There isn’t any doubt Edward Norton is one of the Top Ten greatest actors in America, even if some wouldn’t argue he’s made some career missteps along the way. One of the biggest ones is, arguably, when he took a segue to play Bruce Banner in the MCU.
A consensus in the fan community has said Norton’s take on Bruce Banner/Hulk was the weakest link in the entire franchise. However, some signs are starting to show more are missing his appearance for one interesting reason.
Some are starting to suggest the Norton version paid better homage to the original comic book Hulk (and the classic TV show) than what’s been done in the more recent movies. Now more what-ifs are going on about how Norton would have fit into the later Avengers movies.
Did Edward Norton give more seriousness to Bruce Banner/Hulk?
Since Norton is known primarily as a dramatic actor, the creative team behind 2008’s The Incredible Hulk (screenwriter Zak Penn) seemed to tailor it as strictly a straight-faced drama. This went in tune with the original comic book stories that were always taken seriously and seldom devolved into tongue-in-cheek.
At play here was also the transformation scenes. They were designed to mimic those seen in the original late ’70s/early ’80s TV series with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. Yes, this meant seeing a slower transformation and seeing Banner’s eyes flash green.
Viewers at the time might have thought it was just a pale imitation of the TV show after a whole generation had fond memories of growing up with the series. Others probably thought Norton was out of his element playing Banner/Hulk, outside of exploring many of the same interesting anger themes the TV show did.
On Reddit, some fans are starting to miss that older version of Hulk. Had Marvel stayed on a more serious path with Hulk, maybe the character wouldn’t have been sent out to pasture so fast.
Was it a mistake to bring comedy into the world of Hulk?
One of the biggest complaints about Hulk with online fans is that Marvel really did go into tongue-in-cheek mode with his character, especially in Thor: Ragnarok. Trying to mix comedy with the Hulk is somewhat like oil and water, not including having the big green guy look entirely CGI-generated.
A key thing to better relating to Hulk is when he looks slightly more human as he did in the old TV show. Mark Ruffalo has done a good job portraying Banner, yet his Hulk looks like something out of a video game.
Smart Hulk also hasn’t been very popular since it takes away the drama and ultimate terror of Banner transforming into the creature. As one person noted on Reddit, the memories of seeing Natasha Romanoff freak out at the Hulk transformation is sorely missed.
It’s possible now that when kids see Hulk, they just think of him as comedy relief rather than the serious and once terrifying creature he used to be. Perhaps Kevin Feige should keep this in mind if a reboot of the character happens down the road.
Edward Norton will never be back, but many ponder how he would have fit in
Call it ironic some fans now miss Norton being in the MCU, simply because they miss the more dramatic/compelling Hulk. Imagining an alternative scenario of Edward Norton in all the Avengers movies is worth pondering.
He might have been able to keep a dignity with the character and keep him more serious/human in the long run rather than devolve into a near cartoon character.
Of course, Norton would never come back to the role since he’d be out of the suitable age range. Even Mark Ruffalo may never come back, other than a cameo in upcoming She-Hulk.
Let’s still hope Hulk can go back to his roots and be rebooted eventually on the big screen. Many who still remember being freaked out at Hulk on TV are still around and wouldn’t mind seeing the elements of science and anger explored in a smart way.