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How Avengers: Endgame's daddy issues made Hawkeye relevant again
Avengers: Endgame clocks in at over three hours, which allows the film to cover a whole lot of ground. The movie gives an actual endgame for a multitude of characters and ties up a bunch of loose ends. In the process, Endgame provides some much-needed redemption to the most human member of Marvel's epic superhero team: Clint "Hawkeye" Barton (Jeremy Renner).
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for Avengers: Endgame in the story below**
Over the course of Hawkeye's story as it pertains to the MCU — his split-second ancillary appearance in 2011's Thor introduced the highly proficient archer to the team — his involvement has, for the most part, steadily existed on the second or even third tier. Barton famously commented on his ongoing involvement with the team, saying, "I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense.” After all this time, Endgame finally made sense of things, righting this wrong with an opening sequence, and a tragically satisfying story arc, that presented Barton not only as a husband and father but as a worthy hero himself.
As reluctant as Hawkeye has been to fully immerse himself in the superhero world throughout his tenure in the MCU, he has regularly reported for duty when the team and the world needed him. Which makes his lack of involvement in Avengers: Infinity War that much more interesting.
We first caught a glimpse of Barton's family life in Avengers: Age of Ultron, introducing audiences to his separate, "normal," existence on that Midwestern farm. The rest of the Avengers' grander missions, and whatever battles they found themselves immersed in, have always been fought with the focus of protecting the greater good. Hawkeye's modus operandi, though, falls a little closer to home. He's fighting to protect what truly matters to him: his wife and children.
He may have been absent throughout the cataclysmic events that transpired in Infinity War. He may have been removed, completely by choice, from the devastating battle with Thanos (Josh Brolin) that led to that now-infamous moment ... the snap heard — or unheard, depending on which side of the snap you landed on — around the world.
At the same moment in time that found Tony Stark and Steve Rogers surviving the attack, which turned the likes of Peter Parker, T'Challa, Wanda Maximoff, Stephen Strange, and more into literal flecks of dust, floating away in the wind, Barton was living a humble existence hundreds of miles away on his quaint plot of land. We pick up with Barton on his farm in the opening moments of Avengers: Endgame in a quick scene that packs a punch filled with emotional resonance and the promise of a darker future to come.
All it takes is one moment for everything to change.
As his wife Laura (Linda Cardinelli) prepared lunch and his sons, Nathaniel and Cooper, played in the field, Clint coached his daughter in the ways of archery, calling her "Hawkeye" when she hit a bullseye — a possible hint at things to come in his upcoming standalone TV series. After briefly turning away, he discovers her immediate disappearance, along with the vanishing of Laura and his sons, and the lingering camera shot on Barton, unsure of what to do or where to run, alludes to the torturous weight of this loss — and the pending downward spiral he'd get trapped in.
Just when he thought he was out, Thanos inadvertently pulled him right back in.
The violent choices that follow a father's tragic loss is a theme that feels like a cinematic sign of the times right now. Frank Castle's (Jon Bernthal) murderous run in Marvel's Punisher series on Netflix and the recent big-screen retelling of Stephen King's Pet Sematary hit that proverbial nail a bit further, as audiences watched one father rain bullets upon every evildoer he came across, all in the name of vengeance over the loss of his wife and child, while the other ambled precariously down his own grief spiral as he attempted to resurrect his dead daughter through the powers of a magic cemetery located deep in the woods out back.
Avengers: Endgame seemingly takes that baton and runs with it, giving audiences a dreary perspective of the Ronin persona Hawkeye takes on as he pivots to the shadows as a relentless hooded assassin. In one fell swoop, Marvel gives an aesthetic hat tip to the likes of The CW's Arrow and Netflix's short-lived Iron Fist series — while presenting a way more interesting vigilante character in the process (sorry, Danny Rand). It makes us wonder where the Hawkeye story will go once his standalone series premieres to Disney+ later this year.
Thankfully, Barton didn't remain a "murdering maniac," a term of endearment given to Hawkeye by screenwriter Christopher Markus in the New York Times interview that found him and Stephen McFeeley breaking down every lingering question from the movie.
In the world as it existed after the Thanos snap, not only was Hawkeye murdering every bad person he came across, his life was steeped in darkness. So much so that, according to Markus, an earlier draft of the script found Hawkeye sacrificing himself for the Soul Stone instead of Natasha (Scarlett Johansson).
"It was him taking the hit for her," Malkus says. "It was melodramatic to have him die and not get his family back. And it is only right and proper that she’s done." Natasha falling from the cliff, as heartbreaking as it was, put Scott Lang's (Paul Rudd) "Time Heist" mission into perspective. It was in this moment that Barton's grief over losing his close friend drowned out the fiery vengeance sparked from losing his family. Her loss ultimately was the team's gain and led to the climactic scene that finally brought Thanos down.
It also brought Barton back from the brink, giving him a satisfying story arc that found the archer fighting not only for the sanctity of the universe at large but for his own insular world to be rebuilt to where it was before all this insanity and carnage ensued.
But as much as his story arc was a highlight, it didn't really fix the ongoing issue the MCU has had in how it represents its father characters. Throughout the 22 movies of the Infinity Saga, dads have been presented as damaged events that happen to our favorite heroes, as opposed to well-rounded role models. Let's be clear here, a large number of superheroes, in general, tend to lack a solid parental foundation, and the Marvel movies are no different — giving us fathers who represent the traumas inflicted on their children, delivering this broken dad trope in spades.
From Black Panther to Spider-Man to Star-Lord to Thor, these heroes are all products of the actions or their dads. And while Avengers: Endgame does its best to maintain Scott Lang's tried and true fatherly baseline — which was introduced in the previous Ant-Man films — and while Clint Barton's relevancy in the film relies mostly on his own primal drive to regain his role patriarch and save any semblance of the family he's been building since we first got a peek at his farm life in Age of Ultron, Endgame drops the ball at fleshing out any of the other father arcs as anything more than another traumatic chain of events that'll end up scarring a son or daughter moving forward.
Still, with all that said, Avengers: Endgame gives us some new shades of fatherhood to mull over. As much as Barton runs toward the darkness through most of the film, Tony Stark does his best to separate himself from the action altogether. For a man who has made a reputation for putting his own interests first, all it takes is Tony having a daughter of his own to give him some grounding. It's fitting, really, to see the man whose story started this decade's long MCU run taking his life down a peg — removing himself, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), and Ellie away from city life so as to live the sort of isolated family life Clint had been cultivating all this time.
Stark and Barton act like two sides of the same coin, with hope and grief acting as the emotional catalysts that drive both heroes forward in their fight against Thanos — who, if we may, is presented as one of the most sinisterly tragic father figures we've seen on screen in recent years.
After supporting the team from the sidelines, or vanishing from multiple fight scenarios altogether, Clint Barton stepped up and helped carry the audience on Endgame's emotional journey. The deaths of Natasha and Stark — who, to save mankind, dismissed a family life he never knew he coveted and put on the new-and-improved Infinity Gauntlet to snap Thanos into oblivion — ultimately gave Hawkeye a second chance at life.
Now, as he steps out from the darkness, re-grounding himself with his family once again intact, audiences are left with the understanding of Hawkeye's true potential as a member of the Avengers team. He may lack Thor's godlike powers or Hulk's (Mark Ruffalo) super strength, but his loyalty and grit all but make up for that.
Before seeing Avengers: Endgame, the notion of a Hawkeye standalone series didn't bring us much excitement. Needless to say, as Barton found himself riding an unexpected hero redemption arc that regained him the relevance he sort of lost in the MCU shuffle over the past decade, that's all changed.