Could Joaquin Phoenix really come out of his "retirement" to play Bruce Banner/The Hulk in The Avengers? The rumor of an offer, fresh after the news that Edward Norton would not return to the part, is sparking a lot of debate as well as suggestions for alternatives. While Phoenix is equally good at playing the good guy and the monstrously evil, I see him more suited for double duty in an actual Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde adaptation than in this superhero role. Personally, I wouldn't mind them bring Eric Bana back, but thinking completely of new blood, here are five possible choices for The Hulk that would be more to my liking than Phoenix:
This first idea comes from Cinematical's own William Goss, via Twitter, and I agree the Almost Famous actor should be considered. He's already played a superhero with similar origins in Watchmen, but the film was a disappointment on a number of levels and this might be a chance for a sort of do-over. Plus, he'd likely get to appear more in a non-CG-rendered form for this role. Crudup is physically and artistically somewhere between Bana and Norton, and he really deserves something bigger in his career than supporting roles in Public Enemies (he should be doing Eastwood's Hoover biopic, too) and Eat Pray Love. Maybe if Phoenix declines he can recommend his Inventing the Abbotts co-star. But then the important question is which of the two Abbotts actresses who've played Betty Ross should appear in The Avengers?
Here's another suggestion I like, again courtesy of Goss (originating with his pal Adam). Rudd may be associated with silly movies and characters these days, but that's all the more reason to give him a superhero role, especially one that isn't known for comic relief. There was a time when Rudd was doing Shakespeare adaptations and genre flicks (albeit with the latter mostly bad ones), and this could be his gateway back to stuff outside the comedy corner he's currently pegged to. Audiences would probably have a hard time taking him serious in such a role in a movie all his own, but in a shared, ensemble pic like The Avengers this casting idea just might work. Maybe he can get some support and advice from I Love You, Man co-star Lou Ferrigno.
And if that last pick isn't ridiculous enough for you, how about someone even more associated with immature roles? Actually I'm almost completely serious about this choice, if only because Sandler exhibited Hulk-like tendencies in his finest film, Punch Drunk Love, and even some trouble with his temper in the lesser comedy Anger Management. We know he's better than stuff like Grown-Up but few people really want to see him in too-serious material, whether from Paul Thomas Anderson, James L. Brooks or even Judd Apatow (through whom he worked with original Hulk, Eric Bana). So how about a comic book movie in which he doesn't have to play stupid or slapstick or over-the-top and also doesn't have to carry the thing in case it's not actually the best idea in the world.
Older brother Ben might not have made a great superhero, but perhaps Casey could. Just watch the younger Affleck in The Killer Inside Me to see why he's perfect for the part of an emotionally withdrawn man with a monster residing not-so-deeply within. The Oscar-nominated actor, who is alsoPhoenix's brother-in-law, has also shown a knack for temperamental and conflicted personalities in films like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Gone Baby Gone. Meanwhile his participation in the Oceans Eleven franchise leads me to believe he's okay with fluffier fare as a member of an ensemble. This is definitely my top choice for the role.
We can name male actors that might work til the cows come home, but the most logical thing for Marvel to do right now is leave the masculine Hulk behind. As one commenter has pointed out, this is starting to seem like the constant Batman re-casts of the 1990s. So rather than reboot the character again, just tag him out for She-Hulk, even if the film's plot has to be altered significantly to do so. There's certainly a gap to fill in terms of female superheroes, and this is a role that has been talked about for film for many years. Plus, she won't require as much distracting CG that could take away from the ensemble nature of The Avengers. While Eva Mendes, who has been discussed for the character in the past, is a bigger name, Tyler is a bigger woman. At 6' tall she's still technically too short for the Hulk version of Jennifer Walters, but I can't think of any taller actress who is quite so gorgeous.