Exploring Hawkeye’s MCU Origins

By Zach Johnson

In just a few weeks, Hawkeye will debut with two episodes on Disney+. The original series finds Jeremy Renner reprising his role as Clint Barton aka Hawkeye, a master archer who “just can’t seem to miss.” It’s been 10 years since the character made his Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) debut with a cameo in 2011’s Thor—and a lot has happened in the decade that followed. As one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s best agents, the world’s greatest marksman is an expert acrobat, master assassin, and military-trained combatant. Oh, and he’s a devoted family man. Surprise! Before Hawkeye debuts, let’s take a look back at Clint’s MCU origins.


After Thor (Chris Hemsworth) was banished to Midgard (that’s Earth, to you!), S.H.I.E.L.D. took special interest in his hammer, Mjolnir. Only the worthy are able to wield it, as dozens of agents quickly learned when they tried and failed to life it. Desperate to retrieve his hammer, Thor infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D.’s makeshift base, taking down agent after agent with relative ease. From his perch, Clint aimed his arrow at the God of Thunder. “You want me to slow him down, sir?” he asked Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). “Or are you sending in more guys for him to beat up?” As Thor neared Mjolnir, leaving even more agents in his wake, he was stunned: “You better call it, Coulson, ‘cause I’m starting to root for this guy.”


Clint wasn’t seen again until the opening scene of Marvel’s The Avengers (2012). S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) had assigned him to monitor Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) as he experimented on the Tesseract. “If there’s any tampering, sir, it wasn’t at this end,” Clint told Fury, adding, “The cube is a doorway to the other end of space, right? Well, doors open from both sides.” Just then, the Tesseract activated and opened a wormhole, allowing Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to reach Earth. Loki then stole the Tesseract and used his scepter to control the minds of Clint, Dr. Selvig and other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.

Clint helped Loki escape, despite Fury’s hope to bury them under “a hundred feet of rock.” He later resurfaced in Stuttgart, Germany, where he stole the iridium needed to stabilize the Tesseract’s power. While there, Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Disney Legend Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans), and Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) were able to capture Loki and detain him aboard S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Helicarrier. There, Natasha questioned the God of Mischief about what he did to Clint and vowed to help him, as she owed him a debt. “I got on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s radar in a bad way,” she explained. “Agent Barton was sent to kill me. He made a different call.” After she tricked Loki into revealing the next phase of his plan—unleashing The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)—a mind-controlled Clint and the other possessed agents attacked the Helicarrier.


After penetrating the mainframe, resulting in engine power loss, Clint went head-to-head with Natasha—who, ironically, bonked his head so hard it knocked him unconscious! When he came to, Natasha was there to help him “level out” before rejoining the mission. “You don’t understand. Have you ever had someone take your brain and play, pull you out and stuff something else back in?” Clint asked. “Do you know what it’s like to be unmade?” For a moment, he forgot that of all people, Natasha understood. Clint tried to make sense of what he’d done while under Loki’s spell, but Natasha stopped him. “Don’t do that to yourself, Clint,” she said. “This is Loki. This is monsters and magic and nothing we were ever trained for.” No kidding. The Avengers then traveled to New York, where Loki was about to open a wormhole above Stark Tower, allowing the Chitauri army to invade Earth.

There, Clint and Natasha helped evacuate civilians and take down the Chitauri one by one. Eventually, Steve stationed Clint on a rooftop to get “eyes on everything” and “call out patterns and strays.” Clint was able to target Loki… who caught his arrow, thinking he’d outsmarted Clint, only for it to explode in his hands and send him hurtling toward Stark Tower! Together, the newly formed Avengers then stopped Loki and closed the wormhole.


Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) opened with the Avengers raiding a Hydra facility to stop Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), who had experimented on humans using Loki’s scepter. Clint was the first Avenger to encounter one of these enhanced humans in the field: the speedster Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). After getting knocked to the ground (“You didn’t see that coming?” Pietro joked), Clint was injured by a nearby bunker blast. Later, at Avengers Tower, Tony ran some tests as he patched up Clint’s wounds. “Unfortunately, he’s still Barton…” Tony quipped. “He’s fine. He’s thirsty.”

