Controversial opinion: After 13 years of storytelling, we simply didn’t get enough time with Clint Barton. I know Hawkeye was never anyone’s favorite Avenger back in 2012. And over the years, particularly starting with Age of Ultron, the avenging archer started to get some much needed attention. But he was always going to rank sixth on everyone’s list of favorite OG Avengers.
Which is sad, because every other iteration of Clint Barton, from the comics to the cartoons, has been completely amazing! Well folks, it’s taken the deaths (or retirement) of half the original Avengers, but Barton is finally getting the attention he deserves. And to quote Fury in Winter Soldier, it’s about damn time!
Hawkeye is finally hitting Disney+ today, and in its first two episodes, it’s proving to be more grounded than The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, yet just as compelling as WandaVision or Loki. Jeremy Renner is back and better than ever. But this time, he’s bringing along with him fan-favorite character, Kate Bishop (played to perfection by the terrific Hailee Steinfeld).
The first episode of the show begins by giving us something we’ve never seen before – a civilian’s POV of the Battle of New York in 2012. This is where we are introduced to the wealthy Bishop family, and their precocious 9-year old daughter, Kate (if she’s 22 in 2025, I assume she’s 9 in 2012, and I also assume she wasn’t snapped out by Thanos). It’s a really fantastic moment because we understand how unprecedented and scary this event must have been for everyone who wasn’t a superhero, but also why Hawkeye became Kate’s favorite Avenger instantly. It’s just a few minutes but we’re already getting character development that will set up the core relationship between Kate and Clint to come. And that development furthers in the gorgeous opening credit sequence that, not only pays homage to David Aja’s stellar artwork from the 2012 comic run, but also tells the story of how Kate trained her body as a response to her hero worship of Clint, and a desperate desire to protect her family.
It’s an incredibly clever way to introduce the character, but more than that, endear her to us without needing a ton of exposition. And as the show continues, that only deepens thanks to Steinfeld’s completely charming portrayal of the character. The playful way Kate is written, matched with Steinfeld’s great sense of comedic timing, brings us a character that’s resourceful, smart, and tough, but also very flawed. Kate is a gifted athlete and archer, but still has so much to learn. Liking her, but watching her stumble as well, automatically gets you to invest in the relationship with Clint that hasn’t happened yet, because you know with training and guidance, she could be one of the greats.
And sure enough, as soon as they meet at the end of the first episode, the relationship and chemistry between Renner and Steinfeld has won you over already. Well into the second episode, the mentor/mentee dynamic between Clint and Kate automatically evokes shades of the Peter Parker/Tony Stark relationship from Spider-Man: Homecoming series. And that’s a fantastic thing. Together, Renner and Steinfeld are funny and quick-witted, with a back and forth repartee that allows them to bounce off each other. And when both your leads are Oscar nominees, why wouldn’t we expect any less?
Now as much as we want to continue gushing about Kate, it’s important to remember this is Renner’s show. And as such, Renner’s sympathetic yet guarded performance as Clint reminds you why he’s been nominated for two Oscars. He’s always been great in the films, but giving him a full series to play out all aspects of this character, from the soldier, to the family man, and now the reluctant mentor, allows him to do even more with the role than anyone could have possibly imagined given previous appearances.
Renner allows us to see the sadness and exhaustion he’s experienced after the loss of Natasha, the guilt from his years as Ronin, and the loss of his hearing from years of traumatic fights any soldier would want to immediately forget. He’s finding solace in his family, and the prospect of a normal holiday with them, but is overcompensating with enthusiasm to ease the pain of all of it. And Renner’s iceberg performance encapsulates all of this in many scenes, such as his reaction to Rogers the Musical (so amazing by the way), and his flashbacks to his Ronin days. The latter of which rightfully prevent him from perceiving himself to be a hero, as you can tell by his discomfort from others using the term to refer to him. It really is stellar work from Renner.
The supporting cast, including Vera Farmiga and Tony Dalton are also great with the limited amount of screen time they have in these first two episodes. Watching Dalton and Steinfeld grill each other is incredibly funny, and Dalton (as he did with the character of Lalo Salamanca from Better Call Saul) brings incredible levels of charisma and charm to the role. I’m waiting on the next few episodes to see more of Fermiga, who I know is an amazing actress, but is sort of relegated to the role of concerned/oblivious parent for now.
In addition to the acting and writing, it’s no secret that every Marvel comics fan out there has been eagerly awaiting this series because it’s based on Matt Fraction’s award-winning Hawkeye run from 2012. And I’m pleased to say that as a fan of that run (who isn’t), it’s incredible to see Lucky the Dog and the Tracksuit Draculas come to life in the MCU. Though called the “Tracksuit Mafia” on the show, the fact that the writers ensured they completed every sentence with “bro” is a testament to how much they wanted to remain true to the spirit of the original comic book run. They’re a riot to watch. And Lucky is adorable!
Now the first two episodes contain a fair bit of good action. Nothing about the action is mind-blowing just yet in the Shang-Chi or Winter Soldier way, but I’ll give it a break because a.) it’s just starting out, and b.) it’s still fun. The first episode in particular contains an incredibly fun fight in a wine cellar with Steinfeld against a whole bunch of track suit thugs. And on the flip side, there’s a hilarious LARP scene with Renner midway through the second episode that is both unexpected and a low-stakes cheeky way to subvert expectations about what we should expect from the show’s action scenes. Overall though, I have a feeling the action will get even better and more Die Hard-like as the story progresses.
If I had to nitpick anything about the show, it’s that, as much as we love Kate, the amount of times she messes up and gets her and Clint into trouble can be a bit excessive so far. It’s absolutely necessary and indicative of the fact that she still has much to learn and is in desperate need of a mentor. However I can see this potentially getting grating for others.
That said, overall, it’s a fun series so far. While on paper it may not seem as ambitious or weird as WandaVision or Loki, that’s actually the most charming thing about Hawkeye. It’s a series that proves that, in the spirit of centering a show about a character who can be a superhero without powers, you can have a terrific show without being overly flashy and convoluted. Hawkeye understands that sometimes less is more, and there’s room for different, more character-based, practical superhero stories to be told. It’s light, well acted, funny, and packed full of action and adventure, courtesy of the commanding chemistry from Renner and Steinfeld.
Do yourself a favor, and enjoy the show, bro!
Overall Score: A-
The first two episodes of Hawkeye are now on Disney+