*There will likely be spoilers here.
*Okay but for real, spoilers though.
I promise you that in no way did I walk into the theater to see Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice with any intention of walking out with an argument that included the word ‘privilege.’ Despite being a part-time Social Justice Bard, and smasher of the patriarchy, I really did just want to see what was likely a mediocre film about a superhero that I really like fighting one that I don’t, and joined for a few minutes by the one major female superhero that I also actually have never given two shits about. (Although she ended up being one of the things I really liked about the movie.) (Look, fellow lady nerds, I was just never a huge DC fan, so I never got a big connection with Diana. I’m getting better. I’m sorry!)
Anyway, like I was saying, I had my social justice goggles turned off to enjoy a Sunday matinee showing. So I was surprised as you are that I walked out of the theater with the headline “Lex Luthor AKA The New Face of Privilege?” branded into my brain as if Batman had stuck it there himself, ready for me to get beaten up by angry inmates in the prison that is the internet, mad at me for ruining the fun of a movie they’ve vehemently hated on for an entire weekend.
Unlike a lot of people, I had been fairly excited for Jesse Eisenberg’s turn as Lex Luthor. In a movie that seemed more and more like the Showgirls of superheroes with every trailer, every plot leak, every photo release, Eisenberg stuck out as the Gina Gershon. He was the only one who seemed to know what movie he was in, and as a result, he was the only one who seemed like he was having any fun at all.
But then we get to the movie itself and if it wasn’t clear enough in the trailer, Eisenberg’s Lex is vastly out of tone with the rest off the thing. It’s like they pulled him out of another parallel Earth, where everyone just has a shit-ton more fun, and stuck him into this one, where brooding would be a sign that things were starting to cheer up a bit. Frankly, if his motivation for all his misdeeds was the bus ride he was forced to take into bummertown, I’d consider Lex Luthor to be the hero of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.
But no, instead we’re dealt with one of the tragically consistent issues with DC Comics’ movies. The first one of course is the fact that we must repeatedly see Thomas and Martha Wayne get gunned down in an alley, and we all just pretend that it is a necessary plot point to hit, as if there’s a single child out there in the western movie-going audience who couldn’t recite the origin of Batman faster and with a deeper intimacy than she could the causes of the American Civil War. The second universal truth of DC movies is that Lex Luthor’s plan must always be terrible.
In Superman ‘78 Lex’s plan was to destroy California to make the desert property he owned into beachfront property. Because you know what would make a great view from the beach? The torn skeleton of the landmass that had been wrenched about to create that beach, and the drowned spires of cities whose millions of citizens had been killed for that sunset vista. Also, as anyone who watches Breaking Bad knows, civil forfeitures are a thing and the government probably wouldn’t just shrug their shoulders, give Lex Hackman a head rub and say, “Well you got us, carry on with your new billions.” Superman Returns was even worse. Lex had the ability to grow an entire new continent out of the Atlantic Ocean to sell property on, but of course, first let’s make sure the entire thing is made out of Kryptonite so that it is devoid of any actual development value aside from trying to kill Superman. Hey, you guys want to build cities and grow crops on this lifeless rock from a dead planet? Didn’t think so.
There was a moment leading into the climax of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice where I thought maybe, just maybe, the curse would be broken. Because for a shining second, I thought I had Lexurberg’s plan all figured out: basically a more malevolent version of Lex in Red Son, who upon defeating Superman via the cunning use of a note, establishes his own utopian society on Earth instead. For a second it felt like this Lex had world domination in mind, but knew Superman, Batman, and the metahumans would be his only real opposition and thus needed to destroy them first.
But, no, we just can’t have nice things. Lex’s plan came bounding back with yet another round of suckiness. While there are hints/sledgehammers at the end of the film to suggest/blatantly say that Darkseid was somehow involved, the reason that he actually cites to Lois Lane, as to why he wants to take her man down a peg or two, is that his father used to beat him as a child and Superman or God never saved him, so fuck off Superman or God. Why should the world revere a hero if that hero wasn’t there to save Lex when he needed a hero?
That’s literally Lex’s entire evil scheme. No one ever helped him out with anything, so he’s going to turn the guy who sometimes saves stuff into a guy who sometimes kills stuff so that the world, which seems to have, at best, a mixed reaction to the guy as it is, will continue to have a mixed reaction to him. Until we hear about Darkseid.. sorry, bells being rang, we don’t even get any sort of sense that Lex has a plan of what to do when Superman kills Batman to save his own mother, if that actually happened, outside of the fact that people would be like, “Aw, Superman is a dick.”
But this is when my brain kicked in. So in this movie, Lex Luthor is presented as basically the richest guy on the planet, which skews pretty normal for him in most formats, this much is true. This Lex is so rich he can literally force feed Jolly Ranchers to vague high ranking intelligence personnel and get menacingly “seductive” right up in the face of a sitting senator. He’s so rich that he can manufacture special metals just to make bullets that can be traced directly back to him and then be like, “yeah well IDGAF.”
So basically, the entire motivation for Lex Luthor in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is that if he didn’t get a hero for his birthday as a child, no one gets any heroes or any damn ice cream either. #NotAllPeopleInTrouble, says a sad, broken Lex Luthor. What are we all supposed to do? Just share this dude in spandex who comes when we scream?
Lex Luthor is a man who has shielded himself from the abuse that he suffered as a child within a fortress of his own privilege. Not even a privilege like the kind we talk about more often these days like white or male or earthling. He’s got the old school, actual definition of the word type, the kind that suggests maybe he didn’t get the death penalty even though he BLEW UP THE U.S. CAPITOL BUILDING and created an indestructible alien hybrid monster, because his lawyers pled Affluenza. But it’s not just wealth, it’s influence, power. Not unlike the way Doomsday takes the energy that comes to it and rebuilds itself as more and more of a monster, Lex has taken his pain and rebuilt himself into someone who stands above the world and looks down on it.
Batman has existed for twenty years in this version of Gotham, but Lex has never used him this way before, despite even knowing his identity. If he truly hates heroes, then why not lash out at one. Why not send Bruce up against Aquaman because of that time Lex’s father held his head in the water to ‘teach him how to swim’? Why not pit Selena K— sorry, Diana Prince against him in a hacker challenge before?
Unlike all the other metahumans, Superman is a real threat to Lex because he’s the only one who Lex could see as a potential equal. Superman can stand next to everything Lex has built, and he does so while seeming to come from out of nowhere. Not a dime of Luthor’s fortune, not a piece of any of the metals he’s crafted or buildings he owns can keep Superman from flying at his height. Lex is afraid of Clark because he knows that if he wanted to, he could easily pull back all of his layers and present the scared little boy that he is. Lex Luthor sees Superman as his equal, which is why he also sees him as his oppressor.