Update: Edward Norton has released an official statement regarding his recasting.

One of the biggest questions hovering over Marvel’s Avengers movie (besides Chris Evans ability to play a believable leader) was whether or not Edward Norton would return to play Bruce Banner aka The Hulk. According to several reports this weekend the character will appear in the film but the actor will not. The studio has dropped the ridiculously talented Norton like a hot potato and it looks like they’ve already got a replacement in mind.

Over at ComingSoon, they received confirmation via Marvel head Kevin Fiege and Norton’s rep Brian Swardstrom of WME regarding him leaving the project. First here’s what Feige had to say:

“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.”

Norton’s people didn’t like the fact that Marvel was making it sound like he wasn’t a team player so they issued the following response via 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 Comic-Con 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.”

He went on to call Feige’s comments mean-spirited and uncalled for. Despite what was said, he claims that Norton was looking forward to repring his role as Banner.

Can I just say this sucks? Throughout the entire Avengers process, Norton has consistently said he would be open to returning to the Marvel franchise and now all of a sudden he’s out? Something about this doesn’t seem right. If that wasn’t weird enough over at CHUD, they’re claiming that his replacement could be the “retired” actor-turned-rapper Joaquin Phoenix!

I don’t have anything against Phoenix, and to be completely honest he was one of my favorite actors before he went all coo-coo for cocoa puffs last year but could he be Bruce Banner? The site claims that an offer has already been sent out to the actor and they’re hoping to have an announcement of his involvement ready in time for this month’s Comic-Con.

The Avengers already had some questionable casting and now with the ousting of Norton, this film seems like it’s on some shaky ground.

Marvel plans on releasing The Avengers on May 5, 2012.

What do you think of Norton leaving The Avengers? Do you think Phoenix is a good choice?