UPDATE: Marvel has officially announced that Edward Norton will not be playing Bruce Banner (aka Hulk) in The Avengers. From the set of Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel's Kevin Feige had this to say (via HitFix):
"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."
See Elisabeth Rappe's original post below...
For two years, Edward Norton and Marvel have been dancing around whether or not he'll reprise his role as the Hulk in The Avengers. Norton has insisted he's simply waiting by the phone for Marvel to call him up, and that he was eager to return to the character, but nothing has ever happened.
Now, Drew McWeeny of HitFix is reporting that Marvel plans to hire an unknown to play the Hulk in The Avengers. Reportedly, Norton even met with Joss Whedon (who, it must be said, is still unconfirmed but is actively working on the film) and the two hit it off very well. Norton supposedly even cleared his schedule with goodwill. But no offer has been extended to him. In fact, Marvel has made it clear that they're moving on and giving the role to someone else -- someone cheaper. McWeeny writes, "In early conversations, it sounds like a deal could be made here, and simply wasn't. Norton's desire to return to the role was so palpable at SXSW, and that was before he met with Whedon, that I can't imagine he would refuse to negotiate or find some way to satisfy Marvel. So the question is really why won't Marvel try to make Norton happy at all when he obviously brings so much weight to the team?"
It's whispered that Marvel plans to introduce the Avengers in Hall H at SDCC this year in person. One of these will apparently be the new Hulk. While that's an exciting picture, knowing that Norton wants to be on that stage but won't be takes the shine off it a little bit. The Hulk doesn't need an actor's actor like Norton, but it's awfully cool that one wants to play him. Why not fatten that lineup out just a little more, bring on Norton, and make The Avengers truly epic?
Does Norton's non-involvement in The Avengers hurt the film, or is it a non issue in your opinion?