It broke Friday that Marvel was officially parting ways with Ed Norton. No more would the prickly, difficult actor be playing the role of Bruce Banner in any future Marvel film, including The Avengers. Over the weekend the war of words escalated, with Marvel Studios honcho Kevin Feige issuing some choice statements about the actor, and his agent rebutting (head to HitFix for all the details on that battle). So there won’t be an Ed Norton in The Avengers, but who could be joining the team?
Reliable sources tell me that Marvel has already put out an offer, and the actor they’ve spoken to is Joaquin Phoenix, believe it or not. Phoenix is taking time to mull over the offer and the bigger implications – Marvel may yet resurrect the Hulk franchise – but Marvel hopes to have him in place by Comic Con, which is when they want to announce their new Bruce Banner.
As of right now treat this as a rumor, as I was unable to get solid confirmations or denials (it’s the weekend!). Phoenix might very well turn the studio down – I’m hearing that whoever plays Banner will be the lowest man on The Avengers pay totem pole – but this would probably be a good move for the actor. Phoenix needs to come back from the wilderness, where he has firmly planted himself since he made a weird, probably put-on documentary with Casey Affleck. Over the last year or so Phoenix has seemingly melted down, becoming a terrible rapper, an inveterate drug abuser and a complete train wreck, leading up to his supposed retirement from Hollywood. That may have all been for the documentary (which has been screening for potential buyers), so getting back in the saddle immediately, now that the doc is done and on the market, makes sense for him.
But does he make sense for Marvel? If Feige is moving past Ed Norton because he’s tough to work with, will he have better luck with Phoenix? This isn’t the first time Marvel has had this problem – part of the reason why Terrence Howard didn’t come back for Iron Man 2 is because he wasn’t the most pleasant dude in the cast. And Iron Man 2 itself had some legendary on-set moments with Mickey Rourke that will one day be incredible book fodder. But that’s what happens in a company that lives in a post-Robert Downey Jr moment, where they think they can tame the wildest horse.
If Phoenix doesn’t take the part, Marvel will quickly go to someone else. The reason why they haven’t officially announced Joss Whedon for The Avengers is probably because it’s going to be a big part of their presentation at Comic Con, and they’re going to want to present the full team if at all possible.