This is a spoiler-free review for the two-part premiere of Marvel’s Hawkeye, streaming from November 24 on Disney+.
Hawkeye stands as perhaps Disney+ and Marvel Studios’ most difficult TV challenge yet: how to get anyone to care about the MCU’s most boring Avenger. Luckily there’s a blueprint; comic creators Matt Fraction and David Aja have been here before when they evolved the character from tired to tremendous across 22 fantastic issues. Unsurprisingly it’s that run from which the Disney+ show draws its inspiration. For those unfamiliar with the comics, you can expect a surprisingly goofy street-level caper that’s big on personality while also letting darker elements gently simmer. These components are clear right from the get go, and while Hawkeye commits some of the same mistakes other MCU shows have, its fun ideas ensures the two-part premiere introduces us to a promising story that knowingly winks at the boring Hawkeye meme and begins to rebuild its titular hero.
Hawkeye Set Photos
In these opening episodes, set in the week leading up to Christmas, Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton is recognized in the street and theatre stalls by wide-eyed fans. Despite this, it’s clear he’s not the Avenger most people adore. As he walks past a group of superhero cosplayers in Times Square, the archer among them is actually Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, a great joke that really makes the story’s intent for him clear. This lack of popularity is because Hawkeye doesn’t have a good brand, Barton’s told. How could anyone care about him when he hides anything interesting about himself?
It’s a question posed by someone who has the most likable ‘brand’ of any Marvel character since Phase One: Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop. Pulled almost entirely from the pages of Fraction and Aja’s comics, she’s a delightfully energetic force who runs before she can walk. Her archery skills are matched only by her ability to arrive in the wrong place at the wrong time. This provides almost all of Hawkeye’s initial fun and intrigue; Kate’s a pint-sized detective, and her underbaked crime fighting instincts ensure she’s always getting herself into some kind of exciting trouble.
Together, Barton and Bishop make a classic double-act. He’s the grumpy surrogate father who’s just trying to live his life, and she’s the untamable wild card who may just bring out the best in her new mentor. It’s a cliché set up that stands a chance of becoming tired but, at least in these initial hours, the dynamic is strong. That’s largely thanks to Steinfeld; based on these two episodes, the Hawkeye the title refers to is almost certainly Kate. It’s unsurprising that she steals the show — Steinfeld has always been a magnetic joy — but her junior hero also fires significantly more arrows over the premiere, both physically and metaphorically. Again, this feels like a recognition that Hawkeye needs spicing up, and that heat was never going to come from Clint himself, at least not initially. By providing the lion’s share of the show to Kate, we’re able to invest in a much more fascinating character who will hopefully over time push Clint into a more interesting position.
While the duo makes for an energetic feel, there are elements at play that keep things human and weighty. Barton is trying his best to be a dad while suffering the side effects of being a superhero; he’s carrying the traumatic burden of a lost best friend, and a hearing aid makes up for the toll a dozen explosive missions have taken on his eardrums. The sudden appearance of Kate in his life pulls him back into a life of trouble he’s trying to put on the backburner for the Holidays, which amps up the excitement and amusement but, doesn’t lose sight of that humanity. A sequence set during a live-action role play game really delivers on this balance; it’s consistently funny while also demonstrating Barton’s reluctance to being pulled into a conflict when he’d rather be wrapping presents.
Barton’s home life is kept largely as a framing device, as is the norm for the ‘getting home in time for Christmas’ trope that Hawkeye enjoyably revels in. Each episode ticks down a day, which steadily builds the pressure. This format means there’s sadly minimal depth to his relationship with his children and wife Laura (Linda Cardellini) so far, though, with their roles being used as symbolism more than characters.
Where Clint’s family life is underdeveloped, Kate’s bumpy relationship with her mom (Vera Farmiga) and new suspicious step-dad figure (Tony Dalton) takes up much more time than it needs. There are moments when it successfully contributes to Kate’s character — a scene with her mom in which she discusses the privileges of great wealth is worthwhile — but so far this storyline feels like it’s stealing time away from the double act at the heart of the show, rather than adding anything valuable. It really dents Hawkeye’s zippy tone, and even makes little stretches of the premier close to boring. By dedicating so much time to this plot thread, it means more exciting areas have been denied the chance to develop, and as such Hawkeye fails to hit its full potential in this opening act.
Much like The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, Hawkeye is tackling secondary storylines that it really doesn’t need to, and that makes me fearful that it could suffer from similarly undercooked conclusions further down the line. Kate is a fascinating enough character on her own, and television really isn’t in need of any more stories about the trials of the incredibly rich. Perhaps this will be explored further down the line, but so far it feels like Hawkeye has missed its comic inspiration’s trick of exploring the lives of regular people trying to get by in a crime-plagued neighborhood.
Street-level storytelling is still present, though, fulfilled by Barton and Bishop’s feud with the Tracksuit Mafia; a collective of sweaty Eastern European gangsters dressed exclusively in red athletic wear. Their use of the word ‘bro’ as punctuation in every sentence makes them a consistently funny adversary, which bolsters Hawkeye’s crime caper tones. This does, admittedly, come with the risk of them being a less-than-fearsome foe, but the conclusion of the second episode pulls a trick that will potentially make them much more menacing.