Drew McWeeny of HitFlix broke the story yesterday, and Marvel confirmed it today. Edward Norton will not be reprising his role as Bruce Banner/The Hulk in Joss Whedon's The Avengers. The official statement denied that it was a money issue for the notoriously cheap Marvel Studios, but rather a creative one. The key passage below:
"Our decision is definitely not one based on monetary factors, but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members. The Avengers demands players who thrive working as part of an ensemble, as evidenced by Robert, Chris H, Chris E, Sam, Scarlett, and all of our talented casts."
Ouch. So basically Marvel has refused to allow Edward Norton to come aboard because he's not a 'team player'. I'm sure this has much to do with the public fight that took place in summer 2008, when director Louis Leterrier and star Edward Norton battled the Marvel suits over the final cut of The Incredible Hulk. Leterrier and Norton wanted a real movie with character development and drama, Marvel wanted 105 minutes of fight scenes with a bare minimum of connecting tissue and character work. What's ironic is that this was the rare occasion when Edward Norton was not accused of taking over a film from the director, but rather fighting with the director for the preferred artistic vision. Also ironic is that it pretty much negates the whole point of rebooting the Hulk franchise in the first place. Heck, the second picture climaxed with a Robert Downey Jr. cameo for goodness sake. With Norton out, the expensive and not particularly profitable redo will be rendered just a curiosity in the dustbin of comic book films. It's not as ambitious or as artistically inspired as Ang Lee's flawed but fascinating tone poem, and it's no longer a key rest stop on the road to The Avengers either.
Norton made an okay Bruce Banner, hamstrung with a less character-driven script than Eric Bana had to work with, and further penalized when many of his best scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. Still, Edward Norton was certainly an actor who could hold his own against Robert Downey Jr, which is more than can be said of Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth. Whomever is cast (Eric Bana, Walter Groggins, etc) will have to be able to have equal presence to Downey Jr , lest The Avengers become simply Iron Man 3 (which may happen if Thor and/or Captain America under-performs next summer). I'd love to hear Joss Whedon's take on all of this, as I wonder if he had any say in this at all. Whatever the case may be, expect a casting announcement, probably of a very geek-friendly but very cheap actor, at Comic Con in a few weeks. I guess this means we won't be getting a director's cut Blu Ray of The Incredible Hulk anytime soon. Pity.