The news that Edward Norton had been ‘dumped’ as Bruce Banner/The Hulk for the forthcoming Avengers movie seemed to shock the media this past week. I have to ask, however, just how shocked can we reasonably be? This has been on the cards since the initial announcement of an Avengers project. If it is because of Norton’s apparent behaviour during production of The Incredible Hulk, that’s one thing, but if it is for financial reasons, then it is indicative of the way the Hollywood industry is currently headed.
I have to start by saying that i am possibly less shocked than others for the simple fact that, based on comments made by related parties several months ago around the Avengers announcement, it was my belief that Norton would not be reprising his role as the Hulk anyway. I don’t recall the exact nature of the comments, but i seem to remember Norton revealing that he was not contracted to play the character again, and that at present he had no idea if he would be asked. I also seem to remember Marvel, in some form or other, stating that it was unknown whether there would be another appearance by the Hulk in any of the Marvel adaptations.
Regardless of the impression i had gotten, i still think the news should be far less of a surprise. When Iron Man 2 was being cast, it was revealed that Jim Rhodes would be played by Don Cheadle rather than Terence Howard, after the original actor effectively priced himself out of the market. Subsequent Marvel casting has seen a still relatively unknown cast as Thor, in the shape of Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, and a list of TV actors auditioning for the Captain America movie. In the end, the studio bowed to fan pressure and plumped to go up a tier to capture Chris Evans, though again, they got him ‘on the cheap’.
‘On the cheap’ has been a philosophy of Marvel’s movie production arm from the beginning. The surprise choices of Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr as director and star of Iron Man 2 paid off, but must have been made with one eye on the personnel budget, as neither were considered particularly hot property at the time. Marvel are pretty new to the movie game, and are playing it carefully. They have a lot of stuff in development right now, which involves a considerable outlay, and in order to be able to keep costs achievable, they have to avoid blowing a lot of money on one movie. Assuming Thor and Captain America pay off, they could well have more working capital to put towards The Avengers, but production will have to start long before gross profits begin to roll in. Now that Downey has made a couple of very successful Iron Man movies, he won’t be a cheap prospect, and with numerous other characters that need to be cast, the studio cannot afford to blow too much on big name actors.
It is a great shame, because Edward Norton is one of the finest actors around, and would be an asset to any movie. However, when you take on a personality like Norton into a project, you do open yourselves up to certain risks. You see, Norton can, at times, be a little prickly. He allegedly threw his weight around on American History X, forcing more screen time for his character. Marvel themselves know only too well the influence the man can exert, after he reportedly took over the script for The Incredible Hulk, and made changes to his own satisfaction. This could well be the real reason for his departure from the Avengers project. With several big personalities involved, any dissention by one star would be amplified greatly.
The big news now is that Mark Ruffalo has been offered the role of Bruce Banner. Ruffalo has been around for a long time, and has built up a reputation for being a fine actor. More recently, he has risen to prominence with big roles in Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom, and this year’s Shutter Island, directed by Martin Scorsese. I first paid attention Ruffalo when i was dragged to see the awful 13 Going On 30, and i was pretty impressed even then. He somehow managed to play his part brilliantly, and distance himself from the rest of the cast in the process.
Ruffalo fits the bill perfectly for Marvel. He is a very competent actor, but is still, to a point, an undiscovered talent. This will make him perfectly affordable, and it will be a great role for him, helping to further establish his place in the next tier.
The one thing that concerns me with the Avengers casting is that, with Norton now out, Robert Downey Jr is the ‘star’ of the show. With two successful Iron Man movies under his belt, he is the experienced Marvel man, and will be commanding a considerably larger fee than his colleagues. I’m not suggesting for a minute that he has a big ego, or that these circumstances will cause conflicts between the actors, but it does mean that the threat is there. Downey has a considerable amount of charisma and presence, and could potentially blow the other actors off the screen. Hopefully, the parts will be written with a good balance in mind, and i’m sure it won’t cause a major problem. I certainly hope not.
It is clear that Marvel are trying to make all their movies on a managable budget, and with so many irons currently in the fire, it could potentially be a house of cards situation. They now have Disney for support, however, whether that be technical or financial, so i imagine the ship will be steadied to a degree if problems do arise. I hope it does all go to plan, and if Ruffalo does take the part, i wish him luck. The whole Avengers project is certainly ambitious, and i find myself wishing that more studios would take these kind of risks on a more regular basis. Of course, if they did do that, they could well end up in a similar situation to MGM. And nobody wants that.
Bazmann – You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann