In their now 13 years of making superhero movies and TV shows, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has introduced a plethora of characters. It’s fun to see such a range of personalities and superpowers, and then to eventually see these characters get to interact with each other in a movie like Avengers: Endgame. The only problem with having such a wide variety of characters is that many of them don’t get the development that fans would like to see, because there’s simply not the time or space to do so. For the most part, only the most main characters get significant development, and even then, Marvel often drops the ball. Everyone’s favorite bow-wielding hero, Hawkeye, probably has it the worst.
The characters without solo films are often the ones that get shafted the most in terms of character development, because they always end up being the supporting players in someone else’s story. Black Widow suffered from this through most of the MCU, and even with her solo movie coming up, it feels like it should have come about two phases sooner than it did. Clint Barton was present in the MCU since pretty much the beginning (due to his appearance in Thor), but they never really figured out how to make him work.
The main problem with the character of Hawkeye is that his traits and personality feel undefined. It’s difficult to make a character feel fully fleshed out when they’re not the main character and when the story never lends itself to much opportunity to develop them in the ways they need, but it seems strange that MCU has had a character like Clint for so long withoutthe being able to properly define that personality. His characterization just feels inconsistent from movie to movie, and he is often not given a lot to do in the films, so it’s almost impossible to get a grasp on who Clint is supposed to be within this universe.
In his first appearance in Thor, Clint really doesn’t do much, and is mainly there to vaguely set him up to appear in The Avengers, and also as a nod to fans of the comics who are familiar with the character. In The Avengers, Clint spends a large portion of the film being mind-controlled by Loki, only to be fixed and show up for the final battle. However, because of this mind-control plotline, the audience doesn’t get any sense of a personality from him, and he ends up just being “the arrow guy” amongst a team of more defined superheroes.
Avengers: Age of Ultron, despite the fact that it does a bad job characterizing certain other characters (like Black Widow), is actually the film that does the most to try and give fans a sense of who Hawkeye is. He actually has a personality in this film, and is allowed to be snarky and sarcastic. He has a backstory and a family that he’s fighting for. He also has a purpose plot-wise, because he ends up being the connective tissue between the Avengers and the Maximoff twins, specifically Wanda. He’s the one who connects with her the most and is able to get her to fight for their side. Pietro even sacrifices himself to save Clint’s life. This movie, while still not quite hitting the mark exactly, is the closest that the MCU got to showing the audience the persona that Clint is known (and beloved) for in the comics. Unfortunately, this is the last time that the MCU gives a lot of focus to the character.
Clint shows up again in Captain America: Civil War, which fits in the theme of him only really being present in group Avengers stories, since this film sort of acts as a pseudo-Avengers movie. Again, he doesn’t have much to do other than being the impetus for Wanda to leave the Avengers facility, and is sort of just in the film to remind fans that he still exists. He doesn’t appear again until Endgame, where the writers decide to take a strange turn with his character and turn him into an assassin after his whole family is blipped by Thanos. For the rest of the film, he’s quite serious, and it feels inconsistent with the way the MCU has (albeit halfheartedly) tried to characterize him in the past. It’s understandable he might have changed a bit after undergoing the trauma of losing his family, but it really just feels like another example of Marvel not knowing what to do with the character.
He simply feels like a totally new character with every appearance he makes in the MCU. It’s like the writers of each movie tried to give him a different personality in every movie, except none of them stuck, and none of them lived up to how good his character is in the comics, which many fans have been quick to point out. Clint in the comics is a relatable character, and has a lot of funny and goofy moments. His personality is much more distinctly defined in that source material than in any MCU entry he’s appeared in. The MCU also ignores Clint’s deafness from the comics, which is problematic because it’s erasing the potential for disabled representation. MCU Hawkeye also isn’t given much story importance (other than Age of Ultron and his scenes on Vormir with Natasha in Endgame), and only shows up in the Avengers’s group stories.
With the upcoming Hawkeye show set to be released on Disney Plus, it remains to be seen if Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton will get any further development in the MCU. The show will probably give a little more insight into the character, but will also be setting up the origin story of Kate Bishop, Hawkeye’s successor in the comics, and it feels like too little too late for Clint at this point in the franchise. It may be time for Marvel to retire Clint Barton from the MCU, because they never really knew what to do with him in the first place. It’s clear that Marvel never had clear intentions for the character in the movies, so let’s hope that they can do better by Kate Bishop when she makes her way into the MCU.