Marvel Vs. Norton: The Incredible Sulk

If you don’t get emails from Marvel every five minutes (like I do), you might have missed this week’s odd turn of events in The Avengers movie saga. On Friday, Marvel tossed out a nasty press release announcing their decision not to work with Edward Norton again. Norton, as you may recall, is the actor who most recently played Bruce Banner in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. This should be sort of a non-issue, though a disappointing one, since Norton has been very vocal about his love for the character and his interest in being part of an Avengers film. Except Marvel President Kevin Feige didn’t just relate this information, but chose to nail Edward to the wall with a blatantly bitchy dismissal. Check this out:

“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.”

Meow! In cat fight terms, that was Marvel taking her earrings off. Be warned, though. If you’ve ever bitch slapped a William Morris agent, you know what’s coming. In a response that practically screamed, “Who do these comic book kids think they are!” Brian Swardstrom, Edward’s agent, responded:

“This offensive statement from Kevin Feige at Marvel is a purposefully misleading, inappropriate attempt to paint our client in a negative light…We know a lot of fans have voiced their public disappointment with this result, but this is no excuse for Feige’s mean-spirited, accusatory comments. Counter to what Kevin implies here, Edward was looking forward to the opportunity to work with Joss and the other actors in the Avengers cast, many of whom are personal friends of his. Feige’s statement is unprofessional, disingenuous and clearly defamatory. Mr. Norton’s talent, tireless work ethic and professional integrity deserve more respect, and so do Marvel’s fans.”

Grr! Agent smash! Well, the earrings are off and drinks have been thrown! If you’re like me, you popped some popcorn, got comfortable and waited for Marvel’s bucket of crazy to spill forth. I imagined Kevin Feige releasing some surveillance footage of Edward Norton punching orphans. Alas, the (seemingly) final word on the matter came from the former Mr. Banner himself. Posted as a screen capture (of all things!) on his Facebook page, Edward adopted his best “aw shucks” demeanor and said:

Mr. Norton’s classy response seems to put an end to any chances of Alexis and Krystle plunging into the fountain, but, on the surface, I have to hand it to the guy. I still wish he were playing Banner. He would have lent some much-needed star power, and a good balance for Robert Downey, Jr.‘s mugging, in an Avengers movie. But now Robert will be taking center stage, surrounded by lesser-known actors, with only Samuel Jackson standing in the way of an Iron Man and (To a Lesser Degree) the Avengers title change.

Before I pat Edward on the back and send him a basket of muffins, I’d like to take a closer look at the anatomy of this mini-scandal. Who knows what actually happened in negotiations? But not knowing has never stopped me before, so I imagine Marvel proposed a pay cut and had probably already promised top billing to RDJ. Edward, of course, wasn’t going to accept that, but Marvel didn’t want to look any jerkier (or cheaper) than they already do. So, to save face, they released their nasty statement, placing the blame on Edward for not being a team player. Edward, of course, didn’t want to look jerky, either, and nothing would make him look jerkier than responding in rant form to Marvel’s dismissal. So, why do you pay your agent 20%? Oh yeah, so he’ll blast the bully and look like the hothead, leaving you the chance to come in at the end, calm and cool, looking like Audrey Hepburn while Joan and Linda are scratching each other’s eyes out.

So, what does it all mean? Well, Marvel still looks kind of jerky, but it’s nicely balanced out by Swardstrom’s histrionics. And the star completely avoids dirtying his hands. And, in a bizarre coincidence (or not), on the same day as his benevolent statement, Edward is appointed United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity. Nothing says “team player” more than the United Effing Nations! Take that, Marvel!

That still leaves us without a Hulk. How about Eric Bana? He’s bound to be cheaper than Edward. Why, I paid him $3 to mow my lawn just last week. Or, if they want to skew younger, I nominate Zac Efron, mainly because I’d like to see him wandering around, dazed, half-naked and clutching his stretchy purple pants.

Marvel had better hurry, though. Comic-Con is next week, and the clock is ticking. Just don’t make Kevin Feige angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. Just ask Edward Norton.

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