Well, file this under news that’s disappointing, but not surprising.
The Avengers, Marvel’s massive project-in-the-making which will combine the characters from several films from the last couple of years as well as a couple yet to be released, has had its first casualty. Well, the second, if you want to get technical — Terrence Howard was replaced with Don Cheadle as Rhodey in Iron Man 2, but that was actually a good thing.
No, the news currently floating around the trades is that Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner, aka The Incredible Hulk, will not be a part of The Avengers. It’s a shame, really — I genuinely enjoyed Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, and thought it was a particularly well-cast film (particularly William Hurt as Thunderbolt Ross and Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky/Abomination), and Norton was excellent in it. But the film didn’t perform up to Marvel’s expectations and the studio never locked him up to multi-picture deals as they did with most of the other main players — Downey, Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris Evans (Captain America) and Sam Jackson (Nick Fury) (we can possibly add Ant-Man to that list, although Edgar Wright’s production hasn’t started shooting yet, nor has the character been cast).
Norton doesn’t come cheap, and given Marvel’s efforts to control the ballooning costs of the films, it’s not surprising that they didn’t seek to re-sign him. That’s particularly unfortunate given that he was apparently very interested in returning, and director Joss Whedon was eager to work with him. That doesn’t mean that there will be no Hulk in The Avengers — there likely will. But Marvel Entertainment will likely look for a lower cost actor to portray the Banner side of things. It’s a similar tack that they took when they signed Hemsworth and Evans — relatively inexpensive actors with a few features under their belt, but not major players… yet.
Like I said — it’s a shame, but not a surprise.
Interestingly, after Marvel announced their decision to move in a different direction, Norton’s representatives released the following statement which indicated that it wasn’t about personality or money, and that initially all indications were that Norton would return. This is from Brian Swardstrom, Norton’s agent:
Here are the facts: Two months ago, Kevin called me and said he wanted Edward to reprise the role of Bruce Banner in The Avengers. He told me it would be his fantasy to bring Edward on stage with the rest of the cast at ComiCon and make it the event of the convention. When I said that Edward was definitely open to this idea, Kevin was very excited and we agreed that Edward should meet with Joss Whedon to discuss the project. Edward and Joss had a very good meeting (confirmed by Feige to me) at which Edward said he was enthusiastic at the prospect of being a part of the ensemble cast. Marvel subsequently made him a financial offer to be in the film and both sides started negotiating in good faith. This past Wednesday, after several weeks of civil, uncontentious discussions, but before we had come to terms on a deal, a representative from Marvel called to say they had decided to go in another direction with the part. 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.
Well. That’s certainly pointed. Either way, it matters not — we’re getting a new Bruce Banner. And the latest rumor, from CHUD, as to who that Banner will be is Joaquin Phoenix. But then again, CHUD claims not to publish rumors, though I guess they make an exception when it’s their own rumor.