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Why You Should Be More Worried About Jeremy Irons as Alfred Than Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor in Batman Vs. Superman

Posted on the 31 January 2014 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

Move over Walter White.  The new Lex Luthor is going to look a lot like Mark Zuckerberg.

Warner Bros. announced this morning that Jesse Eisenberg and Jeremy Irons have been cast to play Lex Luthor and Alfred respectively in the Man of Steel sequel we’re all calling Batman Vs. Superman until they give us an official title.  Both actors have Academy Award bonafides, Eisenberg nominated for Best Actor for The Social Network, and Irons winning Best Actor for Reversal of Fortune in 1990.  Bryan Cranston and Joaquin Phoenix had been rumored for the role of Luthor while the casting of Alfred had mostly flown under the radar.  

Here are the typical flowery things director Zack Snyder had to say about both roles and their new actors (via The Hollywood Reporter):

Jesse Eisenberg/Lex Luthor -

“Lex Luthor is often considered the most notorious of Superman’s rivals, his unsavory reputation preceding him since 1940.  What’s great about Lex is that he exists beyond the confines of the stereotypical nefarious villain. He’s a complicated and sophisticated character whose intellect, wealth and prominence position him as one of the few mortals able to challenge the incredible might of Superman. Having Jesse in the role allows us to explore that interesting dynamic, and also take the character in some new and unexpected directions.”

Jeremy Irons/Alfred -

Alfred is “an absolutely critical element in the intricate infrastructure that allows Bruce Wayne to transform himself into Batman.  It is an honor to have such an amazingly seasoned and gifted actor as Jeremy taking on the important role of the man who mentors and guides the guarded and nearly impervious façade that encapsulates Bruce Wayne.”


Eisenberg Hackman Lex Luthor

If I’m honest, my initial reaction to this casting choice was one of instant anger.  Not just because Eisenberg doesn’t match my vision of the character but also because I’ve kind of unintentionally conflated him with his dickish characters in Social Network and Now You See Me meaning my reaction to him now is always of instant dislike.  That’s not fair.

In the comics, Lex Luthor has been your standard mad scientist type as well as your more 1980s Gordon Gecko gazillionaire.  We most likely popularly associate the character with Gene Hackman’s funny, wealthy madman from Superman, Superman 2, and Superman 4, or Michael Rosenbaum’s emotionally conflicted, daddy issue-suffering young rich man from Smallville.  Arguably to their own detriment, Bryan Singer and company had Kevin Spacey play a more menacing version of the Hackman Luthor in Superman Returns.  As such, it’s probably for the better that they go a different direction with this new version of Luthor.

Listen, we all most likely have an instant film/cartoon/comic image that comes to mind when we think of Lex Luthor, and Jesse Eisenberg sure as hell ain’t it other than his hair maybe, kind of, sort of resembling the pre-bald Luthor’s red hair from the comics.  In fact, in every possible conceivable way Bryan Cranston is a more logical choice for a more traditional version of Lex Luthor.  We know he looks good bald, and through Walter White onBreaking Bad he was so freakishly capable of projecting menace that he actually be able to make us buy into the idea of a normal human being like Luthor going up against Superman.  

However, while the truth of the old, rich white man being a force for evil will remain true in the real world for the forseeable future that version of Luthor does not feel as immediate anymore.  A guiding principle of the Christopher Nolan approach to superhero movie-making has been to re-contextualize well-known comic book characters to better reflect the realities and anxieties of the modern day.  Therefore, the Joker becomes a post-9/11 allegory for the failure of American foreign policy, and now apparently Lex Luthor becomes a Mark Zuckerberg type to better reflect the modern version of a scary wealthy man with considerable influence.  Luthor is cold, calculating, brilliant, bizarrely to dominate all opposition, etc.  Eisenberg can do that because he’s already done that in Social Network.  However, if they have this version of Luthor wearing hoodies instead of suits I may have to totally re-think this thing.

We don’t actually know for sure that they cast Eisenberg to play a Zuckberg version of Luthor.  However, this is such an extreme departure that it feels 100% like they sat around a room, decided their version of Luthor needs to be more like Zuckerberg than Donald Trump, and then realized there was only choice for the role: Eisenberg.  Luckily, it’s been reported for quite some time that Luthor will be but one of the villains in the film.  As horrible a reference point as it is, I imagine something akin to Superman IV where Luthor will be the conniving big bad behind a more physically imposing secondary big bad.

