The Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown so large and varied at this point that it’s a bit like the weather in Florida: If you don’t like it, just wait a few minutes. Hot on the heels of Eternals’ ponderous cosmic shenanigans, here comes Hawkeye, a stripped-down street-level adventure full of wise-cracking heroes and full-on comic setpieces.
It finally gives the sixth member of the original Avengers team — Jeremy Renner’s ace archer Hawkeye — his own solo showcase, while simultaneously introducing a new hero to share his codename: Kate Bishop, played by Hailee Steinfeld. In Marvel Comics, Kate assumes the mantle of Hawkeye in tribute to Clint Barton after his death. (He got better; it’s comics, they’re like that.) In this television series, Kate is introduced in a flashback to the Battle of New York from the original Avengers film, where she is saved as a little girl from certain doom by — who else? — Renner’s Hawkeye. Can you blame her when she decides right then and there to take up archery?
About a decade later, Kate’s grown into a tough young woman and an absolute savant with a bow and arrow. She keeps getting into trouble, though, both at school and with her mother Eleanor (Vera Farmiga), who was widowed in the Battle of New York and now runs a high-tech security company. Dragged to one of her mom’s charity events, Kate stumbles onto a secret black market auction for high-priced superhero memorabilia — including the Ronin costume and sword worn by Hawkeye during his dark period in Avengers: Endgame. Through a somewhat circuitous series of events, Kate winds up in the Ronin suit and performs a couple of heroic activities in the process.
During his time as Ronin, Clint Barton made a lot of enemies, and when someone pops up in New York in that costume, those enemies go on the hunt. Clint, who’s in Manhattan with his family celebrating Christmas, feels responsible; whoever is in that suit, he reckons, is going to be hurt or killed because of something he did. And so he must reluctantly ditch his holiday plans with his kids — including a hilarious Broadway show titled Rogers that’s a musical version of The Avengers — to protect Kate from the mess he made years earlier.
That’s the basic premise of this series, which was created by Jonathan Igla and will run for six episodes on Disney+ through the end of the year. (The first two episodes, which were made available to critics prior to the show’s debut, both premiere this week.) Admittedly, some of the story mechanics are a bit wonky, like why Kate winds up in that Ronin suit, or why no one can tell the difference between her or Clint Barton when they’re wearing it. It’s also a little odd that Clint is celebrating Christmas with his family without his wife Laura (Linda Cardellini), who instead calls Clint on the phone about once an episode to check in. A line of dialogue provides an excuse for her absence, but it still feels like a cover for some kind of scheduling issue. (Cardellini is only billed as a “Special Guest Star” on the series.)
That stuff mostly becomes nitpicks, though, because both Renner and Steinfeld are very watchable in this series, and they quickly make a likable pair of mismatched buddies in the mold of a Lethal Weapon-style action comedy. Steinfeld is instantly comfortable as Kate Bishop; she’s a natural at that default Marvel mode of dry, witty banter in the midst of outrageous action and stunts. If this show is designed to groom her as Renner’s eventual replacement as the MCU’s main Hawkeye, she’s off to a great start.
As the more serious and by-the-book hero of the pair, Renner’s role is a little less flashy, but he does have some nice moments of his own. The Ronin suit eventually winds up at a convention of LARPers, which forces Clint to investigate it “in costume,” and that leads to one of the funniest sequences Marvel has produced in a very long time. (These and other quirky moments bear the influence of comics writer Matt Fraction, who wrote the best Hawkeye comic ever published by Marvel a few years ago and serves as a consulting producer on the TV series.)
One-third of the way through the series, Hawkeye is still establishing key members of its core cast. Eleanor’s new boyfriend Jack (Tony Dalton) seems like he might be bad news — and he definitely shares a name with a relatively obscure member of the Avengers — but how he fits into Clint and Kate’s story remains unclear. The show will also introduce another Marvel hero, Alaqua Cox’s Echo, who’ll then spin off into her own Disney+ series, and her role in the first two episodes is minimal as well. Still, what’s here so far is a light and entertaining action comedy with some very solid use of real New York locations. Eternals might have missed the mark a little, but so far Hawkeye comes a lot closer to hitting the bullseye.
Hawkeye premieres on Disney+ on November 24. Sign up for Disney+ here.
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