Although the character is typically rendered as older and bald, the squirrelly young Jewish-American actor Jesse Eisenberg has been cast as Lex Luthor in Warner Bros./DC Comics’ major tentpole film for 2016.
The movie doesn’t even have a name yet (“Man of Steel 2?” “Batman vs. Superman?” “World’s Finest?”) but what it does have is an outstanding cast that, with Eisenberg on board, begins to have some interesting Jewish implications.
The character of Superman has, since its creation in the late 1930s by Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel, been widely interpreted as a symbol of Jewish immigration to the United States. As The Times of Israel reported last year, the latest film version, 2013’s “Man of Steel,” took great pains to assimilate away the typically Semitic tone of the legendary story. The great Moses myth was swapped for quite a bit of Christ imagery – sometimes as bluntly as seeing Supes with his arms extended or deep in thought framed with a church’s stained glass halo.
In DC Comics lore there is something called Bizarro World, where everything is backwards. Perhaps this forthcoming sequel is actually set there, as the casting of Eisenberg flies in the face of the typical Superman/Lex Luthor dynamic.
Luthor has always been a symbol for the disapproving ESTABLISHMENT. His meaty stature, scowl and nefarious intellect (he is Smartest Man in the World, with Bruce Wayne/Batman second and lesser known hero Mr. Terrific claiming third place, if you were wondering) represents blue stocking corporate greed and megalomaniacal schemes for world domination. In one part of the mythology, he’s even President of the United States.
Eisenberg, no matter how many bench presses he does and how closely he shaves his head, will always be a bit of a nebbishy Jew. He’s a terrific actor, and a fascinating villain (see his performance as Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network”) but to comics fans – and I may have outed myself as one by now – this casting flies in the face of expectations. Not necessarily a bad thing for Warner Bros. and DC, who are very much playing catch-up in the high stakes game of comic book movies to their arch-nemesis Marvel.
This definitely represents change. It’s sad to see Superman (Kal-El, by birth) drained of his Jewish roots, but seeing a Yiddishe Lex isn’t automatically Bad for the Jews. After all, the villains always get the best lines. Hopefully the film will pause before giving Luthor evil plans that perpetuate too many Blood Libel-ish stereotypes, but a movie’s a movie. Especially a comic book movie.
An additional amusing aspect is the casting of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. While it is expected that she won’t be in this upcoming movie that much – merely introduced for later chapters – she and Lex have tangled in the past.
The thought of sabra Gadot giving New Jersey-bred Eisenberg a roundhouse kick to the head has its… implications. The principal writer of these films, David Goyer, is Jewish. We can only hope he’s adjusting the script accordingly.