As we are hot on the heels of kicking-off the ambitious extravaganza of Avengers-related films with the May 7 release of Iron Man 2, we're still left with a pretty old question: Will Edward Norton reprise his role as The Hulk? It's such a perplexing query that even Norton himself doesn't have a definitive answer. Therefore, it seems that he's turning to YOU, the fans to give him that answer. How did it get to this point? Let's recap.
Norton seems to have a love/hate relationship with his role as Bruce Banner/Hulk in Louis Letterrier's 2008 version of The Incredible Hulk. (Sort of like Leonard Nimoy's "I am not Spock" phase in the 70's.) There's a lot of behind-the-scenes drama which took place in the creative process that left Norton disenchanted by the whole process and thinking that the film that got released was not the one he thought he made. Plus, there may be another factor: While the film's $263,427,551 worldwide gross is nothing to scoff at, it was only about $18 million more than Ang Lee's notorious 2003 version (simply titled Hulk,) which was widely-known as a critical and financial failure. Therefore, the film didn't exactly send Norton's stock into orbit.
When the obligatory question about his returning for a sequel is brought up, Norton's reactions are mixed. He's either dismissive of the possibility, or responds with some level of enthusiasm. The last answers seemed to peg Norton as open to returning, but thinking it wouldn't happen, since so much will need to be covered in the upcoming Avengers films. The idea of a straight sequel, (as things stand now,) is a non-reality. However, Norton does seem to be intrigued by a possible appearance as Banner/Hulk in 2012's culmination of the crossovers, The Avengers.
Then, it happened. Norton seemed to genuinely want the answer straight from the horse's mouth: Should he return or not?
The question was asked at a recent sit-down (in which Hulk was not the topic) that HitFix's Drew McWeeny had with Norton and, as it so happens, his Incredible Hulk co-star, Tim Blake Nelson (Samuel Sterns/The Leader.) A bit reluctant to ask Norton a question he's been asked a million and a half times, McWeeny decided to ask it anyway at the end of the interview. (So, you know, if he storms away in anger, it wouldn't matter.) However, Norton's answer was most intriguing:
"It's really up to you guys," he told me at one point, and by "you guys," he was referring to fans and the fan press in particular. "Is it important to you? Does that continuity matter?"
As McWeeny and many others have pointed out in reaction to that question: YES, IT DOES. For me personally, it's not about Norton intrinsically being "the definitive" version of the character, but it would do a great service to the whole process of these Avengers films to make sure that its reach is as wide as possible. Sure, you could argue that Tony Stark's cameo in The Incredible Hulk more than christened that film as a legitimate Avengers prequel. However, it would make a world of difference to see it come to fruition in "the big one" as the newly-assembled team deal with the rampaging gamma-radiated brute and eventually come to a point where he actually joins the team. Now, since the character is a CGI creation, Norton himself may not be essential to the process of having "the same Hulk" from the 2008 film. Nonetheless, a cameo as Banner would be a nice way to make it all the more rewarding. They could even concoct some plot device for future films where The Hulk remains big and green 24/7 and maintains his intelligence as Banner. (Something that has been done in the comics, which would not require Norton to return for future sequels.)
While it didn't exactly change cinema, fans seemed to enjoy the faster-paced 2008 film, which also did right by the comics when it included city-flattening mega battles with Hulk's comic book nemesis, Abomination, as well as a cameo from the man who would become his greatest enemy, The Leader. Should The Avengers become hugely successful and an appearance by Hulk turned out to be a key element of that success, you can bet that a proper sequel would be back on tap. If that is the case, then Norton's return would once again be integral. And don't think that Norton's over-40 age would be much of an issue, as Robert Downey Jr., who is over 4 years older than him, is clearly maintaining believability as a superhero character that spends most of his time away from the veil of CGI.
There you have it: Edward Norton has asked YOU if you'd like to see him back as The Hulk? What's your answer?