’re very different movies.” All of the Marvel-movie-verse movies are super-hero movies, through and through. Big action, larger than life heroes, all in the name of fun and entertainment. There’s some thought-provoking to be done on the side, but for the most part, they don’t attempt to directly address some serious fundamental societal issues in ways that make people uncomfortable. The Batman movies that Nolan made were very much cerebral crime thrillers (particularly the second two) which happened to feature a costumed crime fighter. They did not feel like superhero movies, however. Maybe it’s that lack of truly triumphant moment in which the day is saved (for the day is never truly saved in Gotham, just as the day is never truly saved in real life; for every criminal, terrorist, corrupt politician, corrupt judiciary, corrupt law enforcer or man-caused disaster dealt with, there will always be more to come). They made you think, though, even if they didn’t necessarily make you smile. Batman is probably one of the only top tier superheroes that such an experience could be truly rewarding for fans.** Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I hated Man of Steel? A Superman movie NEEDS to be a Superhero movie, full of tropes that make us laugh and cheer for the heroes who will save the world.

I really wish that Superman Vs. Batman wasn’t the next major DC movie on the slate, because DC REALLY needs a movie that is as FUN as Guardians of the Galaxy, and I’m pretty certain that Supes Vs. Bats is gonna be all “Crime-fighting & responsible use of force is serious business, guys.”

*: No idea at this point just when I’ll get around to seeing it.

**: It’s worth noting that in many ways, the live action Tim Burton Batman movies felt far more cartoony than the cartoon series and features that followed in their wake. A lot of the 1st season villain debuts in TAS were DaF. I think this is why it so greatly benefited the Arkham Asylum games to have a good portion of the voice cast from the Animated Series. I very belatedly had the opportunity to crack open Arkham City, so I’ll probably have some thoughts on that before too long. Yeah, yeah, I’m WAY behind the times…

More Complaining About Superman (and His Unimpressive Death)

So, I picked up a couple graphic novels at the library over the weekend so that my girlfriend wouldn’t feel so self conscious about the mountain of manga, cds and dvds she borrowed. Normally I wouldn’t want to add more to my already extensive list of books to read, but I figure that graphic novels are slightly more acceptable, since they don’t slow down my progress on my main reading list by more than a day or two.

One of the two graphic novels I picked up was the Death of Superman. I’d read this one once before when I was a kid so thought I’d relive one of those ‘turning points for comics’ from my childhood. I’ve never been a huge Superman fan, partly because he’s dangerously boring in the wrong hands. Either he’s so powerful that nothing is a challenge or he’s been turned into an invincible and invulnerable weenie who can’t actually fight very well despite having nearly unlimited power like he was in DCAU. Drama for Superman exists only when he experiences loss. Superman cannot die, but things he loves can be taken from him. Death of Superman tries to flip the script by invoking the drama of a world losing Superman. This can be incredibly powerful if you’ve got a deep attachment to the Man of Steel. Unfortunately for Supes, I don’t, and I won’t be clapping my hands hoping to bring him back to life.

What I remembered from my childhood reading was that Doomsday just shows up, beats the hell out of the Justice League, and then he and Superman punch each other several times until they both finally die. And, uh… That’s how it plays out. What struck me today that did not occur to childhood me was the shallowness of Doomsday and the shallowness of Superman’s death at his hands.

I’m told that Doomsday has some explanation that happens later. But not here. So, he’s just a big unstoppable monster sue that is introduced to kill Superman. He punches his way out of the ground, across Ohio, through Pennsylvania (ostensibly), through New York and to Metropolis. In Ohio, he tears apart a Justice League B team to illustrate how tough he is, and oh, man! The combined laser beams of Superman plus the Justice League B team (you can’t tell me that Fire, Ice, Stormwynd, ex-Lantern Guy Gardener, Blue Beatle, Booster Gold and the crazy warrior lady whose name I already forgot are A-listers) can do nothing! One of the best lines in the comic is the reporter noting that the battle has ravaged the better part of the US. Yes, the better part of the US comprised of Ohio, the part of Pennsylvania around Erie, and middle New York.

Interestingly, Doomsday beating the Justice League B team was much more powerful to me now than when I was a kid. A team with various powers and problem solving skills can’t solve this problem! So a guy with one power and no problem solving skills is going to fare better? Characters, including Supes, have to remark that Doomsday is the most powerful foe Superman has ever fought. Because otherwise, we wouldn’t really know. One big punchy monster is the same as the next big punchy monster, right? Only way we know is by having Superman say “ow” when he gets hit. And Superman being Superman, he has no strategy other that punching and hoping he can outlast his opponent.

I found myself thinking “Superman got killed by Doomsday because he fights dumb against a villain that plenty of other DC characters could have handled better” which translates to “Superman got killed because an Exec said he had to die for publicity and the writers did it in a really lazy way.”

