So, there's a bit of a flap in play around Marvel films' The Avengers right now.
It started last Friday when Drew McWeeny, over at HitFix.com reported that, despite the fact that Edward Norton wanted to play Dr. Bruce Banner in The Avengers, Marvel was looking elsewhere. Now, I gotta be frank here, I was surprised they were even talking to Norton at all. His relationship with the studio during post-production on 2008's The Incredible Hulk was decidedly less-than-happy.
Apparently, Norton and director Louis Leterrier had much more they wanted to do and say with the film, but Marvel pulled them from the editing room. Now, Norton was deeply involved with the development of this film, even re-writing the script. Looking at it from my perspective, Norton had firmly committed to making The Incredible Hulk the best movie he could. Marvel, instead of using this input (Norton is a talented actor, and writes and directs...he can make a worthwhile contribution), shuts him out.
I think Marvel was terrified of repeating the failure of Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk. A film which I feel is unfairly crapped upon. Yeah, it could've used more "HULK SMASH!!!!," but it was a thoughtful, adult comic book-inspired movie. Which, after years of telling people "comics aren't just for kids," might've been something to consider more than fandom did.
So, personally, I prefer Lee's film. That said, I think that Leterrier's version has plenty that's good. Prime among that is Norton's performance.
Still, after all that was said and done back in '08, I thought they'd NEVER get Norton back for The Avengers. Now, in Drew's article, Norton is taking meetings, apparently excited to join the ensemble, only to get passed over.
Now, once this went public, Marvel Films' Kevin Feige had to make a statement.
"We have made the decision to not bring Ed Norton back to portray the title role of Bruce Banner in the Avengers. 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. We are looking to announce a name actor who fulfills these requirements, and is passionate about the iconic role in the coming weeks."
And to that I say...Woah. I mean, seriously, that's a press release bitchslap. What the hell happened?
Then, of course, Norton's agent released a statement.
Looking at this, again, from my perspective, Norton's agent, Brian Swardstrom, is absolutely correct. If Marvel was just making a financial decision, so be it. It happens. The fact they went out of their way to be bitchy, and cast a bad light on Norton, is just ridiculous.
But, you see...I think this was inevitable. Marvel Films has made a big splash by trying to run their film productions like a comic book company, unified universes, cast crossovers, etc, etc. This whole plan was pointing to The Avengers, where the franchises they were building would come together in a huge, splashy adventure.
The troubling part, based on this recent development, is that you begin to realize that the selling point of The Avengers is solely on seeing these characters, that you know from other films, together. It's easy to have Iron Man meet Bruce Banner in the comics, you just draw them. Not so easy when established actors are involved.
The fact is, now that Marvel has been pushing the "Marvel Movie Universe," these actors ARE these characters. We have a relationship with Norton's Banner, an established character, and that's what makes it interesting to see him interact with Robert Downey Jr's established Tony Stark. Marvel may be learning that your unified movie universe is a double edged sword. Sure, it's exciting, but it also means we expect things. Things like seeing the same faces as the same characters.
The side issue here is that, by sidelining Norton, Marvel's apparent plan to make a big splash at Comic-Con by introducing Joss Whedon as the director, and having the entire ensemble stand with him, is shot. Swardstrom's press release makes it abundantly clear that Whedon is the director, which Marvel had clearly been holding off until "the right moment" to announce, and that the plan was for a big-deal press op in San Diego. If they go ahead with it, the only people in the San Diego Convention Center that will be truly impressed will be the mainstream press, who are pretty clueless about this stuff.
I really don't have any sympathy for Marvel here, at all. They've pushed an agenda that brought them to this point. They wanted "names" for their characters. Not HUGE names, but actors you've heard of. Actors who are going to understand that their participation is a valuable asset, and are going to use that. Marvel seems to want the cachet of saying "Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner," without accepting the creative input that comes with it.
They wanted a unified universe, where characters will routinely appear in each other's films. Now they find that building that universe can get in the way of the film's primary story, a la Iron Man 2. Also that we, as fans, expect continuity to mean just that...an expectation that we'll see the same faces again. You can pull a Terrance Howard/Don Cheadle switch because, frankly, Howard didn't make that big an impression in the first Iron Man, and Cheadle is, well, Don Cheadle.
Who are they getting to replace Edward Norton? Joaquin Phoenix, maybe. That sound like trading up, to you?
Didn't think so. Not to me, either. No disrespect to Mr. Phoenix, because I like his work, but Norton is, well, Edward Norton.
I just see that Norton finally commented personally, on his Facebook page:
"I am so appreciative of the outpouring of support from fans of the Hulk and The Avengers that I feel it would be rude not to respond," his statement reads in part.
"So here goes: 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 well as we hoped. I know this is disappointing to many people and that makes me sad. But I am very 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."
Now, Norton's clearly playing spin himself, but...compare that statement to Feige's. Tell me who comes off with more class.
My original plan was to skip all the movie panels at SDCC, but, I think this may be too much of a soap opera to miss out on.