Lex Luthor is one of those comic book characters you always want to see done right. And whether it’s been Clancy Brown in the animated universe or Michael Rosenbaum on The WB’s Smallville, fans of the character have gotten some pretty amazing depictions.
On the big screen, however, it’s been a bit more divisive. Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey did the quirky yet somewhat insane version of the character, with fans usually leaning towards Hackman’s performances as more acceptable. However, after Vivarium, it’s pretty obvious Jesse Eisenberg is the perfect actor to portray Lex Luthor.
Eisenberg got a lot of heat for his loopy Lex in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, who came off more like a startup mogul. Most of the criticism came from him being too kooky and not as intense, with some fans even likening him to Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka. They wanted someone more raging and maniacal, but there were tones of this towards the end when Lex held Superman’s mom hostage and actually had the Man of Steel on his knees. Still, naysayers felt with the DCEU moving past the Zack Snyder era, Eisenberg’s Lex was one aspect that should go too.
But in Vivarium, Eisenberg shows why he’s the best Lex as he goes through a range of emotions as Tom, a handyman who gets trapped in a housing settlement with the love of his life Gemma (Imogen Poots). He goes from ambitiously wanting to explore a family to delusional as they encounter an alien child they must raise. He starts losing his mind as everything about reality has been a lie, with mood swings that paint him as a man transforming into a monster on the inside.
Tom tries to kill the child, and in unhinged moments, he comes close to assaulting his wife too. He devolves into a violent psycho who wants control because he has to restore the world he believes into a state of normalcy. Moreso, he sees this as the greater good for Gemma even if she can’t see it, so he embraces his villainy as it’s the only way to escape the maze in his mind. Seeing Eisenberg in this psychological thriller shows his true range.
He’s not just about comedy, he can do action, intrigue and as Vivarium shows, horror. He does an amazing job on the family angle of the film, which maybe if Snyder had focused more on with Lex and his dad as he had in his mind, then Eisenberg’s Lex would have been appreciated more. Watching Eisenberg’s Tom, one can see the best bits of him as Lex and the potential the DCEU could still explore if he returns to the role — which he said he’d be willing to do.
Whether Warner Bros. wants to follow up with him is a different story altogether but Vivarium is a stark reminder of the do-gooder Lex aspires to be who does bad stuff in the name of justice. While Eisenberg shines in weird indie films and humorous pieces, Vivarium ends up shaping him as a cold, calculating anti-hero by the end of the film, and this is exactly what fans want in Lex. BvS teased him going down this road in jail and Justice League then offered us insight he was indeed making bigger moves, so hopefully, there’s an opportunity to see Eisenberg complete the journey he started.
Directed by Zack Snyder and written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter and Gal Gadot. The film is available on Digital HD, Blu-ray and 4K UHD.
Following Jesse Eisenberg's range of emotions in his performance in the mind-bender Vivarium, it's clear he's the perfect Lex Luthor.