Any character that had the ability to teleport others could’ve thrown him into space. Characters who had the ability to pass through matter could’ve kept him distracted. One of the DC sorcerers could’ve banished him to the distant future where he and Vandal Savage would’ve been the only living things on the planet. Doomsday’s main traits are virtual invulnerability and infinite strength. Going toe to toe with him is like a boxer who goes toe to toe with Vitali Klitschko. You’re going to get hit lots of times, very hard, and you will be lucky if you live.

So, when Superman was lying there dead, I wasn’t thinking so much “poor Superman”, I was thinking “Maybe you should’ve just tried to hold the line until Martian Manhunter showed up?”

The next major killing/crippling an A-lister that DC did was the Knightfall arc about two years later, and I’d like to think that they learned a bit from Doomsday. While Bane is pretty much tailor-made by the universe to want to kill Batman for no logical reason, at least he has a strategy. While Superman just gets punched a lot across 3 states and 5 or 6 issues, Batman’s fall is painful and drawn out. We see Batman beginning to lose his grip after several close calls rather than be told “Ow, his punches actually hurt harder than other times I’ve been punched!”  Bane showing up in Gotham and immediately breaking Batman’s back prior to breaking everyone out of Blackgate would’ve felt as lazy as Death of Superman.

The other graphic novel I got was the Risso Batman Noir collection. I think it gave me nightmares. I really think that Ventriloquist is the scariest Batman villain. Can you imagine how horrified and cowed his henchmen must be to put up with Ventriloquists *ahem* eccentricities to follow the orders of Mr. Scarface? Those first few (several) times, people must have laughed. And must have died truly horrific and violent deaths (Scarface is fond of knifings) to leave an impression on the underworld that the old man with the puppet is not a person with whom to mess.

Man of Steel, Film of Bismuth

So I finally got around to watching Man of Steel. Saw it a few weeks ago on DVD. I can conclusively say that there never has and never will be a good live action Superman movie.

Now, admittedly, I have not seen Superman Vs. Richard Pryor or Superman vs. Nuclear Proliferation, but to quote Tommy Smothers, “I’m an American, I don’t have to see something to know it’s stupid.”

So, why “Film of Bismuth”? Because Bismuth is really cool looking, shiny and neat, but will totally crumble and come apart when handled less than lovingly.

Man of Steel is a very shiny film. So shiny and CGed and explosiony and over the top action filled, you’d think it was by Zack Snyder or something. Wait a sec… Lots of mindless action and violence. And multiple extraneous shots of baby weenis. Which I can’t help but think is the creator’s homage to Watchmen and the many complaints about Dr. Manhattan. But that was at least an R-rated movie and a naked adult.  In no universe can I imagine letting kids see Man of Steel, which is a damn shame, because there’s nothing more All-American than Superman (unless you think he’s a Zionist plant).

One of the biggest crimes Man of Steel commits, however, is being insufferably boring. The film felt much much longer than its run-time, and a lot of the super action just didn’t feel like it was going anywhere. There were plenty of great times to end the movie, but somehow it managed to keep going.  This is exacerbated by the fact that we’ve seen this all before. You can polish a Zod, but it’s still Zod. While it may not have been as cheesy as Superman II’s Zod, it really didn’t bring ANYTHING new to the table except for sparing us Gene Hackman’s insufferable Luthor*. Superman Returns may have been awful, it may have been an unnecessary sequel to Superman II**, and what new things it brought to the table seriously and dangerously undermined the character of Superman, but at least it raised the specter of dealing with a bastard son which is something we can all pretend we didn’t see coming.

But Zod? Really? I kept waiting for Zod to do something different from what he did in the old movie. Or from his DCAU Expy. And at least the DCAU version set things up differently, even if they played out pretty much the same. Snyder proved himself the king of super-hero-pre-title-flashback-montage with Watchmen (one of the few parts of the movie that holds up after repeated watching). Why can’t Superman movies just start with a montage of Krypton exploding, Supes growing up on the farm, Pa Kent dying, and Supes discovering the Fortress of Solitude in a montage during the opening credits? Hell, even throw Zod getting his butt kicked into the montage, since that’s apparently such a freaking staple of the character that they had to make two movies about it. I’d say “Give us something new! Give us Braniac! Give us Darkseid! Heck, even Metallo! At least we haven’t seen them!” but the truth is, I’m sure that those movies would be just as god-awful as all of the rest of them. So don’t. Don’t make any more live action Superman movies, because you just can’t make a good one.

*:It’s not Hackman or even Puzo’s fault that Lex Luthor hadn’t been interesting since he stopped being a mad scientist and wouldn’t be interesting again until he was a mad scientist CEO.

**:Why did they use 70s Luthor after we’d all come to know and love the 90’s possibly black DCAU interpretation of the 80’s interesting evil CEO Luthor? I mean, Kevin Spacey’s a fine actor, but just imagine what a talented black actor could have brought to the role.