Since his first cameo in Thor (2011), Hawkeye’s been the single most mismanaged character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but all that seems poised to change in Avengers: Endgame. Returning as one of the few surviving heroes, he’ll even have a cool new haircut and vigilante identity as Ronin. After that, Clint Barton will get his own Disney+ series, but before that happens, it seems he’ll finally get a decent story in the next MCU film.
As is the case with most non-supers in the Avengers lineup, Clint’s been relegated to either sidekick status or reserved exclusively for big team-up movies. In later films, he had a somewhat humanizing effect on the wider team, but we haven’t seen Hawkeye since 2016’s Captain America: Civil War where he played a significant but somehow minor part. Many of us were downright confused by his absence in Avengers: Infinity War.
Most of Hawkeye’s existence in the MCU so far has been riddled with contradictory character moments and lame puns that either focus on his bird-themed superhero persona or his precision with a bow and arrow. He’s a living, breathing parody that fights alongside gods and characters with their own origin movies. It’s a crying shame that the MCU underutilizes the excellent Jeremy Renner in the role.
“You have to be a smart fighter when you don’t have superpowers, that’s what makes him sort of super in a way, I guess,” Renner said in 2015. “He has to use his mind as much as his physical ability, and his ability to never miss.”
Is he a deadly assassin that never misses his mark? Is he a dad that just wants to build his baby a new crib? If Marvel Studios wants him to be both, then they need to do a better job convincing us.
In the final days before Avengers: Endgame, Inverse is celebrating some of our favorite heroes who never got their own standalone adventures. By tracing their evolution over the course of Marvel’s 22-movie tapestry, we hope to reveal something new about these underrepresented characters and the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large. Plus, it’s a fun new way to rewatch the 11-year saga. Along with this story, you can read Jake Kleinman on Black Widow and Eric Francisco on Rocket Raccoon.
Thor Bungles the Introduction
Hawkeye’s Thor cameo is almost laughable. When Thor invades a S.H.I.E.L.D. pop-up base built around Mjolnir, Agent Coulson calls for “eyes up high with a gun.” We see a pair of hands touch a sniper rifle. The figure hesitates and instead grabs a bow. He hops into a small platform suspended from a crane and takes aim, offering to slow Thor down — but he doesn’t.
Why even include Hawkeye here if he never takes a shot? By Captain America: Civil War, we learn that Clint is as adept at hand-to-hand combat as pretty much anybody else in the MCU. Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to just walk right up to Thor firing arrows? Or better yet, to use a trick arrows to incapacitate the god of thunder?
Hawkeye’s appearance feels more like a cheap and gratuitous cameo, and it distracts the viewer enough to ruin what little good Thor has to offer as a story. Hawkeye’s first appearance in a Marvel movie barely even registers, but it also manages to set the tone for his entire MCU career, one of confusion, mixed messages, and an identity crisis.
The Avengers Doesn’t Know What to Do With Clint
For all the praise The Avengers gets as a groundbreaking entry in the MCU (it’s still the third-highest grossing Marvel film ever), the story fails its lesser heroes. Black Widow, Hawkeye, and even Captain America feel less significant when surrounded by characters that can fly and/or punch giant space whales right in the face.
Partially because he never got a standalone movie, it’s hard for the viewer to care about Hawkeye like they do the other Avengers. Here, he and Black Widow are just fairly generic spies. Especially when Clint spends most of the movie under Loki’s mind control, we never come to understand what drives him beyond being a “badass S.H.I.E.L.D. agent that likes archery.”
When he’s presented as a minor villain in this way, not only do we not care about him as a character, but we’re vaguely irritated by his very existence, especially when the groan-worthy dialogue keeps coming. What does the Tesseract show him, Loki wonders? “My next target,” Clint says.
“At the end of the day, 90% of the movie, I’m not the character I signed on to play,” actor Jeremy Renner told the LA Times in 2012. He called the role “not even a bad guy, because there’s not really a consciousness to him.”
Had we known enough about Clint Barton to care, it might’ve been different, but instead it feels like a misstep. Hawkeye could have been a great minor villain in The Avengers. Instead, he’s just a distraction. Marvel didn’t care about this character compared to the more impressive heroes.
The nature of his relationship with Black Widow also feels intense and confusing. Loki is right to ask her if it’s love, but when she responds by saying she owes him a debt, it just feels like spy-themed melodrama. Yes, Barton made the call to recruit Black Widow rather than assassinate her, but there isn’t enough emotional real estate to go around in The Avengers for us to care.
Hawkeye’s later able to suit up for the Battle of New York, and even though he makes some superhuman shots, he literally runs out of arrows and feels like a bit of a joke. (Enough that Saturday Night Live lampooned this very situation when Renner hosted the show in 2013.)
Avengers: Age of Ultron Finally Let’s Hawkeye Shine
If Hawkeye gets one decent story in the MCU, it’s Avengers: Age of Ultron — ironically everyone’s least-favorite Avengers movie. Just as Captain America: Winter Soldier overcompensates to make Cap look like a cool badass all over again in the wake of The Avengers, Age of Ultron does the same with Hawkeye by aggressively course-correcting and making Barton sort of immune to mind control.
When all his teammates fall for Scarlet Witch’s mind control gimmicks, Barton is there with a cool quip and a taser arrow to the forehead. “I’ve done the whole mind control thing,” he says. “Not a fan.” There were better opportunities to make Barton cool again, and Hawkeye’s real superpower in Ultron is being the emotional core of the Avengers team.
