“Hawkeye, World’s Worst Archer” – The Rest of the Story

Education People

MARVEL'S THE AVENGERSBack in March of 2012, when GeekDad was still part of Wired, I wrote an article about Hawkeye’s actual archery ability as seen in the trailers and publicity photos for the Avengers. The article got a lot of page-views, and I heard from some readers; I got some nice emails from people who liked it, several from my fellow archers agreeing with me, a few from people who wanted to argue some of my points, and one hilarious message full of invective and profanity from somebody who was outraged that I would malign his favorite superhero. (Based on the recent pictures from the set, it looks like Jeremy Renner still hasn’t taken a lesson.)

A few months ago, I got an email from somebody who read it and had a different reaction. I recently stumbled upon that email again, and since it is the nicest response I’ve ever received for anything I’ve ever written, I thought I would share it with you (with the author’s permission, of course).

Hi Jim,

A year and a half ago you posted an article about Hawkeye/Jeremy Renner’s archery form before “The Avengers” came out. I was really looking forward to the movie and had been interested, although uninvolved, in archery for years. After reading your article, I decided that based on your advice on what -not- to do, I should be able to figure out the right way to do it fairly easily (haha – I was very naive!). I got my traditional recurve, a birthday present from years before that I had never learned to use, out of my closet and started practicing at a field course not far from my house.

The next year I moved to Scotland to do postgrad studies. Having enjoyed doing archery so much, I brought my bow along and joined the archery club. It didn’t take me long to become obsessed. In my novice year (2012-13) I was indoor ladies barebow champion in Scotland, won gold at the UK all-universities outdoor championships, broke ten Scottish records, achieved a Master Bowman classification, and was ranked first overall in the UK in ladies barebow outdoor target. (If you’re interested, you can find me on page 7 of the rankings.)

All of this is just to say: I can trace all of that back – the successes I’ve had, the joy of learning a new sport, making friends with fellow archers – to the little push your article gave me to try archery for myself, just to see if I could do it better than Hawkeye. Archery has changed my life for the better and without that bit of inspiration sparked by your enthusiasm for archery, I may never have discovered it. So…thank you.

All the best to you and your family,
Jennifer Mankin

Thanks, Jennifer; I’m thrilled to know that my article inspired you to such heights of excellence. Good luck in your future adventures!

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19 thoughts on ““Hawkeye, World’s Worst Archer” – The Rest of the Story

  1. Awesome. I remember that article, and some of the comments. Pops into my head whenever I watch Avengers, or even watching Brave with my kids. And still, it may not have been good archery, but it was highly entertaining.

    1. Wired is in the process of rebuilding their website and is apparently taking down all the GeekDad stuff now that they no longer host the site. There’s a possibility I may be able to repost it here.

  2. Well, you know, if I had a penny for every time I cringed when I saw a fencing scene on a movie screen I could quit work tomorrow (because it is literally every last one of them, except for the one delicious 5 seconds when Inigo Montoya stretches before his match in the Princess Bride).

    There is a huge difference between cinematic representation of any given activity, and what it actually looks like in real life — because when you blow it up on a huge screen, the subtleties get lost or else they just don’t translate (or matter). I took fencing lessons from Bob Anderson, the man who choreographed fights from the Red Corsair to Darth Vader and the Dread Pirate Roberts, and that was the thing he always told me. So I don’t judge. I may laugh privately, but I won’t go around drawing and posting diagrams of how someone should be holding their shoulder when they attack, because what’s on the screen is not the sport I practiced for two decades. It’s apples and oranges — a superhero shooting an explosive or grappling arrow is its own animal in the world of archery, I should think. (Not to mention the fact that most of the time Renner draws, he doesn’t actually have an arrow to nock — they’re stuck in later via CGI.)

    I have to admit that when I read your article at the time, I felt put out by it (I’m a Hawkeye and Jeremy Renner fan, hence biased). I knew exactly where you were coming from, having been there myself with fencing, but frankly I thought the piece was a tad on the smug side. You may, however, find it amusing that it motivated me sufficiently to reference it (indirectly) in a Clint Barton fan fiction I wrote — talk about being a geek here …. 😉 (Then again, if it stimulates debate and engagement, your piece has done its job, right?)

    So here’s the bit I wrote — the story is called “In the Service: Three Times Hawkeye Questions His Orders (And One Time He Doesn’t)”.

    “Since he still has five minutes before he’s supposed to meet Fury for the debrief, Clint heads to the coffee room and grabs a Nespresso capsule from Hill’s private stash — marked ‘don’t even think about it’ – and mentally thanks whoever washed his “Archers Do It With A Recurve” mug while he was away. (The mug comes from an archery competition he entered after he left the army, with a vague notion of finding kindred spirits. The other competitors snickered at his unorthodox handhold and made patronizing comments about his double armguard, and stopped talking altogether when he … didn’t miss. He’d tossed the medal in the trash on his way out — basket at a hundred feet, didn’t even look — but the mug is cool, so he kept it.)”


