Even by the totally convoluted standards set by recent scheming supervillains, the evil plot concocted by Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a head-scratcher. Many of the other characters spend the film's running time trying to decipher Lex's plans, and the audience may find themselves similarly in the dark. In an attempt to figure out what the hell Lex was trying to do with all those returned checks and magic bullets and rampaging monsters, befuddled Vulture staffers Kyle Buchanan and Abraham Riesman sat down and tried to untangle his motivations. (Note: There are spoilers below.)
Kyle: Let's start with the part of the plan that's teased in the title: Lex Luthor wants to pit Batman and Superman against each other. It would be one thing if Lex was forcing this Batman/Superman match-up because he had beef with both heroes, or if he wanted their battle to serve as a distraction for a whole other scheme he’d been spinning. But in this cinematic universe, Lex Luthor has no history with either Batman or Superman before formulating this plan, and his goals are unclear. Abe, if I asked you to tell me why he wanted that superfight — what Lex hoped to achieve by engineering it — what would the answer be?
Abraham: He wants to prevent Superman from becoming some kind of worldwide dictator? I think? There’s a little bit of villainish soliloquizing that Lex does in the movie’s first act, where he talks about how he never wants to salute a tyrannical government like his East German dad did, and that gives him a slim reason to want to take down Superman. But that still doesn’t explain why he needs Batman to die, too! Given that Lex has the backup plan of defeating Superman with a giant monster built from Kryptonian DNA, why not just start with that? Batman — a powerless human — doesn’t need to be involved at all! Am I missing something?
Kyle: I don’t know, because I think that whole giant-monster thing is a pretty bad backup plan! Why would Lex create Doomsday, a rampaging, unkillable creature that will likely destroy his entire city and will definitely get him thrown in prison? Lex isn’t motivated by traditional bad-guy goals of desiring money or power — he’s got both already, and is likely to lose his fortune and reputation when this monster gets loose and is easily traced back to him. So why would he go to such weird extremes to dispatch Superman, someone he’s never met? Did he really think this Doomsday thing through?
Abraham: Those Millennials, never thinking in the long term. But let’s take a step back and look at the scheming that leads us to that oh-so-pointless gladiator match between Batsy and Supes. In fact, let’s go way back to the movie’s first few minutes. Lois Lane goes on assignment to talk to some terrorists in “Nairomi, Africa,” where she quickly gets taken hostage. Meanwhile, one of the terrorists (later revealed as a double agent on Lex’s payroll) shoots his fellow baddies, and when Superman shows up and saves Lois, the Man of Steel gets blamed for the deaths of all the men at the compound. But why on Earth would anyone think Superman had shot a bunch of people?
Kyle: That made no sense! If Lex really wanted to make it look like Superman killed a bunch of terrorists — which doesn’t even seem that politically objectionable to me, considering our current climate — he should have flambéed them, since Superman would have been far more likely to use his heat vision on those baddies rather than a piddly gun.
But that wasn’t even the most confounding part of Lex’s weirdly convoluted frame-up: Later, he gives a bomb-embedded wheelchair to Scoot McNairy’s disgruntled amputee, who has a bone to pick with Superman since he lost his legs in the Man of Steel’s city-leveling fight with Zod. Lex sets the chair bomb to go off during a congressional hearing, which will kill Holly Hunter’s obstinate senator and potentially pin the crime on Superman. We’re supposed to be impressed by Lex’s malevolent plan … and yet this evil genius still sent his assistant to the hearing to sit there and look mysterious, apparently forgetting that she would likely die in the ensuing explosion. R.I.P., Mercy Graves … you only perished because your boss is an idiot.
Abraham: And again, I genuinely have no idea why anyone would think Superman was involved in blowing up the Capitol Building in the first place.
Kyle: The funny part is, nobody besides Nancy Grace actually seems to think that! Superman is pretty much absolved of the bombing in the very next scene, which makes me wonder why it was a plot point at all.
Abraham: Right! And we don’t even get the sense that Lex is frustrated about that plan not panning out. Couldn’t he have had a more plausible Superman-framing scheme? But let’s talk about my absolute favorite part of Lex’s long con: the threatening messages written on returned checks. Right before the chair bomb goes off, we find out that McNairy’s character has been rejecting the checks that his former employer Bruce Wayne sent him for his medical bills, or something. The return-to-sender checks have scrawled notes to Bruce written on them, saying stuff like “YOU LET THEM DIE” and other references to, uh ... Bruce Wayne failing to stop Superman from fighting Zod, I guess?
Kyle: My favorite check-note was “I HAUNT YOU.” I’d like to believe that he sent it on Valentine’s Day and he actually meant to write “I HEART YOU.”
Abraham: Later, we learn that Lex was actually the one sending the notes. I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Can you explain what the hell the check-note subplot was about and how it fit into the larger scheme?
Kyle: I can’t! I’m not sure why Lex engaged Batman at all, frankly ... if he wanted to goad someone into killing Superman, just give some kryptonite to a remorseless criminal who might actually do the job! The best explanation I can come up with is that, like director Zack Snyder, Lex is just a really big fan of DC’s Trinity and wanted to play elaborate matchmaker to get them all together in one place. How else to explain the mid-movie moment where Lex invites Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, and Diana Prince to his mansion for a party, then essentially lets the latter two wander around and hack his mainframe? And how is Diana even aware that Lex possesses
the photo from the upcoming Wonder Woman movie an old picture proving she's ageless? Was he taunting her with it, just like he taunted Bruce with those bad checks?
Abraham: Maybe? He does seem to be aware that Diana is a metahuman, given that he has that video of her … at an ATM.
Kyle: I would ask how Lex ever found that decidedly undramatic ATM footage and connected it to a photo of Wonder Woman from World War I, but I think we already know the answer: There isn’t one.
Abraham: So yeah, it’s certainly possible that Lex was trying to get Diana Prince out in the open to expose her, but boy, we get no indication that that’s part of his plan. (Meanwhile, Bruce does a horrible job of sounding credibly innocent when he makes his faux-drunken excuse to Mercy (R.I.P.) about what he’s doing near the computer system; between that and all the flying around blowing stuff up, this Batman is not so great with the whole stealth thing.) I think we’ve more or less established that Lex’s plan is just a collection of happenstances that are thrown into a poorly tossed salad, so let’s move on to my final question: Did Lex invent superhero logos for Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg? His secret stash of QuickTime videos all had fun bits of graphic design associated with them.
Kyle: This, perhaps, is the only thing that Lex did right. If nothing else, he’s got substantial evidence in his favor when it comes to trademark lawsuits! If at first you don’t succeed with your evil, baffling plot to destroy the world's biggest superheroes, just tie them up in litigation and let red tape do the job for you.