It's never easy to do something different in a big budget movie. Making bold choices is the realm of chamber dramas and biopics, so seeing a really wackadoodle performance in any kind of tentpole movie is always refreshing. Unfortunately for Jesse Eisenberg, he made these bold choices with a fairly beloved character, and in an attempt to put his stamp on the role, almost instantaneously alienated most of the fan base. I do think that his performance is flawed, like the movie itself, but it's also far more interesting than anyone is giving it credit for, and I'm here to explain why you should give this take on Luthor another look.
His Arrogant First Semester Philosophy Major's View of Good and Evil
We've all got that friend who goes off to college, takes a semester of Philosophy, smokes a ton of weed, and then wants to discuss how The Matrix is a metaphor for Plato's Cave. Here's a helpful hint, if you didn't have this friend, you were this friend. Anyway, anyone who has taken a semester's worth of Philosophy can explain the notion of J.L. Mackie's Inconsistent Triad, but for those who didn't allow me to explain. The notion goes that if God is omnipotent (all powerful) and omni-benevolent (all loving), then evil shouldn't exist in the world, and yet it does. If you've seen Batman v Superman, you know that this is the crux of his entire conversation with Holly "piss-swilling" Hunter at his mansion.
I think this choice gives Lex some depth. I know exactly who he is based just on this conversation, and I get why he's such an entitled and officious prick. It's a brilliant turn for the character, and one that I think gives his actions and interpersonal skills in general a further hint of malevolence.
He's Salieri to Superman's Mozart
This might seem like a bit of a stretch, but hang with me. First of all, if you've never seen Amadeus, I must tell you that we can never be best friends. Also, you need to rectify this immediately, it's one of the greatest films ever made. But I digress... Amadeus is a film about a composer named Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) who pledges his life to serving and following God in exchange for God allowing him to be a great musician. However, when he meets Mozart (Tom Hulce), he sees a much more gifted musician who takes this gift completely for granted. Salieri soon convinces himself that Mozart is God's way of letting Salieri know he was a fool to ever think he could be the most talented musician alive, and sets out to kill Mozart to get back at God.
Sound familiar? That's because Lex's entire motivation in the film seems to be demonstrating to his unseen religious father that he is more powerful than God by eliminating Superman, someone viewed by many as a gift from God. The problem with all of this is that it's never adequately explained. It's all there in the subtext, and I think that if you watch BvS shortly after watching Amadeus, you'll pick up on these cues and it will further enrich Eisenberg's performance.
He Chucks Lois Lane Off a Building
Throughout the history of Superman on film, Lex Luthor has done some shady shit, but I've never seen him straight up attempt to murder the love of Superman's life. Yet Eisenberg, for all his posturing and pontificating, is a psychopath at heart and this scene proves it. Sure, it is a little too close to Joker's "poor choice of words" scene in The Dark Knight, but it's still badass as hell and was easily one of the highlights of the film.
He's Not Intimidated by Anyone
I think that this is the most important thing when considering how successful a villain Eisenberg's Luthor is, and for my money, this is where he really shines. Despite the obvious physical threats from Superman and Batman, he never yields or shows fear to them once. Even at the end when he's safe behind bars and Batman shows up to give him a little love tap, he's far from giving a shit. He sees through the act and realizes that Batman's just a guy in a costume and there are big, huge threats on the horizon that he's not going to be able to stop alone. It's the last little twist of the dagger from a villain who's all out of fucks to give, and it cemented Eisenberg's performance as one of the film's highlights for me.
Even if you don't agree that he turns in a good performance, you can't say he's not trying. Dude is really giving it his all, and I think that if you watch the film again bearing these things in mind, his performance will take on new meaning.