Geek Chic: Superman vs. Superman: Round II: Luthor

June 21, 2011

For those that didn’t get to read the introduction or don’t have a digital copy of all the Geek Chics (and if you do, I’m somewhat interested to know how you did so?) that was the set up and here’s some of the follow through. A hero is only as good as their villain.

No disrespect to James Kirk.

The greatest hero in the world isn’t much without a great and worthy adversary. And Superman’s is easily Lex Luthor. People will tell you that he is overused. I’ll grant you that. A lot of the time I’d say that budgetary constraints as far as most of the villains non appearances are concerned. Lois and Clark certainly didn’t have the money to adequately make a Doomsday appearance or a Darkseid mutiparter.

Lois and Clark's proposed Doomsday.

For Luthor, all you need is a commanding presence and a suit. And usually some baldness. Usually. The three actors we are looking at today are John Shea, Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey. John Shea is at a disadvantage right off the bat. Kevin Spacey and Gene Hackman are two of the greatest living actors today. Ian McKellan and Morgan Freeman have to bring their considerable A game to compete with these men. I would easily list them amongst the most talented performers living or dead. Their collective resumes are things of legend (mostly.)

John Shea was in Honey, I Blew Up the Kid and some episodes of Sex and the City and Law and Order. That isn’t a slight to him, its just facts. I think he did an exceptional job on what he was given in the script department. Lois and Clark wasn’t always the most impressively written show and he’s probably glad that he left the show before its largely unwatchable 4th season. The first and second were the most enjoyable with the show losing a consistently threatening and comparatively better written and performed villain. All that being said, he’s my least favorite of the Luthors. Gene Hackman falls into second. I like his Luthor. He isn’t playing him as clichéd or 1 note. He is on the other hand, occasionally feeling like a used car salesman.

"Kal-El? Can I call you Kal?..."

I never felt threatened by him. He’s a bad man to be sure, but I always thought he’d be more likely to sell me a lemon than destroy the world or stop the world’s greatest superhero. I think some of the problem lies in the fact that all he wants to do is get real estate. Luthor is a lot of things in the comic books but a land owner was never really emphasized (or really ever discussed as far as I recall.) Mad Sceintist, Humanatarian, Half Cyborg-Half Human Luthiac, but he never worked for Century 21. I don’t know what informed his performance, but it certainly wasn’t the source material. Despite all this going against him he still managed to at least entertain in every scene he’s in as well as provide a good balance against Reeve’s buffoonish Kent and Greatest Boy Scout performance. He was also in Superman IV and thus responsible for Nuclear Man.

To Do List: 1.Kill Superman 2. Destroy Superman Film Franchise.

I had to deduct points for that. Hackman was a good Luthor, but Kevin Spacey was always how I pictured him. Superman Returns is a flawed, though enjoyable film. I think it was almost too respectful of the originals and seemed to retread a little too much. I have also never been a fan of Luthor as a supervillian portrayal. I would have really enjoyed seeing Spacey portray the billionaire industrialist. When I heavily read the Superman titles (they haven’t been fantastic in some time.) that was how Luthor was portrayed. And I think it’s the best use of the character. Again despite all this, Spacey is easily the best thing about the movie. I think he felt the least tethered to the Donner films portrayals. Spacey is also an immensely talented actor and was with one of the directors that made him a name. (I love Spacey and Singer and Superman, but if you want to see them at their best, watch the Usual Suspects instead, it ended up being a much better use of their talents.) Spacey is vicious, slimy and commanding. And he went bald for the role as well, which gives him serious method points. So that puts Superman Returns ahead by one. Lois and Clark at zero and Superman: The Movie at half a point. Tune in again to see what Superman franchise will reign supreme.


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