Hawkeye releases at a linchpin moment for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Disney Plus shows – WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and What If – were a strong bunch, proving that the superhero studio could do small-screen adventures that were inherent to the overarching series’ narrative. On the big screen, Black Widow, Shang-Chi, and Eternals further expanded the MCU’s lore, though the results varied, especially Chloe Zhao’s ensemble piece. That’s seven Marvel properties released across the last eleven months, and with Spider-Man: No Way Home still to come.
There’s simply been a lot of Marvel, and keeping our collective attention is proving harder and harder, even when an original Avenger is at the center. Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner, doesn’t exactly have the same pull as the rest of his superhero squad – there’s a reason, after all, that we haven’t had a Hawkeye solo-outing up until this point. The first episode of Hawkeye knows that’s the case and, instead, the focus remains almost entirely on Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop.
The opening scene reframes an iconic scene from The Avengers. Kate’s parents are arguing downstairs when a Chitauri monster comes blasting through their extremely nice New York residence. One of the creatures comes hurtling towards Kate but, thankfully, Hawkeye’s on the scene, saving the remaining Bishops from death with a sharply shot arrow. Kate grows up to be an unfiltered Hawkeye superfan, attending a private school that teaches archery, fencing, and everything else an upstart hero needs to know.
Having a wealthy lead hero’s a hard sell. Batman and Iron Man manage to win audiences over with their cocksure swagger. For me, Doctor Strange has yet to become likable, and the opening episode of Hawkeye doesn’t endear me particularly to Kate. We’ve witnessed her tragedy, yes, but there’s something slightly unappealing about a spoiled kid who destroys a historical clock tower and her punishment is having her credit cards halted. Still, Steinfeld brings charm to the future Young Avenger, and her arrogance will surely wither over the course of the next five episodes.
Hawkeye, on the other hand, may have fleeting screen time in comparison, yet the formerly forgotten Avenger has immediately more depth than when we’ve seen him before. Clint struggles while attending a showing of Rodgers: The Musical – a retelling of The Avengers with added singing, dancing, and Ant-Man – which acts as a reminder that we’re watching a man, now with significant hearing loss, who has seen his nearest and dearest friends die in battle. He’s now putting every ounce of energy into enjoying time with his family. And yet, the moment someone’s on the streets in his old Ronin outfit, he’s cleaning up messes once again. That’s being a superhero.
The seriousness of Hawkeye’s personal story and the holiday campiness makes for some tonal backlash during certain moments. When Kate starts talking to a one-eyed dog, for instance, you almost think the show’s about to break into a Hallmark Christmas film. Moments later, we’re suddenly seeing an underground gang break into a black market auction and a Daredevil-esque fight scene taking place (not as well choreographed as that Netflix series, mind). And while the show’s two sides do not meld seamlessly, it leans much more into its funny and absurdist strengths.
There’s also some slightly jarring cinematography throughout. The Marvel shows were never going to look like the movies, but there’s a distracting contrast in quality between a bright, neon-colored Avengers: Endgame scene that’s slotted into the episode and the dark streets of Hawkeye’s New York. At worst, some of the sets, especially the green screen segments, look cheap. The soundtrack, on the other hand, plays with famous Christmas refrains, helping imbue the show with a definite sense of place.
It’s no coincidence that Marvel has released the second episode alongside the first. By the opening episode’s end, Kate and Clint are finally face-to-face, but there’s something lacking in the setup. Kate’s soon-to-be stepfather appears to be the series’ first villain, while the Tracksuit Gang will undoubtedly cause some annoyances. The series' narrative drive, though, has only been hinted at, and the first episode adds intrigue to Kate and Hawkeye’s story without hitting a bullseye.