If there's one thing Hollywood agents are supposed to be good at, it's defusing tension between artists and the representatives of large, multinational corporations. (Or at least keeping fights from the public eye.) But it seems the backroom wrangling over the future of the Hulk movie franchise slipped out this weekend. In a Saturday press release, Marvel Studios announced that Ed Norton won't return for another installment as the studio's jolly-green tent pole. But that wasn't all they said. In his statement to Hitfix.com, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige made it clear Norton's dismissal was not driven by money, but by jerkiness.

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.
Tough words, but to be fair, Norton's reputation is less than stellar. Along with sulking on the last Hulk movie, he famously re-edited American History X without director Tony Kaye's approval. This rap didn't stop Norton's agent, Brian Swardstrom, from firing off a statement to Hitfix on Sunday in response to Feige, in a weekend of dueling press releases.

From Swardstrom:

This offensive statement from Kevin Feige at Marvel is a purposefully misleading, inappropriate attempt to paint our client in a negative light. Here are the facts: two months ago, Kevin called me and said he wanted Edward to reprise the role of Bruce Banner in The Avengers. He told me it would be his fantasy to bring Edward on stage with the rest of the cast at ComiCon and make it the event of the convention. When I said that Edward was definitely open to this idea, Kevin was very excited and we agreed that Edward should meet with Joss Whedon to discuss the project. Edward and Joss had a very good meeting (confirmed by Feige to me) at which Edward said he was enthusiastic at the prospect of being a part of the ensemble cast. Marvel subsequently made him a financial offer to be in the film and both sides started negotiating in good faith. This past Wednesday, after several weeks of civil, uncontentious discussions, but before we had come to terms on a deal, a representative from Marvel called to say they had decided to go in another direction with the part. This seemed to us to be a financial decision but, whatever the case, it is completely their prerogative, and we accepted their decision with no hard feelings.

We know a lot of fans have voiced their public disappointment with this result, but this is no excuse for Feige's mean spirited, accusatory comments. Counter to what Kevin implies here, Edward was looking forward to the opportunity to work with Joss and the other actors in the Avengers cast, many of whom are personal friends of his. Feige's statement is unprofessional, disingenuous and clearly defamatory. Mr. Norton talent, tireless work ethic and professional integrity deserve more respect, and so do Marvel's fans.

Brian Swardstrom
WME