“Hmmm,” muses John Stanley, editor of Bow International and world-renowned archery expert, as he watches a montage of Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye doing his stuff in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He ponders some more, “Hmmm…”
Stanley is chatting to Fandom ahead of the premiere of the latest entry into the MCU, Disney+ series Hawkeye. The show focuses on Avenger Clint Barton, a man with no superpowers but who is really, really, really good at firing a bow and arrow. And let’s not forget that the series also serves to introduce Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), a young archery whiz equally adept at martial arts and other disciplines, and Hawkeye successor in the comic books. What we want to know today, though, is whether or not Hawkeye’s archery abilities are realistic, and that’s the question John Stanley is here to answer.
Repetition and Composure
“I presume [Jeremy Renner] has had some archery training prior to filming,” says John, eventually. He has, and Jeremy Renner himself talks to us about his training — and the standard he’s reached — in the video above. “But I presume that the training got in the way of things looking good, so he’s largely dropped it. The thing with archery is it’s about repetition and composure. There’s not a lot of running around involved. It’s really quite Zen. And what you actually do to shoot an arrow straight isn’t really what looks good on camera. Firing an arrow covers up a lot of your face, which is obviously not ideal for filming.”
“There’s archery and then there’s superhero archery. So, I don’t know — maybe that’s what makes him a superhero right? Because he’s doing things that are quite impossible in real archery.” – Jeremy Renner
Well, as anybody with even a passing knowledge of the MCU will know, Hawkeye certainly does plenty of running — and pulls off other physical feats — while firing off arrows with pinpoint accuracy. We also get to see a lot of his face. But he definitely has the repetition nailed — we’ve seen him on several occasions fire off arrow after arrow like it’s second nature. That alone has us all a-quiver and has got to count for something in the realism stakes.
Hawkeye doesn’t just have archery down, though. During the Battle of Sokovia in Avengers: Age of Ultron, we see Barton use his bow as a melee weapon and take out Ultron‘s sentries in hand-to-hand combat, skills he’s also showcased on other occasions. In Captain America: Civil War, we see him face off against Black Panther, holding his own in close-ranged combat and using his bow as a staff for melee attacks. There’s a reason he’s welcomed into the Avengers with open arms. Is this standard stuff for archers? Oh, minus points on the realism scale so far, you say?
Discipline and Self-Control
As a journalist, John Stanley has reported on archery at numerous Olympic games – it’s only a few months since he was on assignment in Tokyo. John’s task today, rating the performance of the MCU’s broody bow botherer for Fandom, ranks as a much stranger commission. But we think he’s up to the task. Stanley’s route into archery was unconventional. “I went on a stag do in 2011,” he says, chuckling. “Go-karting in the morning, drinking in the evening, archery in the afternoon. As soon as I fired my first arrow I thought, ‘I want to do that more’. I started blogging about it. Then I got offered a job editing a magazine. I basically became a sports journalist by accident.”
Stanley continues to analyse Renner’s performance. “He’s got the build for it,” he says. Well, that’s a great start. “But it’s a bit of a myth that to be good at archery you have to be incredibly strong, though the best archers often are. It’s more about dedication. Being able to control your muscles and your breathing. To be in rhythm with yourself. A lot of people consider archery to be a lot like a martial art. There’s a lot of discipline and self-control involved…”.
Hmmm. Rare are the articles about Jeremy Renner that include the words ‘discipline and self-control’, but we’ll leave that sort of tittle-tattle for more tawdry publications than ours… though Hawkeye certainly is in rhythm with himself.
Watching the opening of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Barton looks poised, in control, and focused as he fires a seemingly endless supply of arrows from out of the top of a jeep. He’s presumably taking out plenty of bad guys (it’s not easy to tell in the fray), but moving like this – particularly at speed – wouldn’t do a lot for accuracy in real life. We imagine that Barton must be able to instinctively and instantly complete the mental arithmetic that judges speed and distance and also takes account of the uneven ground, allowing him to adjust his aim accordingly. Heck, he even leaps from the jeep at one point, bow aloft, as he lets an arrow loose. He can’t account for speedster Quicksilver, of course, who thwarts a couple of his shots. There are some things that really are beyond the realms of possibility.
Rugged Individualism and Self-Reliance
Stanley says he doesn’t often see archery depicted accurately onscreen. “And that’s fine,” he says. “It’s showbiz!” And yet through his industry connections he’s aware that most big productions do train their actors prior to production. “For The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence was trained by Khatuna Lorig, who was on the USA archery team for the London 2012 Olympics,” he says. “Patricia Gonsalves trained the cast of Arrow, and for the most recent Robin Hood movie, the lead [Taron Egerton] was trained by this guy called Lars Andersen, who’s this Danish guy who’s all over YouTube.”
“I’ve actually spoken to Lars on the phone,” says Stanley, laughing. “He doesn’t for a second pretend that what he is doing is real archery. He’s an entertainer. But what he does is really cool and different. Often in the movies, archery is shorthand for rugged individualism and self-reliance. It’s a tool that expresses that really well. Like I say, I’m fine with that – and if it encourages anyone to pick up a bow and have a go themselves, then all the better for the sport.”
He may say this, but has he ever seen archery depicted well on the big screen?
