Well, Jesse Eisenberg being cast as Lex Luthor wasn’t quite as vitriolic as the Ben Affleck-Batman news.
It’s tempting to repost all of the circa-2006 message board comments from the day Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” in a “look at these morons” kind of way. Though, admittedly, I was one of those morons who thought casting Ledger was just a weird decision. (I had no real opinion of Ledger one way or another at the time, but I was under the impression that any actor cast as the Joker had to be “over the top” or “outrageous.” On the other end of the spectrum, I was convinced Liam Neeson as a Jedi Knight was the greatest casting decision in the history of casting decisions.) Of course, I was really wrong. And I learned a lesson that day: It’s impossible to judge a casting decision before you see a movie.
Last summer, I wrote an essay in an attempt to make a case that The Flash (my favorite DC superhero) could be the Iron Man of the DC theatrical universe. In this essay, I threw out the name of Jesse Eisenberg as a possible casting choice for The Flash –- mainly because I think Eisenberg is an interesting actor who can bring an ominous, funny and human element to his performances. This suggestion was met with a collective, “Haha, calm down there, partner, that’s never going to happen. But if it did, I would probably be upset.”
Well! Now Eisenberg is in the next installment of the DC superhero franchise -- still tentatively titled “Batman vs. Superman -– in the role of ... Lex Luthor, of all things.
And, predictably, the Internet seems mad.
This is different than the Affleck casting as Batman for a couple of reasons. Affleck -- even after his years-long grand retribution project that led him to an Oscar win for “Argo” -– still has a name that jolts out a steady stream of instant polarization. When Affleck was announced as our new Batman, it’s almost as if we all forgot about “Argo,” “The Town” and “Hollywoodland.” Our instinct was to point at “Gigli” and “Daredevil” and yell, “This guy?”
Thankfully, people have calmed down, based a lot on some well-timed interviews by Affleck to remind us, “Oh, yeah, we like this guy now.” It’s gotten to the point that the (seemingly unfounded) rumors floating around that Affleck might leave the project have been met with fear that this might be true. It appears, now, people want Affleck to play Batman.
The case with Eisenberg is different. The harsh response almost seems like more a reaction to Bryan Cranston not being cast as Luthor than it does with Eisenberg getting the gig.
Somewhere along the line, it became a foregone conclusion that Cranston would be perfect for the role of Lex Luthor. This is based 100 percent on Cranston’s performance as Walter White on “Breaking Bad.” (It’s doubtful that anyone watching Seinfeld reruns are looking at Tim Whatley and thinking, That’s my Lex. ... on second thought, maybe they are.) Cranston is a pro and Cranston is a guy who likes to play a plethora of different characters. How in the world was Cranston supposed to play Lex Luthor and not have it be a clone of Walter White? Just that he wouldn’t have a goatee and fun hat this time? I’m not saying that having a Walter White-esque Lex Luthor would be a bad thing for us, the audience, but it would have been a bad thing for Bryan Cranston, the actor. (I’m sure he knew this.) If Cranston was approached, I’m sure the sentence, “How can I play this Lex Luthor and not be Walter White?” was spoken and I’m sure that not many people had an answer. (The only other name really in contention for Batman was Josh Brolin –- who was approached –- but no one has a strong connection to Brolin like they do Cranston.)
I’ve read some complaints about Eisenberg’s casting that are basically along the lines of, “Oh, he’s just going to do his version of Mark Zuckerberg again,” which is funny because that’s exactly what people wanted out of Cranston.
Regardless, who knows if Eisenberg will make a good Lex Luthor or not? This movie doesn’t come out until 2016! But, the possibility for something interesting and different is certainly there. The last person who played Lex Luthor in a movie was Kevin Spacey in “Superman Returns,” who was supposedly the same Lex that Gene Hackman played in “Superman” and “Superman II.” (“Superman IV: The Quest For Peace” had been eradicated from this particular timeline.) If nothing else, at least we will see something different from that. (Hackman was a fine Luthor, but he didn't exactly play the version from the comic books, either.)
And, as a bonus, there’s no chance of Jon Cryer showing up as Lex Luthor’s nephew, Lenny Luthor.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.