Recently, I turned my coach’s eye on the trailers for Brave and The Hunger Games, so it’s only right to continue the series with the third major upcoming film to feature archery as a plot point. Both of those posts were well-received; folks from Pixar posted my comments on Twitter, and the story was one of the most popular on GeekDad that week. This one is probably not going to be so well-received: I expect I’ll be called a lot of unflattering names and told to get a life. Hopefully, if you liked it when I praised the first two movies, you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt while I do otherwise to this one.
Aside from my complaints about the archery, I’m sure The Avengers is going to be great. I think the personality clash between the snarky-arrogant Tony Stark and the haughty-arrogant Thor is going to be electric, Captain America’s man-out-of-his-time angst will be compelling, and the Hulk will finally be the tortured hero-monster we all knew he could be. That collapsible bow Hawkeye is toting looks pretty cool, and if it were possible to actually make it work, I’d love to have one. I’m sure Jeremy Renner’s performance as Hawkeye will be great on a character level — he’s an engaging performer and perfect for the role. The movie looks very good. It would be even better if Hawkeye were shown as capable of keeping up with the big boys when it comes time to get out the weapons.
Frankly, he shoots like a rank amateur. Does this ruin the movie? No. But if they’d gotten it right, the film would be even better; attention to the details is usually an indicator of attention to the big picture. In a few interviews last year, Renner said he was taking archery lessons in preparation for the role, but from what I see here, it looks like he (a) had no coach and was entirely self-taught; (b) had an incompetent coach (there are many out there); or (c) is a terrible student and refused to do what his coach told him. The simple fact is, I see these exact same mistakes with first-time students all the time. Every single thing I’m about to point out is something I cover in the first lesson, and I have students under the age of six.
We’ll start with the obvious. Here’s a publicity photo of Hawkeye in action on the set.
If you look closely, he’s wearing two arm guards.
Why would the world’s greatest archer wear two arm guards? Some of my students don’t even use one, so why does he need two? Because he’s smacking the crap out of his arm, that’s why. I bet there are many hilarious out-takes of Renner wincing, shaking his injured arm and cursing a lot after each shot. You know he didn’t start with two arm guards, and they didn’t add the second one because it looks cool. No, there’s some pain going on here, and it’s utterly preventable.
Here’s Brady Ellison, currently the world’s top-ranked archer. (By the way, notice that he shoots a pink bow; he’s a big supporter of breast cancer research.)
Let’s compare their arm positions.
I’ve flopped Brady’s photo so we can compare it to Renner’s, Renner being left-handed (which may be the source of his problem, but I’ll get to that). Notice that Hawkeye has his elbow oriented at a 45-degree angle, while Ellison’s is vertical. What this means is Hawkeye has a nice big muscle protruding out into the path of the string, hence the second arm guard.
Now compare the grip; Hawkeye is gripping the bow mostly from the side; his fingers wrapped solidly around the handle, with his wrist off to the side in an attempt to get it out of the way, hence the first arm guard. By contrast, Brady’s hand is holding the bow very lightly, just a couple of fingertips resting on it. The bow is pressed against the base of his thumb, his palm is at a 45-degree angle, and his wrist bones point directly into the center of the bow. This makes for a lot less bow movement and a much more accurate shot.
Now let’s look at the other hand and arm.
Renner has a break at the wrist, which is putting pressure on his carpal tunnels and preventing him from simply relaxing his fingers; he’s going to have to yank his hand off the string, fouling the shot and adding to the smacking on his forearm. He also has his hand at an angle, holding the string primarily with his index finger, barely holding with the second and third. His release is going to be inconsistent and uncontrolled. His elbow is high, introducing a downward force on the bowstring. It’s also a bit forward, showing that he’s doing all the work with his arm and shoulder muscles, not using his back at all. Now look at Brady’s arm. He’s got a straight line from elbow to fingertips, and it’s in line with the arrow. His hand is vertical; when he releases, all three fingers will come off the string at the same time. He’s using his back to draw the bow, and his arrow will go where he wants it to.
Now let’s take a look at the trailer.
We don’t see a lot of action involving Hawkeye; just three quick shots. We’ll review:
First there’s this one.