      1. Since you asked … 😉

        That one suffers from the usual problem where they whack each other’s blade, instead of going for wide open target. That looks exciting and provides that clack-clack-clack audiences like, but seriously — you want to AVOID the other guy’s blade (what feints are for), not beat up on it. In my heyday I could have ended that particular fight with a single judiciously executed disengage and hit to the throat. Andm given what I said above, I won’t comment on how Flynn deprives himself of about 2″ of reach by pulling up his shoulder … 😉

        The best staged fight in terms of technique was in “Scaramouche” — Stewart Granger was an NCAA foil champion, and the guy the got to double for Mel Ferrer was a European epee champion from Sweden, I believe. They still had to do the theatrical whacking thing, but they did it with decent posture.

    1. I’m sorry you thought I was smug; my actual feeling was disappointment, especially after having just written glowing reviews of the generally excellent archery in BRAVE and HUNGER GAMES before addressing Hawkeye.

      Your story is a nice fantasy, but it’s basically like saying a dancer could win a competition without actually knowing any dance moves. The “patronizing comments about his double arm guard” wouldn’t happen, just a casual “you know, if you simply rotated your elbow a little bit, you wouldn’t hit your arm there; archery ‘s not supposed to hurt.”

      1. Well, sorry to say, but your responses still come across as a mite smug — not disappointed, and not addressing the points that others have made. Why? Because the critiques you make, that small rotation of the arm you show on the diagram, in the grand scheme of shooting arrows while sliding through rubble or engaged in hand-to-hand combat (none of which are things I remember Jennifer Lawrence doing, and cartoon characters don’t count), are not exactly issues that the millions of people who enjoyed Hawkeye in the Avengers would fret about.

        It’s not like Renner “didn’t know any dance moves” – it’s just that he wasn’t perfect. And yes, Hawkeye in the comics is pretty much self-taught; what he did learn he learned in the circus, not on a range with a coach. He sure isn’t taking lessons.

        So, to me as a former elite athlete and movie goer, your critique of Renner’s form does come across “I know more than you do, and I’m going to tell you all about it with big headlines designed to attract attention.” When I watch Errol Flynn pull up his shoulder in a fencing scene or bash an opponent’s blade when he should disengage, I smile to myself and enjoy a moment calculating how I could have killed him in under a minute. But I don’t blog about it and publicly declare him “the world’s worst fencer”. Because hyperbolic criticism tends to reflect on the speaker, not the subject.

        1. I agree with you about the headline. I didn’t write it, and wasn’t happy about it when I saw it. I felt it was clickbait.

          The rotated elbow issue is simply that the man was injuring himself unnecessarily. The big issues with his form are that he never fully drew the bow; he always had his chest turned toward the target and his elbow pointing out at an awkward angle. He never engaged the strongest muscles (the ones in the back), and never aimed the same way twice.

          Archery is a martial art like karate or kung fu; if you can’t or won’t do the form correctly, you won’t get the result you want, it won’t look as good, and you won’t perform as confidently, and it will show. You’re also a lot more likely to end up injured.

    2. Also, the comparison to fencing and stage fighting doesn’t really work. The swordfighting in film and stage is a whole separate skill, designed to increase drama and excitement, as you said; the noisy clashing of swords looks and sounds exciting. There’s no comparable situation with archery. There’s no such thing as movie archery, no fake form that looks better and is more dramatic and exciting than the real thing, no reason to do it wrong because of safety or physical restraints. Real archery form looks better, shows off the actor’s physique better, and is actually safer for everyone involved. It can be done more easily and accurately with fake bows and CGI arrows, so that’s not an issue. The only reason to do it wrong is because they just don’t care.

      1. When it comes to safety, I have seen things in what purports to be sport fencing that makes me cringe (e.g. Madonna giving fencing lessons without a mask, in some movie whose title I have suppressed — I chalked it up to the producers having paid her so much, they HAD to show her face). That said, I guess we may just have to agree to disagree, more on relevance than substance of the issues at hand. But given that we are on the internet, I am happy that we were able to disagree politely and constructively. Thanks for that! I’d be happy to continue this discussion over a beer some day. 🙂

        1. Well, as I said in the original article (inflammatory headline notwithstanding), it doesn’t ruin the movie for me. It’s pretty trivial, in fact, and the piece was primarily written because I’d written about the archery in the other movies that preceded it, so it was expected. In fact several of my Facebook friends had asked me if I was going to do it, so I was sort of obligated, even though I knew it would probably provoke an internet nerd-rage festival, which it did.

          By the way, the archery in BRAVE was based on unused footage shot for the Russell Crowe version of Robin Hood, another film where they got it right, so I think it counts.

          And yes, I’d enjoy continuing the discussion in person.

