Edward Norton won’t be the Hulk in The Avengers

nortonhulkDrew McWeeny at Hitfix scored a double-whammy of a scoop over the weekend, first reporting that Edward Norton would not be playing Bruce Banner/The Hulk in The Avengers, despite Norton and director Joss Whedon both loving the idea. A deal allegedly couldn’t be made, and given Marvel’s current strategy of paying actors relatively small sums but for multi-picture deals, it’s not hard to figure out what the sticking point might be.

Then Drew received an official response from Marvel Studios President of Production Kevin Feige, which is rare in that it publicly acknowledges negotiations usually kept behind closed doors. Any chance that fan reaction to the news might send Marvel back to the negotiating table seems lost, with Marvel’s rapid response designed to make that abundantly clear. It’s also a very public dig at Norton, accusing him of not being a team player. Whether this means unreasonable demands for creative input or just not accepting a similar salary to his castmates is unclear. I can’t help but wonder though if Downey is scoring the biggest payday here, and perhaps that’s ruffling feathers.

I think this is sad as hell. The Incredible Hulk was not a great picture, and despite being a tremendous actor Norton did not make a marked impression in the role. This may not be his fault though, as the Banner character is far less showy and eccentric than Tony Stark, which rocketed Robert Downey Jr. to the A-list. Plus, the script did not give Norton the opportunity to truly make us feel for the character. Such material may be on the cutting room floor, as Norton was allowed to revise the script, which I’d wager Marvel agreed to in shock that an actor of his calibre was willing to take on the second attempt at a failed franchise directed by the guy who made the Transporter films (the Internet quaked a bit when Norton was announced – no-one expected Marvel would score a talent like that for the Hulk). Norton was then reportedly dismayed when much of the characterisation he had written in was edited out to produce a leaner, plot-driven cut. A longer cut of The Incredible Hulk, if ever released, may restore some nuance and resonance to a film sadly lacking them.

Regardless though, the film was the second in Marvel’s series of interconnected films. The super soldier serum that created Captain America was glimpsed, and of course Downey appeared as Stark in the final scene. Recasting Terrence Howard was bad enough, but swapping the Hulk himself really torpedoes the continuity Marvel is striving for. Granted, unavoidable social and financial conflicts can always arise that have to trump such goals, but this one was crucial to overcome. Plus, for the last couple of years the speculation has been about whether Norton would even want to return following his bad experiences with Marvel (he barely promoted the film), but he did and he liked Whedon, who wanted Norton as his Banner. For all these aligning elements to be ignored is truly sad. Norton is a hell of an actor and there’s every chance that the material in The Avengers and his interaction with Downey and the rest of the cast could have enabled Banner to come alive. Plus, recasting in an interconnected series of films is arguably even more damaging than recasting for a sequel, as more than one directly linked film depends on the continuity.

It’s doubtful too that the role will be small and a new actor will have little impact, as I doubt Norton would be interested in returning for such a scenario. If what Drew heard was accurate, then Norton was energised upon hearing what his role would be in the film. Instead, we’ve now got one less name on that stellar marquee that the Avengers poster will sport. I was so anticipating seeing Norton and Downey on screen together.

Now the focus is on Comicon, and what Avengers events may occur there. Marvel has yet to officially confirm Whedon is the director despite everyone he knows strongly implying in public that he’s working on it right now. I expect they’ll now save the announcement for Comicon, and perhaps even have the stars currently signed on there on stage with Whedon for the official debut of the project – Downey, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, maybe Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, and whoever else they may have secretly signed up. I think Hall H will truly meltdown upon seeing these guys on stage together – the Avengers assembled at last – and discussing what’s to come with Whedon. I’m tickled at the notion of Downey and Whedon working together – it’s a delicious combination.

The new Hulk actor may be announced there too, but whoever it is will know they’re the second choice in Whedon’s eyes and the fans. It reminds me of the bizarre Justice League film that George Miller nearly made with an unknown actor as Batman who would have played the role concurrently with Bale. It’s a true shame that this had to happen, that the wheels on the Avengers train are already starting to rattle. We won’t be privy to the secret shenanigans that led to this decision, but they’ve disappointed the very fans who this project is designed to excite, which is quite a speed bump as the journey begins…

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