What’s new, everyone? The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s archery wizard is finally starring in his own Disney+ series, Hawkeye. Having premiered with two episodes on November 24 and aired the rest of the six episodes until it wrapped up on December 22, it’s based off of the 22-issue Hawkeye comic book run by Matt Fraction and David Aja, which became a significant influence on the show’s aesthetic, plotting, and character evolution. It follows Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and 22-year-old archer, black belt, and fencing adept Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) as they team up to uncover a conspiracy deep within the underbelly of New York organized crime—a mission that Clint hopes to finish fast enough so that he can reunite with his family in time for Christmas.
Helmed by head writer/executive producer Jonathan Igla (Mad Men, Bridgerton), directing duo Bert & Bertie (Troop Zero), and director/executive producer Rhys Thomas (SNL, Staten Island Summer), Hawkeye is a delightful show that excels at balancing action, comedy, and heart within a rather grounded plot, even as the writing of the plot itself encounters a few speed bumps along the way. Frankly, I wouldn’t have expected myself to say this a year ago. Back then, I was skeptical (and rightfully so) towards the prospect of an entire Disney+ series revolving around one of the least compelling characters in the MCU. While he’s had some good beats here there, including the “if you walk out that door, you’re an Avenger” monologue he gives to Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Age of Ultron, they weren’t enough to make me feel like I need to give a crap about him. But once WandaVision demonstrated its ability to get us firmly invested in the eponymous duo, whom the MCU had also underserved in regard to their story meat, that’s when I started to become amenable to the idea of Hawkeye changing my opinion on Clint to the point that I could end up rooting for him.
And root for him I did as the series gave him numerous beats concerning his wife Laura (Linda Cardellini) and their three children, his bloodstained past as the criminal-slaughtering vigilante Ronin, his grief for deceased master spy Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, his need for a hearing aid after years of enduring deafening noises that have come from sources like explosions and shattered glass, and his role as a mentor for aspiring superhero Kate. All of the above work effectively in a narrative that positions Clint as a lead, though not the lead. Like Black Widow, which came off as more of an ensemble piece rather than Natasha Romanoff’s solo outing, Hawkeye divides its time between Clint, Kate, and other characters to make their story arcs equally important.
It isn’t as if the series is oblivious to Clint’s lack of mass appeal. At one point, Kate goes so far as to be a voice for the audience by pointing out his branding issues that have led to the public minimizing his image in comparison to his flashier and more charismatic colleagues. This, along with the Christmas spirit that’s prominent in every episode, meshes with the show’s ability to poke fun at itself and give us a rollicking good time. As the series progresses, Clint’s understated profile plays another role: bolstering the show’s theme of anyone being able to become a superhero, whether they’ve been upgraded with special superpowers or they’re regular old people who just happen to possess a strong moral compass and the courage to put themselves in harm’s way to protect the defenseless.
Kate is no less an important part of the series. A strong-willed and sharp-witted youngster who came to idolize Clint amid the Chitauri invasion that the Norse trickster god Loki unleashed on New York in 2012’s The Avengers, she makes up a massive part of what makes Hawkeye so compelling to watch as she strives to be a real-life superhero under Clint’s tutelage. It helps that Steinfeld herself is a magnetic star. A pop singer as well as an actor, the arc of her career—one that includes Pitch Perfect 2, Pitch Perfect 3, Edge of Seventeen, Bumblebee, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse—has been rising ever since her breakout performance in the Coen Brothers’ 2010 True Grit reboot snagged her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Her chemistry with Renner is equally strong, shining the most during the beats in which they exchange bone-dry wisecracks that left me chuckling. Plus, kudos to Vera Farmiga for her superb turn as Kate’s mother Eleanor.
On top of their superhero duties, Clint and Kate end up taking care of a one-eyed stray golden retriever whom Kate names Pizza Dog in honor of the newfound pooch’s love of pizza. There are three simple screenwriting rules when it comes to creating endearing protagonists: saddle them with undeserved misfortune, make them smart and/or funny, and give them a dog. If the writing staff of Hawkeye was being deliberate when they abided by the third rule, then hats off to them.
In addition, Hawkeye marks the debut of Maya Lopez/Echo (Alaqua Cox), a high-ranking member of the Tracksuit Mafia (yes, the Russian goons wear red tracksuits, but not Maya), as well as an antagonist with whom I sympathized immediately thanks to a well-written backstory that’s both concisely delivered and fleshed-out at the same time. The fact that she’s not only the first Indigenous character in the MCU but also a Deaf character played by a Deaf actor—in her first ever onscreen role at age 24, might I add—stands as yet another important step that the franchise is taking towards inclusivity. On a broader note, it’s heartening to see Hollywood put more and more Deaf talent in the spotlight, e.g. Lauren Ridloff in Eternals and Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, and Daniel Durant in Apple TV+’s CODA. I’m thrilled to see what’s next for Maya in her Disney+ spinoff series, although I wish the news about it hadn’t been announced ahead of Hawkeye’s release—a hasty marketing decision that spoiled the direction of her story.
Despite the clunky writing that pops up here and there, the plotting of Hawkeye is effective in its cogent and grounded structure. It’s smart enough to know how to keep things low-stakes so that we can take a break from the ample supply of quests to save the world, the galaxy, or the multiverse. The action is enjoyable as well, especially the hand-to-hand combat sequences. Again, the writing can be imperfect, and I certainly had to confront a few gripes in the finale, but even that ended up sticking the landing for me more than the finales for WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (not the underwhelming post-credits scene, though).
My personal episode ranking:
- Episode 3, “Echoes”—written by Katrina Mathewson and Tanner Bean
- Episode 4, “Partners, Am I Right?”—written by Erin Cancino and Heather Quinn
- Episode 6, “So This Is Christmas”—written by Jonathan Igla and Elisa Lomnitz Climent
- Episode 5, “Ronin”—written by Jenna Noel Frazier
- Episode 2, “Hide and Seek”—written by Elisa Lomnitz Climent
- Episode 1, “Never Meet Your Heroes”—written by Jonathan Igla
When I rank Hawkeye against its Disney+ competition, it currently falls in the middle: below WandaVision and Loki, above The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and What If…? It’s a solidly executed show that overcomes its instances of shaky writing with liberal amounts of lighthearted fun and robust emotions, leaving me keen to see what the future has in store for Clint and Kate. The Echo spin-off is an exciting prospect, too.
Until next time, stay healthy and stay strong!
Windup score: 85/100