Unlike most other movie franchises, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is unique in that there isn’t one continuous storyline.  Well, there is the increasingly-important showdown with Thanos and the quest for the Infinity Stones, but for the most part, movies like Iron Man (2008), Thor (2011), and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) work on their own terms.  Each hero has his own micro-series in a much larger saga.  However, since these movies all take place in the same universe, one character’s adventures can dramatically impact another hero’s storyline, and often do. 

For example, when Tony Stark flies into the wormhole at the end of The Avengers (2012), he returns a damaged man, suffering from PTSD, which carries into Iron Man 3 (2013).  In Iron Man 2 (2010), a deceased Howard Stark helps his son discover a new element, and later on, shows up in Ant-Man (2015) as a S.H.I.E.L.D. official, trying to replicate Hank Pym’s shrinking technology.  And then there’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), perhaps the most important of all the standalone films. 

In just 136 minutes, we discover S.H.I.E.L.D.—one of the biggest puzzle pieces in the MCU—is secretly run by HYDRA, the franchise’s most resilient bogeymen.  Before the credits roll, we watch as Captain America tears S.H.I.E.L.D. down, intentionally cutting the cinematic thread that tied all these movies together.

Of course, Cap doesn’t take on these super-Nazis alone.  In addition to his new buddy, Sam Wilson (aka The Falcon), Steve Rogers also teams up with a few old pals: Natasha Romanoff, Nick Fury, and Maria Hill.  These three have a pretty big stake in the whole HYDRA plot.  After all, they’re S.H.I.E.L.D.’s best—and most loyal—agents.  However, this raises a rather interesting question.  If the reemergence of HYDRA was going to affect the entire Avengers series, if the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to completely rearrange the Marvel landscape, and if Winter Soldier was the most earth-shattering movie until Ultron raised his ugly robotic head, then where the heck was Hawkeye?

Along with Black Widow, Clint Barton is one of Nick Fury’s best agents, and while he didn’t get much love until Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), it was heavily implied Hawkeye was a key component of both S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avengers team.  We first meet the archer in Thor while he’s working with Agent Phil Coulson, guarding the Norse god’s hammer.  The bowman makes a comeback in The Avengers, and even though he spends most of the film as Loki’s pet zombie, we learn Fury trusts him enough to watch over the Tesseract, and that Hawkeye is the guy who convinced Black Widow to join up with S.H.I.E.L.D.

So if Hawkeye was such an important agent, then why didn’t he show up to help Captain America fight the Winter Soldier?  Did the filmmakers just forget about the poor guy?  Well, to their credit, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley actually planned on putting Clint Barton in the Captain America sequel, but at the end of the day, the archer just didn’t make the cut.  Why?  Well, co-director Joe Russo said it “might have been a conflict with Renner’s schedule.”  However, according to Markus and McFeeley, they just didn’t feel they could do Hawkeye justice in a movie already overloaded with characters.  Plus, an additional Clint Barton plot would just slow the movie down so the Russo brothers needed to whip out their editorial scissors.

While that makes sense from a storytelling perspective, it’s a major bummer from a geek’s point of view, especially since the screenwriters planned on penning a truly epic battle between everybody’s favorite sharpshooter and super soldier.  In an interview with Screen Rant, Joe Russo explained how the filmmakers were going to set up Hawkeye as a villain.  S.H.I.E.L.D. would order the archer to take out Steve Rogers, and Barton would hunt Cap across Washington, D.C.

Eventually, the two would wind up duking it out in a ravine, with Hawkeye unleashing a volley of arrows, and Captain America charging at the sniper, getting in close to deliver a finishing blow.  When Steve finally takes Clint to the ground, Hawkeye would reveal he was secretly on Cap’s side, knowing full well something fishy was happening at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters.  He would then whisper into Steve’s ear, warning Cap that HYDRA planted a tracking device on his suit.  Finally, since there was a S.H.I.E.L.D. Quinjet hovering nearby, watching the battle below, Cap needed to knock him out to make everything look real.

Once the decision was made to cut the Hawkeye/Captain America showdown, the screenwriters considered adding a quick line (something like, “Well, that Hawkeye is off on another mission somewhere”) to explain the archer’s absence.  Unfortunately, that little scene didn’t make into the film either, but really, we don’t need Barton’s truancy spelled out for us.  While film critic Devin Faraci wrote an article listing several interesting points why Hawkeye—and Iron Man, for that matter—didn’t show up to assist Cap, his number one reason is pretty darn convincing.

“They were busy elsewhere.”