No other superhero movie can hold a candle to Batman v Superman for me, and a major part of that is because of how great a villain this interpretation of Lex Luthor is.
Lex is a very well developed villain. He’s spectacularly intelligent, enough to manipulate both Clark and Bruce into doing exactly what he wanted them to do. Lois is a brilliant journalist, and she had both the intelligence and the connections she needed to fit the pieces together, but she only had the pieces she needed out of pure luck – a bullet lodged in her notebook giving her something to go after. Lex’s plans were effective enough that even after Lois figured it out and intervened in the fight, after Clark and Bruce joined forces, after Bruce rescued Martha, he still got what he wanted in that Doomsday killed Superman.
What’s even better about this interpretation of the character? Lex drives the plot. He’s undeniably the villain. But what tips him over the edge into being a great villain rather than just a good one is that throughout the movie, he forces the characters to develop through the way he influences the others that exist in the universe. He pushes others to become villains.
Lex represents all of humanity’s worst instincts. He brought out the worst in Bruce, in random citizens – the xenophobia, the hatred, the cruelty. He manipulated Wally and used his anger at Superman to push him into going to the Senate hearing. His own hatred of Clark doesn’t stem from fear of the unknown at all. It isn’t due to ignorance or stupidity, it’s about him wanting to demonstrate power and inspire fear. It’s about him hating not being the most powerful person in the room.
He brought out the bad within us, and gave Clark a chance to demonstrate the best – Clark still saved Lex’s life even after Lex kidnapped his mother, shoved his girlfriend off a roof, and tried to make him a murderer. Clark tried to negotiate with Bruce rather than fight, despite the fact that he thought Bruce was a killer and had no reason to believe in his goodness. So much of the movie was devoted to breaking Clark down: the angry mobs telling him to go home, news reports accusing him of being a murderer, the Senate holding a hearing about him, Batman physically beating up. But even after all that, he still had enough faith in people to think that reason might work, that Bruce would help him save his mother. Clark is the single most heroic character in the movie.
Lex failed in large part by underestimating the women. He knew that Martha and Lois were important to Clark, but he couldn’t grasp just what that meant. He was so caught up in his refusal to see Clark as human, he never thought that Lois could love him enough to put herself between him and the maniac with a spear that was trying to kill him. He never considered Bruce loved his mother so much, was so traumatized by her death, that her name would help him forge a connection with the alien he hadn’t seen as a person. He never thought that Bruce and Clark would both have enough decency to stop fighting and work together. Lex understood human hate and human fear. He didn’t understand human love or compassion or mercy. The concept of heroism is one that he couldn’t grasp.
Lex is a scary villain because his plans didn’t fall apart due to holding the idiot ball, or because he wasted time to gloat or explain every aspect of his plan. He’s terrifyingly reminiscent of people we see in the real world, of leaders of hate groups. His plans failed – loosely, as I said before, his actions still resulted in the death of Superman – in arguably the most optimistic way possible. He was ultimately wrong about human nature. After an entire movie of bringing out the worst in people, those people proved him wrong when they decided to be better. He manages to be a terrifying villain and win while at the same time, helping demonstrate a hopeful message about good triumphing over evil. Now that is quality writing.
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