24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The Avengers

Marvel replaces Ed Norton as the Hulk in 'The Avengers,' but will it matter?

July 11, 2010 |  9:35 pm


Our colleague Geoff Boucher at sister blog Hero Complex delves into Marvel's pointed decision to drop Edward Norton from the company's upcoming "Avengers" movie.

"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 company rebuked in a statement made to Hit Fix, which  broke the Norton story. It marks the second time that Marvel has gone "Bewitched' and replaced a well-known actor, previously swapping out Terrence Howard for Don Cheadle as War Machine after the former might have gotten a little too precious with his demands ahead of "Iron Man 2."

The Hero Complex post takes the tack that this is an understandable move for the studio given Norton's reputation as a strong personality on set and in the development process (a reputation executives came to be acquainted with firsthand after working with him, rockily, on 2008's "The Incredible Hulk.") That take stands in contrast to Hit Fix's point of view, which basically is that it could look mighty odd, both in promotional moments and on the screen, to see an unknown or lesser-name actor alongside the film's mostly A-list group.

But the truth is that it's exactly that group that probably makes this a move of less consequence than it might first appear. The entire point of the "Avengers" movie (and, to a lesser extent, Marvel's studio operation in general) is to make the ensemble greater than the individual. That's a creative and marketing rationale, since it means the studio can mix and match characters with ease, as it's already begun to do with "Iron Man 2" and other movies and which will culminate with Joss Whedon's "Avengers" in two years. But maybe just as important, it's a production and deal-making strategy, since when you're creating a slate based on ensembles, that means no single character gets too big, which means no single actor can hold a slate hostage.

Marvel might find some initial resistance to the presence of a new Hulk. But it's not like Norton, for all his acting skills, was that deeply associated with the character anyway.  And as important to the canon as the Hulk is, a lot of film-goers probably be caught up in seeing the character on screen in this context as much as they'll be scrutinizing who's playing him, especially if they're already being feted with the reassuring sight of an iconic fixture like Robert Downey Jr., as Iron Man. We're more concerned, frankly, that the Whedon film could wind up being a mythology mash-up than we are worried about any individual casting choice.

After initially absorbing the backlash that it would hire an unknown for the part, Marvel course-corrected  today, saying it would hire a "name actor" to play the Hulk. That's fine to calm the initial fan reaction, but it's probably not essential for the movie. When you're building a super-group, you can afford to replace the drummer.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk. Credit: Marvel Studios


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