Hawkeye is a few different things. It’s a chance to spend more time with one of the lesser-known Avengers, it’s an origin story for an up-and-coming hero, and it’s a detective drama set amidst the backdrop of Christmas in New York City as the MCU adds yet another genre to its all-enveloping fold. Most importantly, though, it’s a Marvel series that doesn’t take itself too seriously — making the first two episodes unexpectedly fun.
This review contains some light spoilers for the first two episodes of Hawkeye.
Though it’s named after the bow-wielding Avenger, Hawkeye really is a story about two people. Yes, one of those is Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), a surly hero and one-time vigilante who is now doing his best to enjoy life with his kids who were originally killed as part of Thanos’ genocidal plan. In a stereotypical Christmas in New York montage, we see Clint and his family attending a musical (a goofy show about the Avengers that features a singing Hulk) and taking his kids out for Chinese food. As much as he tries to be happy, though, time and countless battles have taken their toll. He spaces out, gets annoyed when recognized in public, and now sports a hearing aid after standing too close to a few too many explosions.
The other side of the story is Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), who grew up idolizing Hawkeye to the point that she became a state champion archer. Their stories intersect when Kate rescues and then dons the costume of the Ronin — a key part of Clint’s story in the MCU — and gets into a fight with a criminal syndicate known as the Tracksuit Mafia. When Clint sees the Ronin suit on the news, he’s forced to ditch his idyllic family time to figure out what’s going on. Eventually, the two archers join forces, though, naturally, Clint is a reluctant partner.
There’s a mystery at play here surrounding the Ronin suit, but the highlight of the show is the growing, often adversarial, relationship between Kate and Clint. The original Hawkeye, of course, wants nothing to do with it. He’s just trying to fix everything as quickly as possible and get back to his family. At one point, he actually tells Kate that she’s ruining his Christmas. Meanwhile, this is a moment Kate has been dreaming about since she was young, and she doesn’t want to let it go. They have a great kind of combative chemistry, seemingly always approaching problems from the exact opposite perspective. At one point, Clint gives her his phone number but warns that it’s only for emergencies. No personal calls, or else he’ll “block and delete you.” As he walks away, Kate shouts out, “Call you later!” The chemistry is strong enough that even one of the least-charming characters in the MCU becomes likable.
This contrast between self-serious, cynical Clint and his more energetic and charming counterpart is what makes the show work early on. It extends beyond the characters as well. There are times when Hawkeye looks and feels like a gritty drama, like during its Daredevil-style fight sequences or when Clint is exasperated dealing with fans trying to take selfies with him in the bathroom.
But it’s balanced out nicely because of all the more lighthearted moments. Hawkeye is at its best when it’s putting Clint, in particular, in ridiculous scenarios; at one point, he’s forced to participate in a LARP despite very clearly not wanting to participate in the imaginary battle. My personal favorite moment was when a group of mobsters start bickering about NY real estate when someone makes fun of their warehouse hideout. There’s even a dog who eats pizza named Pizza Dog (just one of many nods to Matt Fraction and David Aja’s run on the Hawkeye comics).
Not everything about Hawkeye works — its serious moments can come off a little heavy-handed, like some “Thanos was right” graffiti in a bathroom, and I’m not fully sold on the Christmas theme just yet — but its first two episodes leave a solid initial impression. Like the best of the MCU on Disney Plus so far, including WandaVision and Loki, Hawkeye stands on its own just enough to largely avoid superhero fatigue. That could change as the show continues and connects more to the overarching MCU. But early on, it manages to make a show about the least-fun Avenger into something with a surprising amount of heart and humor.
Hawkeye debuts on Disney Plus on November 24th.