Edward Norton is out, and rumor has it that Mark Ruffalo may be in as Dr. Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk, in the upcoming Marvel epic project The Avengers, and it hasn’t been an easy changing of the green genes so far.
Norton recently starred in The Incredible Hulk, and considering the fact that Robert Downey Jr. of Iron Man made a cameo in that film, it was naturally assumed that he would step into Banner’s shoes for the Avengers project, which will be an unprecedented combination of many of Marvel’s biggest superhero franchises. Yet Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios put out a statement announcing their decision not to bring Norton back and, for a press release like that, it was surprisingly laced a dig at Norton himself.
“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,” Feige said in his statement. He also said that “The Avengers demands players who thrive working as part of an ensemble,” and that “We are looking to announce a name actor who fulfills these requirements, and is passionate about the iconic role in the coming weeks.”
Wow. Not what you expect from a ‘good luck in your future endeavors’ sort of announcement. Now, it’s no secret that there were some disagreements behind the scenes on The Incredible Hulk between Norton and the guys at Marvel, and Norton does have a bit of a reputation for being controlling, but the heated response from Norton’s agent says it was all about money.
“This offensive statement from Kevin Feige at Marvel is a purposefully misleading, inappropriate attempt to paint our client in a negative light,” said Brian Swardstrom of the William Morris Endeavor agency, explaining that a mere two weeks ago, Feige said that it would be “his fantasy” to bring Norton on stage with the rest of the cast of The Avengers at Comic-Con, and arranged a meeting with Joss Whedon (who has still not officially been announced as the director of The Avengers, but he is rewriting the script for it, as well as some work on The First Avenger: Captain America). Swardstrom said that meeting went well, and financial negotiations were “civil” and “uncontentious” before they were told that Marvel was going in another direction. “This seemed to us to be a financial decision but, whatever the case, it is completely their prerogative, and we accepted their decision with no hard feelings,” he said, “but this is no excuse for Feige’s mean spirited, accusatory comments. Feige’s statement is unprofessional, disingenuous and clearly defamatory.”
Norton himself gave a much more conciliatory response on his Facebook page, saying “It seems it won’t work out for me to continue playing Bruce Banner for Marvel in The Avengers.’ I sincerely hoped it could happen and be great for everyone, but it hasn’t turned out as we all hoped. I know this is disappointing to many people and that makes me sad. But I am sincerely grateful to Marvel for extending the offer and even more so for giving me the chance to be a part of the Hulk’s long and excellent history.” He also thanked the fans for “the outpouring of support” from the fans and “the enthusiasm you’ve sent my way about what Louis [Leterrier] and I tried to do in our turn with the legend.” In a classy gesture, he finished by saying he “will be thrilled to see him live on through other actors. Hulk is bigger than all of us, that’s why we love him, right?”
Fans and the genre sites geared towards covering this kind of stuff have expressed dismay at this development, because no matter what Norton is like behind the scenes, his amazing on-screen work has earned enduring respect from filmgoers everywhere – no one will ever forget Fight Club. Also, The Incredible Hulk is perceived a lot better than Ang Lee’s Hulk in most of their eyes, even though both films earned a comparable amount of money at the world wide box office and neither film was the big commercial success Marvel was hoping for.
The big question now is ‘well, who’s taking Norton’s place?’ Word today is that Ruffalo, a very well-respected actor sporting a great résumé of quality work (including his current film The Kids Are All Right) without the high profile (read: high salary demand) that Norton has, is in final negotiations to step into the big-time superhero world. It could be his chance to finally achieve superstardom, or he could be an unfortunate recipient of fanboy rage, which can be quite virulent if left unchecked.
Marvel’s had some mixed results in replacing the actors in their movies. Don Cheadle stepping in for Terrence Howard as James Rhodes in Iron Man 2 seemed to go relatively smoothly, but dropping Thomas Jane for Ray Stevenson for Punisher: War Zone went very badly. And, as previously mentioned, dropping Eric Bana for Norton as Banner in the first place was not much better than a wash in box office terms, if it was a change for the better in pleasing their fans.
If they can pull it off right, however, The Avengers will likely be packed so full of things to dazzle moviegoers that most people may forget to be all up in arms about anything.