Avengers: Endgame wasted Hawkeye's Ronin story. Marvel's most famous archer was entirely absent from Avengers: Infinity War, largely because he was still under house arrest having signed a plea deal after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige claimed that was a great move, and promised that Marvel had big plans for Hawkeye.
On the surface, Avengers: Endgame seems to fulfill Feige's promise. The plot of Avengers: Endgame focused in on the original six Avengers, with each member of the team given their own distinctive character arc. For Clint Barton, the consequences of the snap meant that he took on a whole new superhero identity, Ronin, wearing a crowd-pleasing black costume and wielding deadly blades rather than his traditional bow and arrow.
But here's the catch: while Hawkeye's story worked at first, upon closer inspection, Endgame just didn't quite give the Ronin story the payoff it deserved. The issue was an understandable one; Avengers: Endgame was a jam-packed movie, attempting to accomplish so much in the space of just three hours, and something was always going to give. Unfortunately, it was Ronin.
How Hawkeye Became Ronin In Avengers: Endgame
Avengers: Endgame opened with a haunting and emotional scene in which Clint Barton was confronted with the horror of the snap. No Avenger suffered more than Hawkeye from the snap; his wife and children were dusted, in a chilling and effective scene that drove home the human cost of Thanos' genocidal actions. Using this to open the film established a bleak, somber tone and established the scale of the threat facing the universe.
Fast forward five years, and Avengers: Endgame revealed that Hawkeye had gone rogue. He was first mentioned in a team briefing, where War Machine told Black Widow he'd successfully tracked Clint down to Mexico. Rhodey had arrived a little too late, though, and instead of coming across Hawkeye he'd found his victims. The murders were so brutal that War Machine wasn't even sure he wanted to find Clint. As the film continued, it was revealed that something had broken inside Hawkeye; angered at the arbitrary nature of the snap, he'd dedicated himself to slaughter the guilty who should have died instead of innocents like his wife and kids. When Black Widow finally tracked Clint down to Japan, she was shaken at the sight of him killing a Japanese crime lord.
The story is immediately familiar to any comic book readers. In the comics, Hawkeye adopted the Ronin identity at one of the darkest times of his life. In the modernized Ultimate universe, just as in the MCU, the trigger was the death of his entire family. Hawkeye turned into a Punisher figure, seeking out criminals and murdering them in his own form of justice. The overarching idea is translated from page to screen in a remarkably comic-book-accurate way, and fans were thrilled. And then Marvel dropped the ball.
Avengers: Endgame Failed To Provide The Payoff To Ronin
Black Widow successfully persuaded Ronin to return with her to the Avengers Compound - and that's where the problems begin. It's important to remember that Hawkeye has become a Punisher figure in the MCU, a vigilante who uses his combat training to murder those he believes doesn't deserve to live. While the Avengers have never pulled any punches - Captain America was a soldier in the Second World War, so it's reasonable to assume he has a pretty hefty kill count - Clint has gone further down this road than anyone, bar Black Widow. And yet, not only do the rest of the Avengers not comment upon this, they don't even look uncomfortable around Hawkeye. War Machine, the man who's seen first-hand what kind of murders Clint has committed while wearing the mask of Ronin, doesn't even give him a side-eye.
It's not particularly unusual to get Captain America to team up with the Punisher in the comics. Those stories are usually tense, awkward affairs that shine a light upon the heroism of Captain America and the brutal methods the Punisher employs. Sometimes Cap winds up looking naive; sometimes the Punisher feels more like a monster than the villains he's helping Cap take down. The dynamic between these two contrasting moralities is always fascinating, though, and comic book writers have mined it time and again. And yet, although the MCU transformed Hawkeye into a Punisher analogue, the script of Avengers: Endgame failed to explore the morality of it all. When Clint arrived at Avengers Compound, it felt almost as though it was back to normal for him, as though the last five years of vigilantism hadn't happened at all. It's true that the Avengers no doubt understood why Hawkeye had fallen so far; but that doesn't necessarily mean that they should condone it, still less be comfortable with it given they would all be disturbingly aware how they too had been transformed by the snap.
The problem is compounded at the end of Avengers: Endgame, when Hawkeye returns to his family. The film clearly expects viewers to see this as a "Happily Ever After" moment, as though the world has been put to rights and the hero has received his reward. In reality, it's slightly different, because the Clint Barton who's gone back to his wife and kids is a serial killer, a man who for five years has cut a bloody swathe through the world's criminal underworld. That kind of experience changes a person, and Hawkeye would be carrying a whole lot of fresh baggage that will put great strain upon that marriage. But Marvel don't seem to have remembered just how dark a path they had set Hawkeye upon, and as a result there's no hint of it.
Could Disney + Redeem The Ronin Plot?
Marvel Studios is currently working to expand the MCU through a series of live-action TV shows that will stream exclusively on Disney +. One of these projects is a Hawkeye limited series starring Jeremy Renner, described as an "adventure series" in which Hawkeye passes on the mantle to his successor, Kate Bishop. Marvel has yet to confirm the report - the studio is still keeping its MCU Phase 4 plans under wraps until after the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home - but reports and rumors have been pretty consistent. They suggest that Hawkeye will be drawn out of retirement when he hears of a new vigilante archer who's taking down criminals in his name, presumably Kate Bishop.
This actually has the potential to redeem the failings of Avengers: Endgame's Ronin story, by forcing Clint to confront the truth of what he did during that five-year period. Because the question is, which version of Hawkeye has Kate Bishop been inspired by - the Avenger, or the serial killer? If Marvel chose the latter, then this would essentially be a redemption story, with Hawkeye attempting to turn Kate Bishop away from this dark path. In so doing, he'd also be forced to acknowledge the truth of his actions during the Decimation era. It's true that this would need to be explored carefully; there's no way any of the Disney + TV shows are going to be R-rated, after all. But a skilled writer could still pull it off, by ensuring some of the more disturbing details were implied rather than overtly stated.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019