Superman is and will always be a challenging character to transition from the comics because he is too powerful and his villains too weak.  Lex Luthor is a big part of that problem, always trying to destroy something big but being thwarted by Superman despite the ever-helpful utilization of stray kryptonite.  I don’t think that the casting of Eisenberg and alterations to the character of Luthor will change any of the inherent problems with adapting these characters to film.  However, it is definitely an interesting choice.


Bat-Man Movie Fan Cast - Alfred Pennyworth - Jeremy Irons

Jeremy Irons, on the other hand, is a fantastic actor who will make a great Alfred.  Nearly 2 years ago, comicbookmovie.com argued he’d be the perfect Alfred for the new cast of a rebooted Batman film franchise.  Granted, they also wanted Leonardo DiCaprio as Batman (he’d be a great Bruce Wayne, horrible Batman), but the case they made for Irons was convincing enough:

Jeremy Irons is one of the finest thespians of cinema. His work as an actor is as wide ranged as it is fantastic. He gives heart love and humor to his performances which is why he is absolutely perfect to play Alfred. He has a sense of saracasm that really fits well with Alfred and that lends to the characters monotone voice. Many actors could definitely play Alfred and those actors can do a damn good job but it would be tough for me to find anyone who I’d like to see play Alfred in a Batman Film more than Jeremy Irons.

With Batman Vs. Superman still slowly taking shape as Chris Terrio re-writes David S. Goyer’s script it’s impossible to know how much Alfred will even feature in the story, despite whatever Znyder says about the role being “critical.”  Michael Gough’s version of Alfred from the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher films was more of a background character good for occasional comic relief, and even when his dying became central to the story in Batman & Robin Alfred still didn’t get a whole lot of screen time.  The Michael Caine Alfred from the Dark Knight trilogy was used to provide far more (how does Alfred know all this?) expositional sequences, but his fatherly love for Bruce Wayne was also heightened.  He was a legitimately important part of those films.  Irons is capable of doing either things or, more likely, something in-between.

The downside of Jeremy Irons has nothing to do with his appearance, ability to play the role, or figuring how important Alfred will even be in the movie.  No, the downside is simply that as talented as he is whenever Jeremy Irons steps up to big budget movie he sure picks some downright awful projects (The Pink Panther 2, Eragon, The Time Machine, Dungeons & Dragons) or ones that are better than you think but likely struggled financially (Beautiful Creatures, Kingdom of Heaven, Appaloosa, Man in the Iron Mask).  His most notable big film success stories are playing the villain in Die Hard with a Vengeance and voicing the villain Scar in The Lion King, meaning this version of Alfred is guaranteed to have an amazing-sounding voice.  However, the mere fact that Jeremy Irons clearly wants to be in Batman Vs. Superman could be seen as damning it with faint praise because he has been a rather poor judge in this area in the past.


This is an incredibly flimsy argument, to be sure.  After all, Jesse Eisenberg clearly wants to be in the movie, too, and his career hasn’t been marred by a series of poor choices (except for maybe 30 Minutes or Less).  However, this is also the film that Ben Affleck was talked into being in.  His poor choice of film roles is legendary.  The basic point is that although the script is being re-written right now Jeremy Irons and Ben Affleck both know more about this film than we do, and as the guys who starred in films like Eragon, Dungeons & Dragons, Gigli, Jersey Girl, Paycheck, Reindeer Games, and Surviving Christmas they thought Batman Vs. Superman was something they needed to do.

Regardless of that admittedly specious logic, this is still a movie that is being made by Zack Snyder meaning we can expect amazing visuals with little substance and at best minimal success with his handling of female characters.  It is great they have Chris Terrio re-writing the script because David S. Goyer seriously dropped the ball with his Man of Steel script.  However, that can only help so much.  Of course, I’d be singing a different tune if I actually liked Man of Steel, but I didn’t.

Batman Vs. Superman is currently due to come out on May 6, 2016.  Hopefully before then we’ll finally get an official title.

What do you think of the casting choices?  Are you mad, mad, mad about Eisenberg?  Think I assume too much in arguing Irons will surely be good as Alfred?  Let us know in the comments.

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