Both camps have, predictably, very different stories. The true surprise is the amount of vitriol being spewed in public. It will damage both camps, but it will most likely hurt Norton more -- there's a history here (we'll get into that). Norton will act again; Marvel will continue to do superhero movies. The real loser in all of this: Hey, that's us. It's not easy to defend Edward Norton; he does have the uncanny ability to make it quite hard. So it's debatable as to who is truly at fault in the fallout between Norton and Marvel Studios over Norton's role as the Hulk in 2012's 'The Avengers.'
Both camps have, predictably, very different stories. The true surprise is the amount of vitriol being spewed in public. It will damage both camps, but it will most likely hurt Norton more -- there's a history here (we'll get into that). Norton will act again; Marvel will continue to do superhero movies. The real loser in all of this: Hey, that's us.
Marvel has promised a sprawling and quite ambitious motion picture universe that ties together some -- not all -- of their characters in continuity. So far we are three films into this new universe and already two characters -- one incredibly major -- have been recast. Look, I'm excited about the idea, but if continuity is the key to the stories, continuity should also be a major concern when it comes to actors cast in the films.
Think about it: There's already a confusing Marvel film universe that needs to be explained to a superhero layman. So far, two 'Iron Man' films plus 'The Incredible Hulk' are included in this story. Next summer, 'Captain America: The First Avenger' and 'Thor' will join the narrative. "And Spider-Man, right?" you would be asked by the inquisitive layman.
"Oh, no," you respond, "You see, the rights to Spider-Man are owned by Sony, so whatever happens in the 'Spider-Man' movies has nothing to do with what happens in the 'Iron Man' films. The same goes for 'The Fantastic Four' and the 'Hulk' film that came out in 2003. In fact, Marvel would be thrilled if you just forgot that all those films just mentioned ever existed. There's a new 'Spider-Man' in 2012 that has nothing to do with the previous three; 'The Incredible Hulk' has nothing to do with 'Hulk'; and the guy that played Human Torch in 'The Fantastic Four is now playing Captain America."
So, this is a confusing enough situation. (Some are calling for Eric Bana, who starred in Ang Lee's 2003 'Hulk,' to reprise his role for 'The Avengers'; Bana would basically not be reprising anything he did in 'Hulk,' he'd be picking up where Norton's character left off. This scenario even makes the rumors of Joaquin Phoenix make sense.) But stability among the actors hired should have been a number one priority.
Look, I think Ed Norton is a tremendous talent. When I first heard the news that Norton would not be cast in 'The Avengers,' for what was speculated to be financial reasons, my initial reaction was to Tweet my empathy for Norton.
Then came Marvel Studio head Kevin Feige's statement that included the sentence, "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."
At first I was angry with Feige. Then, giving it more thought, statements like that just don't come out of the blue (though, it still seems unprofessional). Again, Norton is a very talented actor, but he has a reputation for being temperamental. 'American History X' director Tony Kaye tried to have his name removed from the film after Norton re-edited it. There were stories of unrest on the sets of 'The Italian Job' and 'The Score.' The most damaging was Norton's behavior during 'The Incredible Hulk.' Norton clashed with director Louis Leterrier over final cut and then all but disappeared during promotion of the film.
Norton's demands aren't a secret. Why cast him in the first place if you're not going to give him some sort of final say? Now we're going to have our third Hulk in the last nine years. And, as history shows, when a cast falls apart, so do the films. Look at the Tim Burton directed/produced 'Batman' films. The first two, though weird, still hold up because of continuity among the characters. By the third film, Val Kilmer replaced Michael Keaton as Batman and Tommy Lee Jones had replaced Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent. By the fourth film, the series was a joke.
Even in 'Iron Man 2,' though Don Cheadle is an excellent actor, there was just something missing about his relationship with Tony Stark that existed when Terrence Howard played the role of Rhodey. And now they've lost Norton, too. This is a disturbing pattern as we get closer to 2012. I can't help but think, "Who's going to be replaced next?" This is dangerous road Marvel is walking down: Thinking actors can be replaced and the fans won't notice. The acting is exactly the reason the Marvel films are enjoyed as much as they are. It's the characters, not the action. Marvel lost sight of this with the "all action all the time" 'Iron Man 2' and now they've lost sight again by losing -- no matter how difficult he could be -- Ed Norton. Because of egos, we, the fans, will just have to imagine what the geeky dream pairing of Norton and Robert Downey Jr. would have looked like onscreen together. And, really, that's a shame.