This is a spoiler-free review based on the first two episodes of Hawkeye.
Marvel’s Hawkeye series has a lot going for it. It brings back one of the original Avengers in the form of Jeremy Renner‘s Clint Barton. It introduces the vivacious Hailee Steinfeld as the highly anticipated Kate Bishop. It has Vera Farmiga and Tony Dalton. It has the humor and charm of the MCU combined with that holiday cheer of being set during Christmas. It is very clearly inspired by the much-loved 2012 Hawkeye run by Matt Fraction and David Aja.
There’s a lot to love about Hawkeye, but I’d be hard-pressed to call it anything experimental. In the ways listed above and so many more, the show is a safe bet. I already know people are going to love it. Unlike its Disney+ predecessors, Hawkeye walks a well-tread path. It’s Marvel formula to a tee from the snappy dialogue to the color grading. But, surprisingly, I have no problem with that.
As far as MCU projects go, Hawkeye is low stakes. After all, the hero is a street-level hero, especially in the 2012 run, but after the expansive worlds and universes of the previous MCU hits, there’s something cozy about Hawkeye. It’s familiar, like a plate of Thanksgiving dinner. I know it’s a Christmas show, but it’s premiering Thanksgiving week and I’ve got my holiday meal plan on my mind. Like a Thanksgiving meal, you know all the usual suspects will show up. Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, pie. Sure, someone will throw in the odd outlier like a corn pudding, but you know what to expect sitting down on Thursday night. That’s Hawkeye.
The series follows our titular Avenger after having survived Thanos and the loss of his best friend just trying to get through the holidays with his kids. He’s in New York to see Rogers: The Musical, a hilariously effervescent superhero movie that will surely have fans clamoring for more, and he’s having a dad’s weekend with the kids. But, because he’s Clint Barton and because he’s Hawkeye, he is quickly pulled into shenanigans when he meets Kate Bishop, a fellow archer and Hawkeye superfan.
The story takes off from there, powered immensely by Steinfeld’s electric performance as the smart-mouthed, plucky Kate Bishop. She seems made for the role, which is fitting given that Steinfeld was the first choice for Kate. Adding to that, Steinfeld’s chemistry with Renner is off the charts and the two bounce off of each other with surprising ease. In the series, Renner blossoms from the rather one-note Avenger he’s been for the last decade into a character who I was surprised I actually cared about. Finally giving Hawkeye his own story reveals just how much it feels like Clint’s character has been streamlined when he hasn’t had the spotlight.
As Kate mentions at some point, he’s a man without a brand. Clint’s mortality is one of his defining traits. He doesn’t have an iron suit or superpowers, he’s just a guy with a bow. All of that has kind of fallen to the wayside until now. The loss of Natasha was probably the most devastating thing to happen to Clint after losing his family, but in the latter’s case, he got that back after Tony’s snap. It’s clear that Nat’s specter is lingering throughout Clint’s journey in this series.
However, given the length of the series and the fact that it takes place over the span of six days leading up to Christmas, there is some question about how much can feasibly take place in a way that will usher in Kate as the new Hawkeye. And will the MCU retire Renner at the end of this? There’s comic precedent for two Hawkeyes, but it’s hard to tell if this is a matter of retiring the old guard or not.
The supporting cast is great, notably, Vera Farmiga as Eleanor Bishop is an immediate delight. Both warm and flawed, Eleanor’s moments with Kate tell you everything you need to know about their relationship with one another and its complexities. Tony Dalton, who plays Eleanor’s fiancé Jack Duquesne (a name I have been pronouncing incorrectly for a long time apparently), is perfectly sinister and smarmy. A step-father to be, even if he wasn’t obsessed with swords and clearly villainous, is instantly unlikeable in the way he both condescends to Kate and tries to win her over.
Tonally this is the most MCU series to date. But, where I’ve found that to be a flaw when movies or shows are trying to jump to different genres, this is actually one of Hawkeye‘s strengths. It leans into everything that we like about MCU stories. It manages to recapture some of that charm of the very first Avengers.
At the same time, there are clear nods to the Fraction and Aja story, sometimes even pulling shots directly from certain scenes in the comics, but it’s hardly a one for one. Which is fine, a carbon copy would have been impossible and too sharp of a shift for the story they were trying to tell.
It works best as an introduction to Kate as well as a refresher on a character we never really got to know well. Hawkeye refreshes a character that had been pushed to the sidelines with undeniable chemistry and an incredibly promising new leading character.
Hawkeye will premiere its first two episodes on November 24, 2021 on Disney+.