          I’ve dabbled in both fencing and stage-fighting a bit, but not enough to write intelligently on either of them, but I’d greatly enjoy reading some commentary on good and bad swordfights in film history if you’re interested in writing it; I can host it on my own site if GeekDad doesn’t want it, though I bet they would. Personally, my favorite is the duel between Tony Curtis and Ross Martin in THE GREAT RACE.

          1. Well, doing a commentary of the nature you suggest would kind of go against the grain of what I said in my first comment, so I think I’ll pass, however tempting … But thanks for the offer! 😉

            That said, I will quite happily recall watching “Conan the Barbarian” with three other fencers. Together we stared in mute in disbelief, as Arnie S. laboriously ‘twirled’ (!!) his hand-and-a-half broadsword for a minute or so while his opponent waited patiently until he was done and in a rough approximation of the en guarde position. Hollered all four of us: “STOP HIT!!!”

  3. I have only read the article above, and I will say, if a discussion inspires someone to go out and learn something new and discover a skill, bravo. However, as AF said, movies are one thing, reality another. Mr. Renner did take rather extensive lessons, and given that while drawing an invisible arrow and shooting at movie targets he could not see because they’d be added later, all while trying to remember to turn his head this way for the camera, hold an expression or say lines, jump around and make sure the camera got this angle or that nuance, wore a costume design to create a plausibility of reality and not mimic actual fact, had to remember not to shoot his costars in the head, and oh, not hurt himself, I’d say that having his arm rolled in a bit is kind of minor. When he was sighting down an arrow, or letting fly with that lovely bow, did I believe he was an archer. Yes, yes I did. Job done, here’s your paycheque Mr. R, thank you very much. It’s easy to pick apart everything that is wrong in every movie there is. We’re all had those moments of “really?” watching a movie, show, or even reading a book. I made my first bow as a child out of a lilac tree branch and butchers twine (it worked pretty well, actually). Did not keep me from enjoying every Robin Hood show or movie ever made, despite how improbable the shots, nor did it keep me from enjoying Hawkeye’s stern eyed skills. I got my $10 worth of fun. That’s about all that an action movie really needs to do.

    1. Beautifully said. Amen! Although I paid more than $10, saw it three times, AND bought the BluRay. Still feel I got my $$ worth.

    2. Here’s why I don’t believe he ever took a lesson: It’s easier to get the form right without an arrow, not harder. I often train students using a practice bow made of 1/2″ PVC pipe and no arrow, because drawing a bow with very little weight (like the prop bow Renner used) and no arrow is much easier than drawing an actual bow, and it’s therefore much easier to get the form right. And the correct form would look better, stronger, more exciting and interesting than the amateur shooting on display in the film.

  4. I read an in-character blog “by” the Avengers once, where someone wrote in criticizing Hawkeye’s form. Tony Stark answered the question: “Clint’s job is not to have academically solid form. His job is to put pointy things in bad guys with extreme prejudice, and he’s very good at it. I don’t give a damn if he shoots the thing with his feet.” That’s always roughly how I’ve felt about it (though I definitely know the feeling of watching something you’re passionate about get mangled onscreen!)

    And, as JerseLion said, Renner was holding half of a fake prop bow with no string, shooting nonexistent arrows at nonexistent targets while simultaneously, y’know, acting. I think he can be excused the missteps.

    1. “Tony Stark” doesn’t know what he’s talking about. If you don’t have consistent form, you CAN’T get consistent results. If you don’t have efficient form, you can’t keep doing it for long. If you don’t have bio-mechanically optimized form, you’re prone to injury. Shooting a bow is not like shooting a gun. With a gun, the bullet comes out at the same speed and with the same power no matter how you hold it or pull the trigger; with archery, you’re the gun; the power and trajectory come from the archer, not the bow. Changes in form are changes in trajectory and power. A change of 1/8″ in the form equals a change of over 12″ at the target. About 40% of the aiming process takes place after the string is released; if you don’t have proper form, no matter how accurately you aim, the arrow will not go where you want it to go. “He’s just that good” is a completely ignorant excuse with no bearing in reality, and more to the point, doing it any old way dramatically increases the chance of injury to the archer.

      When Jennifer Lawrence was cast in the Hunger Games, the first thing she did was call the USA Archery Association and find a coach. She hired five-time Olympian Khatuna Lorig, and shot 100 arrows a day throughout the production, even on days when they didn’t film any archery scenes. When Stephen Amell was cast on ARROW, the production hired Patricia Gonsalves, and he worked hard to learn actual archery form. Both of these performers also shoot at nonexistent targets with imaginary arrows, and both look like archers, because they took the time to learn how archery actually works and what the basic elements of the form are and why they are done that way. And it shows.

      It just seems to me that if a studio is going to spend over $200,000,000 on a film that features a character who is defined by doing one thing, and it will cost very little and take a few hours to make him look like he actually knows how to do that one thing, and doing it right looks more athletic, dramatic and exciting than half-heartedly faking it, and is safer for the actor, why not do it right?

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