But not before he takes some good ribbing at the hands of his the other Avengers.
“Pretending we need this guy really brings the team together,” Black Widow says after Barton takes a hit on the battlefield and is patched up. Stark jokes about him dying, and then later at the party, he makes another joke about Barton not being able to “get it up.” (Ultron is easily the MCU’s most risque entry, by the way.)
“There’s some wonderful secrets and relationships deepen, so there’s a lot more of him to deal with versus the hypnotized version of him,” Renner teased about his role to Collider in 2015.
Hawkeye’s humanity becomes more obvious when we find out he’s a loving husband and a father in secret. Stark makes jokes that his wife and kids are all spies — he can’t believe it, and neither can we — but Barton just puts on a bigger flannel and has a heartwarming chat with his wife. He even calls the Maximoff twins “punks,” as if the same badass archer from Thor has somehow become a wizened old curmudgeon in a few short years.
On some narrative level, transforming Hawkeye into a noble, self-aware hero works. He’s a dad, so it makes sense that he’s able to give Scarlet Witch a humbling pep talk on the battlefield in Sokovia and later sacrifices himself to save a little boy — only to then be saved by Quicksilver. This is the kind of stuff dads do, but with the ensemble of Ultron and its apocalyptic stakes swarming around him, the movie doesn’t do enough to really earn this new Hawkeye.
There are great moments that make us love Hawkeye, but they come off as totally bewildering when his personality feels so inconsistent, perhaps because Marvel exerted a tighter grip on Age of Ultron than other films and clashed directly with director Joss Whedon.
“The dreams, the farmhouse, these were things I fought to keep,” Whedon told Empire Film Podcast in 2015, talking of how he fought to explore Barton’s family and the mind control sequences for everyone else. Whedon was forced to include a cave sequence where Thor identifies the Infinity Stones, laying the groundwork for the future of the MCU. “With the cave, it really turned into: They pointed a gun at the farm’s head and said, ‘Give us the cave, or we’ll take out the farm’ — in a civilized way.”
For Whedon, the entire middle sequence on the Barton farm is about humanizing the Avengers and showing that despite everyone thinking that Hawkeye has a dark side, it’s instead that he’s totally normal. “He’s normcore,” Whedon said to Buzzfeed. “Hawkeye’s dark secret being that he doesn’t have a dark secret is among my favorite things we’ve ever done.”
But his behavior up to this revelation is absolutely bewildering. Does that make him a good spy? Or does it make somebody at Marvel bad at stories?
Clint Barton is the guy at the party who casually twirls drum sticks, even when there isn’t even a drum set in the building. He’s the guy who does weird voices to make fun of Thor. He wears a flannel and a leather jacket. He never sits on a chair.
At the beginning of Age of Ultron, he comes across as a too-cool-for-school bro. By the end of the movie, he’s the most likable dad in the entire universe. It’s just too bad that Ant-Man came out a few months later, and everyone started loving Scott Lang more than Clint Barton.
Captain America: Civil War Brings Barton Out of Retirement
If Age of Ultron taught us that Hawkeye was a dad, Captain America: Civil War revealed that he’s getting too old for this shit.
Clint Barton comes out of retirement for 15 minutes in Captain America: Civil War, harping on about “a debt” he owes to Wanda Maximoff that just feels like a recycled version of Black Widow’s line about him in The Avengers.
Regardless, Steve Rogers recruits Hawkeye to get Scarlet Witch out of the Avengers facility and join up with Team Cap in Germany, but to do so, Barton has to foolishly take on Vision. Watching the weakest Avenger fight arguably its strongest is kind of hilarious, but it’s rescued by Scarlet Witch’s shocking ability to subdue Vision.
He doesn’t do much during the airport fight sequence other than get his butt kicked by Black Widow and then Black Panther, but his greatest confrontation is with Tony Stark as these two quipsters quibble about golf jokes.
Tony Stark: Clearly, retirement doesn’t suit you. You got tired of shooting golf?
Clint Barton: Well, I played 18, I shot 18. Just can’t seem to miss.
We get it. He has great aim.
Barton is positively irate at Tony Stark after he and the rest of Team Cap are imprisoned, raving and calling him “The Futurist.” He doesn’t actually say anything coherent and just reacts with anger, and that doesn’t bode well for what happens next.
Avengers: Endgame Will Give Ronin a Reason to Fight
Potential spoilers for Avengers: Endgame follow.
Like Ant-Man, Hawkeye was missing in action for Infinity War, and though Scott Lang got all of Ant-Man and the Wasp to explain his absence, Clint Barton will probably only get the opening scene of Avengers: Endgame.
On April 15, a select few people in South Korea claimed to have seen the first 20 minutes of Endgame, and if these Reddit leaks are true, the opening of Endgame will justly explain what happened to Hawkeye during and after the events of Infinity War.
I’d once hoped that Ant-Man and the Wasp or Captain Marvel might feature a scene where Barton watches his entire family die in Thanos’ Decimation. Now it seems like it’ll happen at the very start of Endgame before he assumes his new Ronin persona and rejoins the Avengers in their final mission.
By giving Hawkeye a greater slice of the emotional real estate in Avengers: Endgame, maybe the Russo brothers can finally do something interesting with a hero that’s never done anything consistent whatsoever in the past 21 movies. Then again, given the MCU’s track record, we may have to wait for his Disney+ series before Clint Barton ever becomes a fully-developed character.
Avengers: Endgame will be released in theaters on April 26, 2019.
Remember that time Jeremy Renner made fun of Hawkeye with a song on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon?