As word broke over the weekend about the creative relationship between Edward Norton and Marvel Films getting curb-stomped, it seemed that 2012's crossover extravaganza The Avengers had taken a hit in its loss of the Bruce Banner/Hulk that we had been set up to see in the film. The working history between Norton and Marvel had been legendarily contentious right from the 2008 release of The Incredible Hulk and has been a series of dramatic back-and-forth stories illustrating a supposedly difficult Norton versus a low-balling, intrusive Marvel. That, however, is unimportant and not worth exploring, as the deed is already done. What we're now left with, is an important question: Does The Avengers need Edward Norton?
While we may never know the full story behind Marvel's axing of Norton, it was clear that with ambitious plans and a cast that's already full of huge names, Marvel may not have been willing to pay top dollar for his return in The Avengers. Norton himself seemed to be on the fence at any given time, from expressing an unwillingness to return to recently asking the fan community if they wanted him to return. It also could be that the scope of the role did not warrant what Norton was asking. In fact, based on some speculation on the film's storyline, it would merely have been a cameo. While some rumors pointed to the film featuring Marvel's signature shape-shifting aliens, Skrulls as the primary villains, it was also strongly believed that they would emulate the early Avengers comic storyline in which the team had to battle a rampaging Hulk, who was being controlled as a weapon by Thor's villainous half-brother Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston in the Thor movie and presumably returning for this film.)
The film would have benefited greatly from an appearance by Norton, which could have preserved some of the fledgling continuity in these new batch of Marvel-produced films. However, whether it was a matter of them not being able to work with Norton or simple financial reasons, his presence seemed to be a luxury they believed to be not worth its weight. The key word here, is "luxury." In a scenario with the "rampaging Hulk" storyline, the film may not even require the appearance of Hulk's Bruce Banner persona. In fact, they could easily get away with making it such that the Hulk would be stuck in his monstrous form without reverting back to Banner, as some of the comic's storylines have reflected in the past.
Therefore, in my opinion, given the choice, I would have preferred Norton's inclusion, but the film didn't necessarily "need" him. In fact, the way I see it, the bigger tragedy here is that a potential sequel to The Incredible Hulk has gone from "not very likely" to "NEVER." While it was hardly perfect, it did right most of the wrongs of the previous incarnation of 2003's slow and overly-dramatic Hulk and seemed to be a franchise that might have been worth getting behind. **sigh** Oh, well...
How do you feel about Edward Norton not returning as The Hulk? Does this diminish The Avengers? Or is it an opportunity to cast someone even better?