First off, I enjoyed the new Superman movie. Not as much as my sister did, but I liked it. Singer did a good job of making ties to the original series in a way that established a nice atmosphere for the film, from the opening title style to the John Williams soundtrack cues. I always thought the Star Wars prequels needed a little more of that...that's the big reason I thought the third prequel was so much better than the other two.
But I digress...
The issue I left the new Superman movie with was this: how does Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor measure up next to Gene Hackman's? Spacey is a fantastic actor; I've enjoyed him in everything I've seen him do, and I think he's one of the best actors out there today.
But we're talking about Gene Hackman here...possibly my favorite actor of all time.
It got me thinking about that original Lex; specifically: why do I like him so much? Is he really funny? Is he well-written? Do I empathize with the baldness, or is it just the 70's kitsch that I dig?
Here's what I came up with:
Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor is a classic villain. He's evil, malicious, sarcastic, and mean. He'll do anything to anybody in order to get what he wants, and he's usually the smartest guy in the room. Naturally, he has his blind spots, and there's that little thing about Superman being a Superhero and all, which combine to give the man in tights the victory by the end of the night.
Gene Hackman's Luthor is also evil, sarcastic, mean, and the smartest guy in the room. He's also funny, but that's not why I relate to him. See, that's just it: the reason I like Hackman's Luthor so much is that I relate to him, and here's why: The Lex Luthor of 1978 is simply a mad genius that's exasperated with the incompetence he's surrounded with. It reminds me of Paul Newman's line in "Butch and Sundance": "I've got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals." Lex '78 is the guy in the fast lane who's mad at the dude in the Caddy in front of him who won't yield; he's the guy in the express grocery line behind the woman with 40 items...and a blank check that hasn't been filled out. The only difference between Lex '78 and you and me is that he's become exasperated with it all to the point that he's willing to wipe out half of California in order to obtain what he believes his superior intelligence merits him. Naturally the irony of all this is that his closest accomplices are the same idiots that are the source of his world-hate in the first place.
Plus Hackman's just a great actor. He understood this about the character. You could see it in every resigned look, every slouched shoulder. Come on...this guy came off like a game show host...how could you hate him? Best comic movie villain ever, including Jack's Joker.