“Well,”says Stanley, “famously, there’s a scene in Brave – the  Pixar movie – that is very, very accurate. There’s a shot in that movie where they actually show some things that we call ‘archer’s paradox’, which is when the arrow actually bends out of the way of the bow when it goes past. It’s like a slow-motion shot, and the arrow bends this way, and that way, and flexes. When you’re shooting over long distances, you actually see the arrow fishtailing mid-air. It flexes back and forth quite violently. That movie depicted that brilliantly!”
Arrows That Corner Like They’re on Rails
While Stanley doesn’t have a tremendous amount of time for Hawkeye’s onscreen skills, what he does have more time for is his bow. “I’m pretty sure it’s a real bow he’s using,” he says, squinting at the screen. “Certainly, the bit in the middle. It looks like a real handle. I’m fairly sure it’s made by an American company called Hoyt. I think he’s using CGI arrows though, which is fine – much better than real arrows flinging around a movie set. You can tell by the way he sort of reaches into his quiver, which holds the arrows. He’s making it look very easy, just randomly pulling stuff out. But most importantly, it looks exciting!”
But as fans of Marvel movies and comics will be aware, Hawkeye does much more than just fire regular arrows. He opens doors with them! Shoots lightning and grenades! All sorts of things that should be badged ‘Don’t try this at home’.
“I haven’t seen anything like that in reality,” says Stanley. “But I have seen some people do amazing things with arrows. There’s a way you can fire arrows around corners, that’s really cool. And people love firing burning arrows. That’s all over YouTube!”
We do actually see Hawkeye make a grenade arrow turn through 180 degrees in The Avengers when he’s under the control of the Mind Stone. Easy peasy. And yet it’s a rare archer able to fire off an arrow at a moving target without even looking – and take it out. This is precisely what Barton does during the Battle of New York in The Avengers. And not only is he not eyeballing the flying Chitauri invader when he does it, but he is also casually chatting to Tony Stark via their comms. No biggie. Shortly following this, he fires an explosive arrow with precision, which attaches itself to its Chitauri target. Is there nothing this man can’t do with an arrow under pressure? He’s not even breaking a sweat.
And let’s not mention him leaping off the top of a building – twisting around 180 degrees as he does so – taking successful aim with a grappling hook arrow, and swinging on the cable to kick his way through a plate-glass window several floors below. Okay, let’s mention it. This is the sort of thing many real-life archers can do, no? To be fair, he does feel it in his back. He’s only human.
It’s worth asking, how good is Mr Stanley at archery himself? He dishes it out, but can he take it? Well, can he?
“I’m alright,” he laughs. “Not amazing, but not bad. I know a lot about archery – but do I practice everything that I preach? Not at all! I don’t practice enough. I’m not fit enough…”
He laughs. “I’m better than Jeremy Renner though.”
That’s as maybe – but just to be sure, let’s ask Jeremy Renner himself just how good he is at shooting a bow and arrow. Gold medal standard by now, surely?
“Me? No, no, no!” says Renner, modestly. “I’m not, by any means. I mean, I can fire away but certainly not that well trained.”
“[Hawkeye’s skills] are cool as heck but realistic? I don’t know. Maybe half of it. Maybe half of it can be real.” — Jeremy Renner
And that’s despite being coached by a super-proficient archer. So would Renner call Hawkeye’s skills realistic?
“You know, there’s archery and then there’s superhero archery,” he begins. “So, I don’t know. Maybe that’s what makes him a superhero right? Because he’s doing things that are quite impossible in real archery. The guy that actually trained me was a gold-medallist archer and it was pretty awesome the things that he would teach me. And then I realised very quickly, ‘Oh wait, this is not superhero archery what he’s doing’; this no-look firing and these kinds of things. They’re cool as heck but realistic? I don’t know. Maybe half of it. Maybe half of it can be real.”
And what about Hailee Steinfeld? How good is the Kate Bishop actress at loosing arrows?
She says, “I was very excited about the idea of picking up this new skill and I wanted it to be something that felt as close to second nature as it could with the little time I had to prep for this — with the archery, specifically … I learned so much in such a short period of time.”
“It’s been amazing to watch Jeremy and watch how he had given this superhero-like quality to his archery skills in this show.” — Hailee Steinfeld
Sounds impressive although perhaps this is Steinfeld’s roundabout way of saying she’s passable. So how realistic would she say Kate Bishop’s skills on display in Hawkeye are?
“As far as Kate’s skills [go]… and the practicality of it all with what I learned at the range versus the circumstances that we’re in in the middle of the MCU,” she says, “[her skills] are quite, at times, impractical. And so it calls for a form that just needs to get you from Point A to Point B, at times. But I will say it’s been amazing to watch Jeremy and watch how he had given this superhero-like quality to his archery skills in this show — and in everything he’s done as Hawkeye — and I was able to look to that for some pointers for Kate.”
So there you go. Conclusive proof that some of the archery skills on display are realistic. But mostly? Mostly, they are not.
Hawkeye arrives on Disney+ on 24 November 2021.
Additional reporting by Kim Taylor-Foster
For more from our interviews with Jeremy Renner, Hailee Steinfeld, and Hawkeye director and executive producer Rhys Thomas, click on the story below.