The news that Jesse Eisenberg would play Lex Luthor in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel was met with a barrage of Social Network jokes and raised eyebrows: but let's not forget, he may seem like an indie darling, but he has some blockbuster bona fides.
For as much as the sentence "Jesse Eisenberg to play Lex Luthor" seems scientifically designed to elicit enraged/derisive Twitter responses, it's important not to get carried away. From both a business and creative perspective, Eisenberg isn't that crazy a choice, particularly if you imagine the current state of superhero blockbusters, which appear to be seeking both box-office dominance and cinematic cred. If anything, that was the legacy of Christopher Nolan's Batman films, which elevated the superhero flick to something that was so well-regarded that the Oscars expanded their Best Picture category because of the outcry that The Dark Knight didn't get a Best Picture nomination.
For movies that seek to be both commercial and critical successes, Eisenberg's a bit of a canny choice. Consider: Eisenberg belongs to a rare class of actors that a) have had a Best Actor Oscar nomination in the last five years, b) have been in at least two 90 percent+ fresh movies on Rotten Tomatoes in that time frame, and c) and have made a movie grossing over $100 million in the last year. Let's review: Eisenberg was nominated for an Oscar for The Social Network. He has been in the well reviewed Zombieland, The Social Network, and as of the most recent Toronto Film Festival, The Double. Meanwhile, Now You See Me, was one of the surprise hits of last summer, grossing $117.7 million.
Other men—we're looking at actors here—that can count that among their achievements include Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Jeremy Renner, and Bradley Cooper. Basically: the A-List, with Bale obviously having already dominated the superhero game and both Renner and Cooper have already joined their own superhero franchises.
Eisenberg—what with his New Yorker pieces and playwriting—may seem like an anomaly for a superhero movie, but he's really playing with the big boys when you look at the stats.
And, of course, aside from being younger and more, well, nebbishy than most Lex Luthors before him, Eisenberg's resume does suggest he'd make a good baddie. In a way, the Luthor role is similar to the role he got his Oscar nomination for: Mark Zuckerberg. As Linda Holmes wrote at NPR after the news: "The invented movie version of Zuckerberg, in many ways, was Lex Luthor. He was the triumphant schemer, the frustratingly one-step-ahead guy who nobody loves but everybody fears." And Zack Stenz tweeted: "It's a shame Jesse Eisenberg doesn't have a history of playing a driven, arrogant genius driven by his resentment of privileged jocks..."
There's really no reason to doubt this choice since it's all there for Eisenberg. You know, until we actually see the movie in 2016.