By now, audiences are at least nominally acquainted with both Marvel Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The scene above, from Marvel’s The Avengers*, ought to be fairly familiar for that reason. Despite receiving less screen time than his fellow heroes, Hawkeye’s over-the-shoulder shot remains a memorable moment in the franchise.
For most, this is simply camera magic – a film-making trick meant to wow the audience and send them home talking. Who could actually fire an arrow behind their back without looking? More to the point, who would bring a bow and arrow to an alien invasion? It is a completely juvenile addition to a movie that no reasoning adult would watch, let alone enjoy. Isn’t it?
No, it is not, for three reasons. First, as the commenter above points out, this fantastic shot demonstrates the fact that the shooter has practiced extensively. He also has the mental capacity to think and react in a split second. To quote the photo: “He [Hawkeye] makes split second calculations and looses an arrow WITHOUT LOOKING, and hits his target dead on. This isn’t him showing off or anything. It’s tactical. It’s watching your own six while watching someone else’s. This is years upon years of training, muscle memory, and straight up intelligence…coming into play.”
Leaving aside the implausibility of the shot for a moment, the commenter is right. To shoot so quickly and so well with anything – be it a gun, a bow, or some other weapon – requires an extensive amount of physical and mental conditioning. Moreover, to train to enter combat of any kind with various weapons necessitates that the trainee learn to make these types of calculations fast enough to react in a timely manner.
Combat is not an exact science. There are no guarantees, no safety measures. Soldiers, sailors, SEALS, etc. all have to be aware of their surroundings at all times. They have to be able to act and react rapidly. If they don’t then they and their fellows will die, and their cause will be lost.
As the commenter pointed out above, scenes like the one where Hawkeye shoots and hits his target without looking are not blatant fan service. Rather, scenes like these are meant to add to the audience’s knowledge of the character. Using Hawkeye as an example, the Avenger is known as the World’s Greatest Marksman in the comics. There must, therefore, be ample reason for such a grand title. And considering his weapon of choice is a bow, he is either very stupid or incredibly smart and capable to enter modern combat with a hi-tech version of this ancient weapon. What better way could there be to demonstrate these traits than to have him shoot down an alien chariot without actually looking at it?
Avengers: Endgame – Fight As One
This is an important storytelling technique, one that is easier to pull off in prose than it is on film. Readers of Tom Clancy, Dean Koontz, Clive Cussler, Steven Hunter, and others can attest to this. These authors routinely describe tactics that seem quite fantastic but which are, actually, possible to accomplish. It usually takes several paragraphs for them to describe these actions (along with a fair bit of prior research), but their work pays off in terms of characterization and information. It shows the protagonists’ intelligence, skill, and strength at the same time it informs the audience.
For “baseline” characters in and out of sci-fi/fantasy, these types of abilities and the small moments that illustrate them are very important. Dirk Pitt, Jack Ryan, Timothy Carrier (from The Good Guy*), Hawkeye – none of them have “superpowers,” per se. They just have their “wit and [their] will” and the knowledge/skills they have sought to perfect in order to enter combat to make a substantive difference in the world.
Readers find that entertaining and informative. None of us have superpowers, but we all have talents and the capacity to learn a new skill. Maybe, if we work hard enough and practice frequently, we will be able to find a way to apply these things to our own lives to make a difference for those around us. There is no harm in trying or inspiring someone to strive for this.
Going back to the impracticality of the shot in the still image, it does seem rather unrealistic. That being said, the skill is thousands of years old. While this particular shot is improbable, there are dozens of others that may not be as fantastical as we believe today. A woman who competes in the Nomad Games can fire a bow using her legs and feet, while others with impaired vision can hit a target with an arrow. With the growing interest in mounted archery and renewed fascination with the sport, who knows what tactics and tricks could be developed by ambitious archers melding new technology with this old art?
The Hunger Games* already gave readers and writers a few ideas. In Mockingjay, two of the characters receive technologically advanced bows which allow them to achieve a variety of results in combat. They also increase the arrows’ range, giving the shooters the opportunity to hit targets much further away than they have previously. Katniss Everdeen’s bow is specially designed to react to her voice and can be shut off with the command “Good night.” Although forever inferior to the gun, the bow remains a viable weapon for fiction writers and audiences everywhere.
Regarding the childishness of comics, Stan Lee summed that up best:
Who can possibly say no to a good fairy tale? Yes, it is silly. Yes, it is impractical. And yet…in various forms it has remained a constant fictional companion for mankind over the course of thousands of years.
Perhaps there are more techniques in entertainment than are dreamt of in modern philosophies. Next time you see a bit of camera magic, future writers, take a closer look. It might be more than a flashy gimmick meant to send you home excited. 😉
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If Marvel is not to your taste, you might like to try Silver Empire’s Hollow City by Kai Wai Cheah, Cirsova’s Wild Stars: Time Warmaggedon, Jon del Arroz’s Flying Sparks. They may be just what you are searching for.