James Gunn Clarifies Who is the Primary Villain of Superman

The internet is a weird, wild, and often wonderful place, but just as Bo Burnham so elegantly pointed out in his acclaimed Netflix special Inside, it also has an inseparable dark side. While this might be a tad on the dramatic side, it’s no less true, especially when it comes to misinformation, which I unwittingly contributed to in my article last week. 

While it has been public knowledge for months now that Nicholas Hoult has been cast as Lex Luthor, who, much like the Joker to Batman, is inarguably the most iconic villain of Superman’s extensive rogues’ gallery. Yet, many, including myself, assumed that Luthor would take something of a back seat in the first film in favour of a greater overarching narrative within the rebooted franchise. It was an assumption buoyed by the casting of María Gabriela de Faría as The Engineer, who was confirmed early on as a villain and always happens to be part of the superhero team The Authority, which includes Hawkgirl (Isabela Merced), Mister Terrific (Edi Gathegi), Metamorpho (Anthony Carrigan), and the Green Lantern Guy Gardner, who will be portrayed by Canadian actor and James Gunn mainstay Nathan Fillion.

While it’s difficult to say for sure, it seems that the media took this as de Faría playing the villain, instead of a villain, and just ran with it. This continued for months, even as production started on Superman’s birthday of February 29th, with no apparent pushback from Gunn, who is very much known for engaging with fans and addressing certain rumours on social media (specifically on the site formerly known as Twitter). However, this all changed last Friday when, almost as if James Gunn himself had read my article (wildly unlikely as it may be), the writer and director clarified Superman’s primary antagonist with the following statement: 

“The primary protagonist of Superman is, shockingly, Superman. The main villain of Superman is, shockingly, Lex Luthor. I don’t know where all the stuff is coming from that it’s something other than this. There are so many stories coming out every day it’s difficult to deal with and everytime [sic] I strike something down I’m giving it attention. So, I’ll say again, don’t believe anything unless you see it HERE (& why would you want to know everything before the movie comes out anyway?)”

While it’s obvious that any filmmaker would want to keep as much information on their upcoming Superman under wraps as possible, particularly when said filmmaker is one of two people running the entire production company, the noise on the film’s main villain had clearly reached a crescendo for Gunn. So much so, he could no longer ignore the misinformation permeating the internet, while he is in the middle of shooting the film no less.

So, what does all this mean?

Not as much as you might think. To begin with, we now know that Hoult’s Luthor will be the primary big bad, but he could still loom large over the franchise even after being the central villain of the first instalment. Meanwhile The Engineer, in all likelihood, is still a villain, and, at the risk of being wrong once again, it seems that her goals will eventually align with Luthor’s over those of her fellow members in The Authority. Given Superman’s known opposition of taking lives, it’s likely that The Engineer will at some point be willing to cross that line for what she views as a necessary evil, putting her at odds with the Man of Steel, as well as the members of her own team, even Guy Gardner, who is known to be abrasive and cocky, yet he is no murderer. 

Speaking of which, if I’m just spitballing here (and you don’t mind potential spoilers), I think that Fillion’s Green Lantern will suffer a hero’s death, an event that would be a huge turning point in Gunn’s Superman narratively, not to mention the lingering affects his death (and The Engineer’s betrayal) would have on the planned film centring on The Authority, for which no writers or director have officially been attached as of yet. Also, a TV show titled Lanterns is in the works, which will focus on the Green Lanterns Hal Jordan and John Stewart, and it would seem, to me at least, that three’s a crowd when it comes to human Green Lanterns in this new cinematic universe, and that Gardner’s death could be the reason why Jordan and/or Stewart earn their power rings.

Of course, I have learned my lesson from making assumptions without confirmation from official sources, such as, for example, the guy who is running the entire cinematic universe, so some of the above is nothing more than speculation on my part, especially as Superman is over a year away from its July 11th, 2025 release date. Still, as comic book fans, speculation is what we do, so long as we label it as just that.

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