Originally published June 27, 2013
(Everything changes with Kryptonite! – Doc, July 6, 2015)
Q: How do you speak ill of an invulnerable alien who is faster than a speeding bullet, can see your secrets through walls, can hear your every whisper, can incinerate you with just a glance, or disappear you in orbit without anyone knowing?
I don’t think a smart Lex can exploit xenophobia the way many are assuming he can… at least, not in a credible fashion. The only way they can speak against Superman is if they earnestly believe he won’t hurt them (and have valid support for that belief), undercutting their entire message. Killing Zod sets a precedent that lets the filmmakers refresh the Lex Luthor character so that he isn’t tritely trying to discredit Superman in public like he traditionally has done in the last few decades of the comics.
If Lex is Machiavelli, you need a bruiser, so I think Metallo provides the primary conflict so that you don’t build up corporate genius Lex just to turn him into a mustache twirler or powersuit psycho in one film.
I think you use Lex to play xenophobia more subtly rather than hate-mongering causation. Lex goes to the governments of the world with Superman at his side and says something like this:
“We are not alone. As we know from that fateful day, the universe contains other souls, some as noble as our Friend here. However, as we all experienced, for every one like our Friend there are many more who might be our enemy. Thank goodness for him, or we would have been crushed under the boot of an alien people with technology and capabilities far greater than our own… but not beyond us. While I’m grateful for my Friend, while we all are, Humanity just barely escaped extinction. The day may come when we have more visitors from the stars and if they come in peace, we will welcome them like our Friend… but if they come to conquer or kill we cannot let the entire burden rest with our Friend. I call upon the people of this planet to step forward into tomorrow. Together, nothing is beyond us.”
(Except not horribly cheesy and terribly written like that!)
With funding and multi-national backing, Lex can advance the transhuman project of making an immortal, superior man of steel / man of tomorrow to serve as a future foot soldier against aliens… foreign or domestic. If Superman is on board, there might even be some “friendly” sparring before it all goes haywire.
The primary themes of the film would be trust and humanity.
I hope Lex endorses Superman because I envision a Lex that is brilliant and recognizes public hatred of Superman is not sustainable.
Even if Lex privately hates Superman and even if this is the perfect opportunity to harm Superman’s reputation even further… what does that get him? How does that accomplish anything? He simply makes Superman feel bad and go to ground, making him even more elusive and harder to study or hurt. You have this invulnerable alien that you can’t do anything about, so how is hurting Superman’s feelings productive? Not to mention, you have to assume apart from the Black Zero Event, Superman is doing good. Assuming Lex isn’t stupid, he’ll take Superman’s earnestness at face value and recognize that Superman will continue to act in a way that’s consistent with good. That means Lex can only sabotage Superman (which would be hell if Lex got caught), yell at Superman’s do-gooding irrationally such that only fringe xenophobics listen, or he can be smart… he can keep his enemy closer. Legitimate businesses and political candidates can only go so far on hate and Lex would see that.
If Lex endorses Superman, assists in improving Superman’s image, Superman is more inclined to be out there in the public, to disclose more about himself, and to subject himself to say insightful experimentation (if Lex poses as a friend wanting Superman to know his own limits so Superman can optimize helping people; you don’t want to learn in the field what you can and can’t lift, etc). Now Lex is gathering meaningful data and setting up Superman for a fall; he’s getting inside Superman’s circle of trust to learn how to hurt him physically and psychically… moreover, Lex maintains his legitimacy with the public because he isn’t just ranting against an obvious, if dangerous, do-gooder.
As far as film tone, the other important thing about this is that it provides the treachery of man in a way that is not psychotic, wounded, or an easy bandwagon to jump on. If a quasi-legitimate billionaire suddenly dedicates his being to publicly destroying an invincible do-gooding alien, that’s insane or woundedness… I want Lex to be authoritative, together, and brilliant. Regarding the bandwagon, there’s no doubt that MoS has been controversial and has a number of detractors… you don’t want a suave, charismatic, and logical villain actually convince the audience Superman is terrible before Superman’s earned the audience’s trust. Instead, you use that incredible actor to help earn the public and the film’s audience’s trust… then when Lex betrays Supes, the audience feels the betrayal too and Lex is the proper villain. You do not want Lex so sympathetic and logical that the audience is rooting for him to beat Supes!
As a quick aside, even if Lex has person vendetta against Superman, I do not want that vendetta to be all consuming… I want Lex to be a fully formed character with separate ambitions and machinations. He didn’t build his fortune all his life because he was shiftless and waiting for an alien to hate… he has his own goals. So this ties back to my underlying premise, if you come out as a hater, he’s shortening his life as a legitimate businessman… instead, I’d like to see him play the long con and, at least publicly, endorse Superman.
Here’s another way to look at it… traditionally, Lex knows he can badmouth Superman because he knows Superman will always hold back. How does this Lex know that? Superman’s been in business for only a day or so and in that time he’s been a part of leveling buildings and killing a super-villain… what kind of death wish would Lex have to have to want to make Superman his public enemy? If his baser self was in Superman’s shoes and someone tried to slander him, he’d be in that man’s bedroom the next night for a one-way trip to the sun. Lex can only speak out against Superman if Superman has already established himself as not-a-danger, in which case, Lex speaking out is ineffective (everything he spews just proves how much Superman will restrain himself). So I vote for a smarter Lex to sees this as a losing game and tries to support Superman publicly while planning against him in secret.