The Avengers then celebrated their victory with a party—one that was cut short after an unexpectedly sentient robot, Ultron (James Spader), successfully overpowered Tony’s artificial intelligence, J.A.R.V.I.S., and attacked them. Ultron escaped and recruited the Maximoff twins, Pietro and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), before heading to Johannesburg to get vibranium from arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). The Avengers followed, but they were no match for Wanda, who messed with their minds. Clint, however, stopped Wanda in her tracks. “I’ve done the whole mind control thing,” Clint explained. “Not a fan.”

Unfortunately, one of the Avengers Wanda messed with was The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). The destruction he caused in Johannesburg led to major backlash, meaning the Avengers needed to go off the grid. Luckily, Clint knew of a “safe house” back in the U.S. Save for Natasha, everyone was surprised when they arrived at a farm and were greeted by Clint’s pregnant wife, Laura (Linda Cardellini), and their two children—people and relationships they never knew existed. “Fury helped me set this up when I joined,” Clint explained. “He kept it of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s files. I’d like to keep I that way. I figured it’s a good place to lay low.”

In a private moment, Laura expressed concern that the Avengers actually needed Clint, “which is a lot scarier” than if they didn’t. Laura was “proud,” of course, but she was still worried: “You need to be sure that this team is really a team and that they have your back.”


Meanwhile, in Seoul, Ultron forced Dr. Helen Cho (Claudia Kim) to craft him a new body using her Regeneration Cradle, vibranium, and the Infinity Stone inside Loki’s scepter. As Ultron was uploading himself into a synthetic body, Wanda was able to read his mind—and it turned her and Pietro against him. Clint, Natasha, and Steve managed to retrieve the synthetic body before the transfer was complete—but Ultron ultimately captured Natasha.

Back at Avengers Tower, Tony asked Clint to try some “old-school spy stuff” to track her down. Tony and Bruce then secretly uploaded J.A.R.V.I.S. into the synthetic body, creating Vision (Paul Bettany). The Avengers traveled to Sokovia, along with the Maximoff twins, to rescue Natasha and stop Ultron once and for all. Clint helped with the evacuation efforts as Ultron used the leftover Vibranium to send the Sokovian city floating into the sky.

Feeling unprepared for battle, Wanda began to spiral and blame herself. Luckily, Clint gave her the no-nonsense pep talk she needed. “Hey, look at me. It’s your fault. It’s everyone’s fault. Who cares? Are you up for this? Are you?” Clint asked her. “Look, I just need to know because the city is flying, OK? Look, the city is flying, we’re fighting an army of robots, and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense. But I’m going back out there because it’s my job, OK? And I can’t do my job and babysit. It doesn’t matter what you did or what you were. If you go out there, you fight, and you fight to kill. Stay in here, you’re good; I’ll send your brother to come find out. But if you step out that door, you are an Avenger. All right?”

Wanda walked out, proving to Clint—and to herself—that she was more than capable of fighting Ultron. Clint then resumed rescuing civilians, joining Natasha in the search for stragglers. After spotting a child in the line of fire, Clint raced to protect him—but Pietro was faster, using his own body to shield them from Ultron’s blast. Before collapsing, Pietro locked eyes with Clint and said, “You didn’t see that coming.” Clint then brought the child—and Pietro’s lifeless body—to a nearby boat, where Clint said, “It’s been a long day.”

Indeed. After beating Ultron, Clint reunited with Laura and retired. Or so he thought…


In Captain America: Civil War (2016), the Sokovia Accords went into effect—meaning the Avengers now operated under the supervision of a United Nations panel, only when and if that panel deemed it necessary. The decision to give up their autonomy divided the team, and after Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) was framed for a terrorist attack that occurred during the signing of the Sokovia Accords, the division only increased.

Clint sided with Steve, who opposed becoming heroes for hire—and at his request, Clint came out of retirement. His first mission was to free Wanda from Avengers HQ in upstate New York so she could join their fight to clear Bucky’s name—and, ultimately, bring whoever was behind the UN attack to justice. Clint and Wanda picked up another ally, Scott Lang aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), on their way to meet Steve at Leipzig/Halle Airport. “You know I wouldn’t have called if I had any other choice,” Steve told Clint upon their arrival, to which Clint replied, “Hey, man, you’re doing me a favor. Besides, I owe a debt.”