Note the break in the wrist on the hand that’s holding the string; the elbow is pointing upward. As an example of “movie archery,” this shot doesn’t look too bad, but there’s no power behind it; he’s not loading the shot into his back at all, doing all the work with his arms. The other thing that’s interesting is it looks to me like he may be aiming with his right eye. This could be a large part of his constant arm-smacking. When we say that an archer is left-handed, we really mean left-eyed. Everybody has a dominant eye, and it’s really important to take that into account when getting set up with archery gear. About 85 percent of people are right-handed, but only 70 percent are right-eyed, and some of those are left-handed. I’m left-handed and right-eyed, both my daughters are right-handed and left-eyed. If they gave Renner a lefty bow because he’s left-handed without ever checking his eye-dominance, he would be in for an ongoing exercise in frustration and pain. I carry a scar on my right arm from just that scenario back when I was a beginner.
Second, we have this shooting-while-falling-off-a-building bit.
I am really not looking forward to all the kids who will show up on the range wanting to shoot like Hawkeye. They will want to try it this way, I will tell them why it doesn’t work, they will try it anyway, and I will get to climb the hillside and pick arrows out of the bushes. Not my idea of a good time. If you wanted to guarantee 100 percent that your arrow would miss the target by a wide margin, this is how to do it.
Look how the string is digging into his chest (in the circle); there’s no way he’s getting anywhere near to full draw. Let’s assume for the moment that the Hoyt Buffalo bow he’s shooting is about a 40-pound draw; that’s 40 pounds at 28 inches, but he’s only drawing the bow about 20 inches at best, which means he’s losing a significant amount of power, about two pounds per inch, more or less. He’s firing that 40-pound bow at about 24 pounds. And that’s not even touching upon the fact that there’s no way to aim that shot, and that by turning the bow sideways all the physics phenomena are reoriented, so the arrow will hit further to the side and a whole lot lower than intended. Not to mention the smacking of the arm that is the inevitable result.
Take a look at the trajectory of the arrow; now look at the trajectory of where he’s looking. One would expect that he’s looking at what he intends to shoot, right? He’s looking right at you, but the arrow’s trajectory is over your left shoulder. Because he isn’t aiming at all, he’s firing off a “Hail Mary” arrow, which would definitely miss if it weren’t CGI.
Third, there’s this action tableau.
This is terrible form. His bow arm should be at least another 10 to 15 degrees to the right, his elbow should be behind him instead of pointing to the side. He’s got no power and can’t possibly be aiming.
Let’s do another comparison. Here’s Jake Kaminski, the current No. 14 ranked archer in the world.
And here’s the comparison shot.
Note the lines of force in Jake’s stance; there’s a straight line from his right shoulder to the bow, and another straight line from the tip of the arrow to his right elbow. This is a solid, consistent, repeatable, powerful position. Now look at Renner; his bow arm is nowhere near being lined up with his shoulders, his draw arm is nowhere close to being in line with his arrow. He’s got that weak wrist again. He looks awkward and uncomfortable.
I could go on and on; every new teaser poster shows a worse example of bad archery. But there’s no point. It’s obviously important to the filmmakers that the fantastic elements look totally believable, but they don’t care in the slightest about making the ordinary real-life elements accurate at all. If the soldiers in the battle scene were dressed as Royal Canadian Mounties and carrying their rifles upside-down, it would be as accurate as Hawkeye’s archery.
I’ve been told that this is all just nitpicking; that it’s absurd to worry about accurate archery in a movie featuring a god, a flying armored guy, a shield-flinging WWII super-soldier, and a radioactive monster battling aliens and giant reptiles. It’s not supposed to be realistic, it’s supposed to be cool. The only thing that matters is that it look awesome. Well, okay, which one looks better? Which looks cooler, more athletic, more believable, more awesome? I think the answer is obvious. I also think Mr. Renner would have very much liked to have made the film without bruises and welts on his right arm. A few sessions with a qualified coach before beginning work on the film could have avoided all of these problems.
Dear Mr. Renner: before you begin work on the sequel, contact me. I’m available for lessons and technical consultation. You can reach me through the Pasadena Roving Archers site; you could also come on down for one of our free introductory classes on any Saturday morning.
Feel free to add your voice to the discussion over at GeekDad’s new Community Forum!
A commenter remarked that it is unfair to compare an actor’s ability to that of a pair of world-class Olympic athletes. That’s a valid point. It is unfair to expect an actor to perform a physical activity at such a level of expertise. So let’s compare Mr. Renner’s performance to an amateur and see how he does.
This is Kate. She’s almost 11 in this photo (she’s 16 now). Note that she doesn’t bother with an arm guard. Rotating her elbow eliminates the need for one. Compare her arm and hand positions to Mr. Renner’s. Look at the alignment of that shot. Kate is demonstrating better, stronger, more athletic, cooler-looking archery technique than Mr. Renner.
It’s really not that hard to learn to do it right.