Over the weekend, a heated rift between actor Edward Norton and Marvel Entertainment kicked off a firestorm of negative press for the production house. The cause: Marvel decided against letting the Oscar nominated thespian reprise his role as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk in Paramount Pictures upcoming superhero extravaganza The Avengers, with company production honcho Kevin Feige citing the need for "an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members." Norton's agent, Brian Swardstrom of WME, fired back with his own scathing statement, calling Feige's words "(a) purposefully misleading, inappropriate attempt to paint our client in a negative light." Nasty business, for sure.
The funny thing is, earlier talks between the studio and Norton suggested that he would return to the Marvel Universe as The Hulk. Swardstrom's press release had an interesting timeline of the events that began with both parties amicably meeting together about Norton's involvement in Joss Whedon's Avengers film. The trade notes that Norton was very excited to join Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson and others in the event picture and he had entered preliminary negotiations with Marvel after a stellar meeting with Whedon. That's when things took a turn to the dark side...
Last week, Marvel's Feige phoned Swardstrom and Norton and explained that they were looking to take the Hulk in a new direction and were not looking to bring the actor back for another go around. Norton's camp was disheartened by the decision, but accepted it with no hard feelings. It was at that point that Feige released his public statement that would spark the troubling war of words that we are currently addressing today.
I remember hearing about rabble between Marvel and Norton during the production of 2008's The Incredible Hulk, where Norton had stepped in as an uncredited co-writer/"script polisher" due to his displease over the film's screenplay. Reports of daily on-set rewrites had angered Marvel and there seemed to be bad blood brewing between brass and talent. Still, the Louis Leterrier-directed film bowed to decent reviews and box-office, signaling a temporary cease-fire between the parties. Thinking back to this issue brings the current situation into clearer focus.
Whether or not the decision was made because of financial, creative or personal matters, at the end of the day, the real losers are the fans. Most enjoyed Norton's portrayal of Banner in The Incredible Hulk and were very excited to see the Hollywood heavyweight work alongside the all-star cast of The Avengers. Though I'm sure a capable actor will ultimately fill those stretched purple pants, I'll always wonder what it would've been like had Norton remained in them...
The Avengers has a scheduled panel on Saturday, July 24th at the San Diego Comic-Con, where Whedon will supposedly introduce his entire Avengers cast. The film will begin shooting early next year for a May 4th, 2012 release.