Like millions around the world, I was deeply impressed with the new Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer.
But unlike those millions who can’t wait to see Supes and Bats duke it out in Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic Batman series, I’m not so focused on whether Ben Affleck makes a good Batman or whether Henry Cavill is an adequate foil or foe to the Dark Knight.
No, what I’m interesting in is … will they finally get Lex Luthor right?
Because Luthor has been inadequately served on the silver screen ever since 1978’s Superman.
A prisoner of the script, Gene Hackman played Luthor as half evil mastermind, half comedian. Hardly the stuff of humanity’s answer to an all-powerful superbeing from the stars.
Luthor is even made to wear a wig, an emasculating move for a genius clever enough to figure out Superman’s weakness. His choice of bumbling sidekick Otis is another cue that we’re not supposed to take Luthor seriously. All our respect is supposed to be reserved for the flying hero with the “S” on his chest. Don’t look at Luthor, gaze in adoration at Superman.
All that misses the point. Luthor is not supposed to be funny. Luthor is supposed to be terrifying.
Kevin Spacey’s Luthor also failed to fit the bill in Superman Returns. He was neither terrifying nor serious enough to be the evil yin to Superman’s yang, as unimpressive as Brandon Routh’s Kryptonian. Another wasted opportunity.
For a hint of the right track on where to go with Luthor, take a look at Michael Rosenbaum’s turn as Luthor in Smallville. I liked him – and Tom Welling as Clark Kent/Superman. There were encouraging signs that Rosenbaum’s Luthor could grow up into the man that could bring Superman to his knees. He didn’t play the role for laughs; he played it as an extended audition for humanity’s evil answer to being made obsolete by an alien superpower.
What Superman needs – and deserves – is a villain to match his own stature. He needs to be what Liam Neeson’s Ra’s Al Ghul was to Christian Bale’s Batman: a enemy powerful and clever enough to seriously challenge him … and even possibly burn his house or Fortress Of Solitude down.
Superman is one of the most powerful heroes in existence: he deserves a nemesis of equal magnitude. He deserves an enemy worthy of respect, not some buffoon in a wig who escapes from prisons in hot-air balloons.
Because we’re not supposed to laugh at Lex Luthor: we’re supposed to fear him. And, as the only human who could possibly bring him down (apart from Batman/Bruce Wayne), Superman is supposed to fear him, too. If Superman is untouchable – if he does not bleed – then how are we supposed to be touched? Why are we supposed to care?
I can’t help but wonder what Affleck’s Batman thinks about all the superhero worship flowing Superman’s way in the Batman v Superman trailer … what with armed guards bowing towards Superman and the masses thronging to him as if he was some saviour from the heavens.
I can feel Batman’s genuine anger and despair as he stares at his underused Batman suit in the trailer. Is Batman also angry that humanity has put its faith in an alien Kryptonian rather than, say, a human Dark Knight? Does Superman pose an existential threat to Batman’s own value as a hero? Does he feel, if not for a moment, Luthor’s pain at the thought that the most powerful force on Earth is non-human?
Many comic-book fans prefer Batman to Superman because Batman has no special or otherwordly powers. He can’t fly. He doesn’t have adamantium claws or ESP. He’s the world’s best detective and a superb martial artist, but still all too human. One of us, in fact, if only we grew up to be billionaire vigilantes, too.
Superman seems just too powerful: invulnerable to just about anything except a single Achilles heel in the form of Kryptonite. Whereas a single well-placed bullet could take Batman down.
For us to cheer on Superman, he must be vulnerable. He must be placed in mortal danger.
And for that to happen, we need a Luther up to the job.
Let’s hope Jesse Eisenberg is that Luther in Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice.
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