Bryan Cranston’s recently been cast to play Superman’s arch enemy Lex Luthor in the upcoming Batman/Superman film. I’ve decided to take this opportunity to define who Lex Luthor is and how wrong everyone else is about their thoughts on the character. That’s right, I’m always right, and you’re always wrong.
Pre-Crisis Lex Luthor is an evil mad scientist devoted to destroying Superman because he’s evil. This version of Lex was portrayed by Gene Hackman in the Christopher Reeves’ Superman. What the audience got was Gene Hackman doing his typical bad-guy persona with the name of Lex Luthor. It was amusing and silly but not really scary. Kevin Spacey used this same acting choice in the Superman Returns reboot of the series. What Spacey portrayed was his bad guy/angry guy persona of a dude who’s named Lex Luthor.
Cranston gained tons of acting cred after his phenomenal stint in Breaking Bad. He went from family man to bad man in 5 seasons. He also shaved his head. That’s what really got Cranston the part. He played a bad guy who shaved his head. If Cranston played a bad man with a full head of hair he would have been the next villain in Mission Impossible.
I’m not saying Cranston can’t pull off the character of Lex but there is a very good chance he’ll follow his movie predecessors and just be Bryan Cranston as Evil Walter White as Lex Luthor. Can Cranston understand the differences between evil genius and bad guy? Does he understand who Pre-Crisis Superman is versus Post Crisis Superman thus Pre-Crisis Luthor versus Post Crisis Luthor.
The small screen was more influenced by Post Crisis Superman. Specifically the John Byrne Man of Steel revamp of the character (more specifically Marv Wolman came up with the Lex corporate angle). In this version Superman is an evil corporate tycoon, a formidable villain in the 1980s. This corporate villain was memorably performed by John Shea in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. He set the bar for how an evil corporate executive could go toe to toe with the Man of Steel. He didn’t even have to shave his head to do it.
Clancy Brown perfected the corporate tycoon in Superman: The Animated series. Even when Luthor spun off into more evil genius Super Villainy in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited he still retained his corporate roots. In fact he was still running LexCorp when the Justice League took him down. Brown played the super evil genius consistently and business minded throughout his run as the character. In the last episode of JLU the character even makes a statement he needed to change into his power suit which was just one of the suits he always wore. Not some big mechanical gizmo or some weird spandex number. Luthor’s power suit was what he wore to the office to crush men in the boardroom. Luthor’s power came from buying, selling, and controlling people. Luthor hates Superman because he cannot buy, sell, and thus ultimately control Superman.
Michael Rosenbaum played a young Lex Luthor for 7 seasons in Smallville. The audience witnesses the transformation of a nice young man into an evil sociopath. Rosenbaum sites John Shea as his main inspiration for his take on the character. In spite of the shows script/story failings Rosenbaum played the character to utter perfection. The last episode cameo by Lex, where his memory was completely erased, was a disservice to 7 years of some stellar character development. Thus all the experiences Lex endured were for nothing. His destiny to become evil was not because of his experiences in Smallville. It was 7 years of wasted characterization. Throughout the show Luthor’s obsession for control dominates his choices. This need for control corrodes his soul until there is nothing left but evil.
Control and power are Lex’s motivation. He fights Superman for control of mankind. Luthor’s perspective is that Superman is dangerous because he cannot be controlled. Even Luthor must appear to adhere to society’s laws. Superman is so powerful that he could do what he wants without consequences. That is a man that must be kept in check. Therefore Lex sets out to keep Superman honest by being his parallel. It’s the only way he can control Superman and ensure the world isn’t enslaved. Luthor is the hero, he’s the one willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to his life, reputation and social status to ensure people never follow Superman blindly. If Cranston understands his character’s motivation, he’ll do well. If he phones in something similar to John Travolta’s performance in The Punisher he’s fail.
“I Like To Play With Toys” Productions®