Edward Norton isn't speaking. The star of The Incredible Hulk, the new $150 million adaptation of the Marvel comic-book series, would normally be chatting up the press this time of year, promoting his big summer movie. Instead, the 38-year-old Oscar nominee has declined repeated interview requests, following a disagreement he had with his producers over the final cut of the film. In recent months, Norton and the film's director, Louis Leterrier (The Transporter), campaigned for a longer, more detailed film. Marvel Studios wanted a faster, leaner one. Marvel won. These creative arguments happen in Hollywood a lot but usually remain a secret. This time, they didn't. So Norton isn't talking, and others are ready to lay the blame well, everywhere. ''It's as much Marvel's fault as it is Edward's,'' Leterrier says. ''And my fault. It's everybody's fault! Or no one's fault, in a way. I regret that [Marvel and Norton] didn't come to an agreement where we could've all worked together.''
It's amazing that Marvel wanted to make another Hulk movie in the first place. In comic-book stores, The Hulk is only slightly less popular than Spider-Man, but at movie theaters, not so much. Ang Lee's moody 2003 Hulk flopped, earning only $132 million domestically. Normally, that would mean franchise death, but in 2005, Marvel grew tired of licensing its characters (and losing profits) to studios and acquired $525 million to start funding films itself. Marvel also decided that The Hulk's popularity as an icon made the movie do-over worth the risk. ''It's Spidey and Hulk standing atop Mount Marvel,'' says Kevin Feige, the company's president of production. ''It felt silly to wait more than five years to bring The Hulk back to the screen.''
The Incredible Hulk is not another origin story: When the movie begins, Bruce Banner (Norton) is already The Hulk. He's hiding out in Brazil, trying to find a cure for the gamma-ray exposure that turns him into a monster. Before long, his whereabouts are uncovered by Gen. Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt), and the movie turns into an extended chase, as Banner tries to cure himself while eluding Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), a soldier who turns into the scaly fiend Abomination. The new Hulk film is said to remain truer not only to the comic book but also to the old Lou Ferrigno TV show.
It's unfortunate that Hulk has been generating negative publicity lately, because there's a lot at stake for Marvel: The company's first two films, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, are being released this summer. Marvel's decision to cast Norton as Banner was a gutsy choice in more ways than one. Norton is an enormously respected actor, but the Fight Club star also has a reputation for being an intense presence behind the scenes. ''When you work with Edward, you are dealing with an actor/producer/director someone who is passionate about film and cares about every project he does,'' says Bob Yari, who produced two of Norton's movies, The Illusionist and The Painted Veil. ''You have to be prepared. You are not dealing with an actor who's not going to have an opinion.''
NEXT: At first, ''he stories I heard about Edward they scared the bejesus out of me,'' says director Leterrier