The fractured Avengers then fought each other at the airport, with Clint going up against the likes of Tony and T’Challa aka Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)—not to mention his closest ally, Natasha. “We’re still friends, right?” she asked in between punches, to which Clint quipped, “Depends on how hard you hit me.” Natasha ultimately joined Clint’s side, helping Steve and Bucky to escape; Clint and the others weren’t so lucky and found themselves imprisoned at the Raft prison. Later, after Tony realized what Steve and Bucky were up against, he visited Clint and the others to ask for their help. He didn’t get a warm welcome, of course—least of all from Clint. “The futurist, gentlemen! The futurist is here!” Clint shouted upon seeing Tony. “He sees all! He knows what’s best for you… whether you like it or not.” The word “criminal,” he added, “didn’t used to mean me, or Sam, or Wanda.” Tony, however, was unsympathetic, reminding Clint that he broke Sokovia Accords. “You’re all grown up. You got a wife and kids,” Tony said. “I don’t understand. Why didn’t you think about them before you chose the wrong side?” Visibly angry at the mention of his family, Clint said, “You gotta watch your back with this guy. There’s a chance he’s gonna break it!”


Clint was noticeably M.I.A. during the Battle of Wakanda in Avenger: Infinity War (2018), due to his now being on house arrest. But trouble had a way of finding him… Avengers: Endgame (2019) opened with Clint and his family enjoying a seemingly ordinary day—that is, until Thanos (Josh Brolin) eliminated half of all life in the galaxy with the snap of his fingers. It was heartbreaking to see Clint calling out for his wife and kids, all of whom were lost in what became known as the Blip. Flash forward five years, and Natasha got a tip about Clint’s whereabouts in Tokyo. She found a man who was no longer Hawkeye; instead, he had become Ronin, a masked vigilante. “Killing all these people isn’t going to bring your family back,” Natasha said. “We found something; a chance, maybe.” Clint had lost hope, but Natasha was there to restore it. He joined the Avengers (the ones who had survived the Blip) and helped them to figure out the mechanics of time travel so they could reverse Thanos’ damage and bring back billions of people, including his family. Before long, Clint and Natasha were traveling back to 2014 in search of the Soul Stone on the planet Vormir.

Upon their arrival, the Red Skull (Ross Marquand) delivered an ominous message: “In order to take the Stone, you must lose that which you love.” In other words, he said, they must exchange “a soul for a soul.” After some discussion, Clint and Natasha agreed they must do “whatever it takes.” But which Avenger would sacrifice their life? “For the past five years, I’ve been trying to do one thing: Get to right here,” Natasha argued. “That’s all it’s been about: bringing everybody back.” When Clint joked that she was getting “all decent on me now,” Natasha smirked and replied, “What? You think I want to do it? I’m trying to save your life, you idiot.” But Clint felt he should be the one to sacrifice himself, saying, “Natasha, you know what I’ve done. You know what I’ve become.” Harkening back to their conversation in Marvel’s The Avengers, Natasha said, “I don’t judge people on their worst mistakes.” After Clint suggested maybe she should, she gently reminded him, “You didn’t.” What followed was a heartbreaking fight between Clint and Natasha to sacrifice their own life instead of the other’s. In the end, Natasha won, telling her friend, “Let me go… it’s OK.”

Clint acquired the Soul Stone and returned to the year 2023, where he had to break the news to the Avengers. “We can’t get her back,” he told Thor. “It can’t be undone. It can’t.” Later, The Hulk used the six Infinity Stones to bring billions back (Natasha excluded), and Clint got a call from Laura. Just then, Thanos rained fire on the Avengers compound. Clint found the Infinity Gauntlet amid the rubble and realized he had to keep it away from the Chitauri. He managed to escape with it and eventually handed it off to T’Challa. The Avengers ultimately beat Thanos, thanks to Tony’s sacrifice. And at Tony’s funeral—which Clint attended with his family—he shared a quiet moment with Wanda, who was also grieving the loss of Vision. “You know, I wish there was a way that I could let her know that we won. We did it,” he said. Looking into the distance, she said, “She knows. They both do.”


Of course, Clint isn’t out of the woods. In a post-credits scene for Black Widow (2021), Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) visited Natasha’s sister, Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh). Handing her a tablet with Clint’s picture on display, she said, “I’ve got your next target… Maybe you’d like a shot at the man responsible for your sister’s death?”

Clint will return in Hawkeye, an original series for Disney+ set in post-Blip New York City. The former Avenger has a seemingly simple mission: get back to his family for Christmas. But when a threat from his past shows up, he reluctantly teams up with Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld)—a skilled archer and his biggest fan—to unravel a criminal conspiracy.