Why Hawkeye is the Most Relatable Character in the MCU
A long time ago, the comedian Patton Oswalt made a particularly biting joke about the Avengers: “They’ll take anybody. They’ve got a guy with a bow and arrow. What, are they recruiting heroes at sporting-goods stores?”
He was alluding, of course, to Hawkeye/Clint Barton, whose powers seem a bit, well, underpowered in the context of MCU. Remember that his core teammates include the Hulk, a green rage-monster with incredible strength (at least until the most recent movie, “Endgame,” in which he evolves quite a bit); Captain America, the superpowered result of a science experiment; Iron Man/Tony Stark, whose intellect that borders on the supernatural; Black Window/Nat Romanoff, who doesn’t have superpowers but can nonetheless plow through dozens of villains without mercy (to a degree that Hawkeye himself rarely demonstrates); and Thor, a Norse God. By contrast, Hawkeye is really good at, um, [checks notes] shooting arrows really well.
(For the purposes of this piece, I’m consciously ignoring Hawkeye’s convoluted journey through Marvel comics; he first appeared as a villain in Tales of Suspense #57, way back in 1964, and his backstory has included stints as a carnival worker and thief. He was also partially deaf for a time, which is something that the movies have chosen to ignore.)
The MCU films have always wrestled with Hawkeye’s presence. He spends the bulk of the first “Avengers” film under the mental control of Loki, the villain, which essentially renders him a zombie with really good aim. His one bright spot as a character is his deep, warm friendship with Black Widow, and even then, the implied horrors of her (largely unexamined) past give her character a compelling tension that he lacks.
“Age of Ultron,” the second Avengers film, tried to give Hawkeye a bit of balance. We saw that he had a family, for example. And during the final battle, a massive rumble between our heroes and a legion of mindless robots, he acknowledges the central conundrum of his character: “I have a bow and arrow… none of this makes sense.”
(In that clip, you get the sense that Jeremy Renner is doing his best not to completely crack up.)
But “Endgame,” the climactic film in this phase of the MCU, defines Hawkeye’s character in much starker terms. I’m going to be purposefully vague here, because only half of the known world saw the film during its first weekend of release, but it’s safe to say that he suffers an incredible tragedy that fundamentally alters his character. In the previous “Avengers” movies, he had something of a gentle demeanor despite his sharpshooting abilities and past as a military man/S.H.I.E.L.D. agent; but midway through “Endgame,” he tips dangerously close to unredeemable Frank Castle territory.
Nonetheless, he still manages to come back from that emotional nadir, which is more than you can say for [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] who end up [REDACTED] after [REDACTED], and oh man, especially [REDACTED] when [REACTED].
(Sorry, I’ve been accused in the past of being too spoiler-ific, so I’m overcompensating.)
Anyway, Hawkeye’s character arc throughout these films, however inadvertently, reveals him as the perfect stand-in for your typical audience member. Like your average human, he finds himself in confusing situations largely out of his control, and he’s not the ultimate decider in how things go; he wrestles with bad bosses (Hi, Loki!) and surly co-workers (Hey, Banner!); he has certain skills that only come in useful in very narrow circumstances. Heck, his haircut choices are questionable. But he’s still there and plowing forward, because, well, that’s his job.
For that reason alone, I’ve come around to the idea that Hawkeye is the most relatable character in the MCU. It’s hard to identify with a king, a mega-genius, or a raging monster — but it’s really easy to see yourself in someone who’s just clocking in.