How Keeping Edward Norton’s Hulk Around Would Have Made the MCU Worse

The Marvel Cinematic Universe of 2020 isn’t the same universe that premiered in 2008. Sure, the continuity and timeline of the universe remains mostly intact, but with every passing movie, the universe has taken on a new life.

With every subtle change, the universe has expanded its tone and reach. One of the most jarring changes, however, may have saved the universe as we know it. In 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, Ed Norton took on the iconic role. A dispute over his credit, however, may have saved the MCU forever

Edward Norton’s Hulk

Actor Edward Norton
Actor Edward Norton | Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

The Incredible Hulk might be the most forgotten part of the MCU, according to Screen Rant. Although it has been referenced several times by Bruce Banner and others, it doesn’t have the footprint on the universe that nearly every other movie had.

Just the second film in the MCU, The Incredible Hulk feels like a completely different take on the character who’s become a staple of the Marvel Universe. 

Norton’s Bruce Banner was not the lighthearted character he is today. He was a man who was haunted by his demons by living life off of the grid before happenstance forced him to come out of hiding.

Norton’s Hulk was a relatively grounded take on a superhero genre that was not yet the box office draw that it is today. Furthermore, Norton’s interpretation was the start of a different direction than the character took. 

The film was not a critical or financial failure. Still, as the Marvel Universe found its footing and realized what it could do with its ever-growing cast of characters, it’s hard to see the version of the Hulk from 2008 existing in Endgame and Thor: Ragnarok. Regardless, Norton’s departure from the role changed everything in the Marvel Universe for good. 

Why did Ed Norton leave the MCU?

RELATED: Hulk Might Have a Dark Future in the MCU Thanks to Some Subtle Foreshadowing

Norton is as well-known for his battles with producers as he is his outstanding performances. When people bring Norton on to play a role, they know that they bring on an actor who wants more creative control over the script and post-production than the average star.

Norton publicly fought with Marvel over the direction of The Incredible Hulk up until its release. 

When it came time to cast the rest of The Avengers, Marvel decided to go in another direction instead of risking Norton’s antics on the set of an ensemble movie. They released a statement in 2010 confirming his departure, per the AV Club:

“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.”

 That role went to Mark Ruffalo, who has worn the stretchy pants since then and breathed new life into the character. 

Did Mark Ruffalo save the MCU?

Ruffalo’s Banner has been a success. Although rights issues involving the Disney merger have prevented him from appearing in solo movies since 2008, Banner has played a part in five different movies since Ruffalo took over.

While the Banner of the first Avengers kept much of the baggage, Banner has become a damaged, but jovial staple of the MCU that Norton may have had a hard time filling. 

Fans have speculated what would have been if Norton took the rains in the ensuing roles. From jokes about Ruffalo’s penchant for accidentally spoiling the MCU movies to where the character’s tone would have changed, sites like Reddit abound with speculation about what the MCU became versus what it could have been. 

Whether somebody likes the recasting of Bruce Banner or hates it, Ruffalo took a character established in his own movie and added his twist to it. The result has helped define the series as a whole.

It also helps to paint just how the MCU has been forced to adjust to curveballs since the beginning days when its success was far from certain.