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It's a pity that Edward Norton won't be playing the Hulk in Joss Whedon's ensemble superhero movie "The Avengers." In the 2008 franchise reboot, "The Incredible Hulk," he proved to be equally terrific at comedy and agony. As an ultra-idealistic Bruce Banner (above), questing for an antidote to the poisoning that makes him turn into the Hulk when stressed or excited, Norton superbly counterpointed Banner's recessive grace with the Hulk's cathartic ferocity. And it was far more fun than anything in the "Twilight" series to see and hear Liv Tyler's Betty Ross utter that male-adolescent dream line, "It's OK, I want to," and then ask Norton's Banner, "[you can't get] even a little excited?"

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The pre-release controversy over Norton's preference for a longer cut than the release cut sounded like it emerged from understandable "creative differences" -- sometimes a longer cut actually plays quicker because it takes the time needed to establish different tones and cement identification with the characters. And Norton was on the side of his director, Louis Leterrier. In any case, the controversy appeared to fade with the successful roll-out of the film.

Norton has been the kind of actor who elevates just about every production that he's in. So it sounded like a bad joke or at least bad sportsmanship when Marvel Studios CEO Kevin Feige announced that for "The Avengers" Marvel needed, not Norton, but "an actor who embodies the creative and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members." Norton's agent, Brian Swardstrom, responded that Marvel had made his client a financial offer and that negotiations went on for several weeks "in good faith" until "Marvel called to say they had decided to go in another direction...."

With generosity and all-around class, Norton himself stated, on his Facebook page, "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 very sincerely grateful to Marvel for extending the offer and even more so for giving me the chance to be part of the Hulk's long and excellent history. And I really can't thank the fans enough for how much enthusiasm you've sent my way about what Louis and I tried to do in our turn with the legend.... Hulk is bigger than all of us, that's why we love him, right?"

Is Norton right? Is the Hulk a big enough character to be charismatic in any incarnation? And what sorts of roles do you want Norton to tackle next? I've always enjoyed it whenever Norton does a change of pace like "The Illusionist."

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