Playing another everyman who packs a punch, Renner is doing what he’s always done best.
It almost pains me to say that I watched Avengers: Infinity War without having the faintest recollection that Hawkeye ever existed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One of the biggest questions in the aftermath of the film – even before Thanos’ fatal snap – should have been Clint Barton’s whereabouts or his fate… except in the midst of all the action, he ends up being easily forgotten. And none of that is really Jeremy Renner’s fault.
Hawkeye didn’t start out particularly bland. His cameo in the first Thor movie and his initial featured role in The Avengers were promising; the former due to mystery, the latter as a result of the blossoming dynamics among the members of Marvel’s original six. It’s just a darn shame that the prime opportunity for Hawkeye’s character development only came in the humdrum Avengers: Age of Ultron. The character then stagnated in the subsequent movies because of a perennially uninteresting arc in an increasingly busy superhero roster.
Of course, there’s no reason to definitively say that Renner’s run in the MCU has fizzled out completely. Kevin Feige himself has hinted at “big story things” that will happen for Hawkeye somewhere down the pipeline. But until then, Renner will try his luck in a very different comic book adaptation that’s going to take advantage of the R-rated precedents set by Deadpool and Logan.
Deadline dropped the news that Renner will star opposite Jamie Foxx in Blumhouse’s Spawn, which will be based on Image Comics’ eponymous hellish superhero who hails from creator Todd McFarlane. McFarlane himself will occupy the director’s chair in his feature film debut, having adapted his own source material into a screenplay as well. Talk about total creative control.
In the comics, Spawn’s mythology involves hellscapes, underworld warriors, and a healthy amount of fluctuating humanity. The story follows Al Simmons (Foxx), a black-ops member who is betrayed and murdered by his colleagues only to end up in literal Hell. Once there, Simmons is given a choice to return to the land of a living, but he must first agree to sell his soul to the demon Malebolgia.
Thinking this is his chance to reunite with his wife, Simmons accepts the demon’s proposal. He is brought back to Earth five years too late, though. Simmons’ wife has moved on and is now married to his best friend, while he is but a mere shadow of the person he once was.
Still, some slivers of Simmons’ conscience creep back in, and he – now known as Spawn – eventually plans to use his newfound abilities to help those who were unjustly wronged. He needs a little help on this quest of vigilantism and forms a bond with the soft-spoken Detective Maximilian “Twitch” Williams (Renner) – a skilled marksman who balances out Spawn’s violent characteristics.
This premise easily sets up a fantastic gritty buddy cop drama. However, it’s worth noting that McFarlane may go in a different, grittier direction with his new adaptation. Firstly, the movie will not be an origin story. And as McFarlane revealed to Vulture last year, Spawn won’t actually be the lead. He apparently won’t speak either. Instead, the movie will evidently center on Twitch as he’s caught up in a humanistic Jaws-esque story against an omnipresent, silent terror.
McFarlane told ComicBook.com last year:
“There’s two big roles in the script. There’s obviously sort of Spawn himself, although in a weird way it’s not the biggest role, and then there’s the cop. The cop is this character Twitch who’s been there since issue #1. Twitch is the role in this one, and I sort of refer to him as my sheriff Brody, who is the sheriff in the Jaws movie. Although it was called Jaws, Jaws didn’t really talk a lot in his movie, right? He just kind of showed up at the opportune time to make the movie worthwhile.”
The jury is still out on whether it’s an entirely great idea to make a movie called Spawn and relegate its titular character to the sidelines. Why get a charismatic actor like Jamie Foxx in that very role only to turn him into a non-speaking entity? Maybe McFarlane, precious as he is over his vision, just knows more than he’s letting on. Regardless, one thing is for certain: the film has to bank on its performers to sustain that kind of character-driven narrative and by and large, Renner fits the bill.
Elements of Twitch can already be found throughout Renner’s filmography, in that he often plays the everyman who is thoroughly passionate about his job. This was something that McFarlane considered when narrowing down the list of Twitch hopefuls. According to McFarlane:
“I was looking for somebody who’s a person you’ve met before; I needed someone who can pull off the grief of an average human being.”
And he is not wrong to have found that in Renner. The actor’s characters in tentpole ventures like the Marvel and Mission: Impossible movies are blatantly heroic. Still, any kind of likability that Renner inspires as Hawkeye or William Brandt comes from these characters’ apparent normalcy in spite of their heightened skills and capabilities.
More pertinently, Renner really brings about a quiet intensity in his indie slate, which includes credits such as The Hurt Locker and Wind River. He dissolves into the fabric of either film as a leading man without a hint of ostentatiousness. McFarlane references The Hurt Locker specifically when characterizing the kind of performance that he favors in Renner’s oeuvre, noting that in playing “the army grunt doing the job,” Renner brought about a distinctive combination of honesty and skillfulness that would serve Twitch well.
There is also something to be said about Renner’s films that color outside the lines with regards to morality, wherein he is still able to pack a particular punch with his knack for naturalism. The Town deserves a shoutout right here, and it is one of Renner’s most lauded films to date for a reason. As the angry and ferocious counterpart to Ben Affleck’s protagonist, Renner grounds his character in desperation and frustration in a performance that feels especially humane. The Town went on to land Renner a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Renner already has all the skills to tackle a character like Twitch. McFarlane as much as confirms that by making him the first choice for the part. As a property, Spawn itself could end up being a different kind of comic book venture, too, as it attempts to combat expectations surrounding the subgenre in general. As a supplement to Renner’s adventures in the MCU, Spawn could be ideal.