This review covers the first two episodes of Hawkeye, which are available on Disney + right now.
Grief has been a huge post-Endgame motivator for Marvel’s surviving characters. It compels Wanda Maximoff to imprison a town in a false reality. It drives Bucky Barnes to right wrongs he committed while under Hydra’s control. It creates an opportunity for Loki to examine the worst parts of himself. Now, with Hawkeye, it’s forcing Clint Barton to reconcile with his time as the vengeful Ronin.
Here we get a Barton who wants little to do with the Hawkeye mantle. He’s celebrating the holidays with his kids, attending Avengers-inspired Broadway musicals, and pushing away his many traumas. The pathologically private Avenger is miffed at younger archer Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) for disrupting his family time, but he realizes that the suit’s resurfacing is bringing old enemies out of the woodwork. Driven to protect, he intervenes.
Hawkeye isn’t breaking new ground or subverting the franchise; in fact, it may be the most formula-faithful show the MCU has given us so far. Skeptics will scoff. Critics will sigh. But what this allows for is a sense of fun and abandon, a chance to throw a familiar character into a new situation and use that Marvel magic to make it worth watching. Don’t watch Marvel content for something new. Watch it to see how they make old feel new.
Hawkeye the Mentor is leagues more interesting than Hawkeye the Father. We glimpsed it during Age of Ultron‘s final battle: an overwhelmed Barton pep-talking Wanda Maximoff into joining the fight and becoming a superhero. “It doesn’t matter what you did or what you were. If you go out there, you fight, and you fight to kill…stay in here, you’re good. I’ll send your brother to come find you. But if you step out that door, you are an Avenger.” It was in that dust-choked respite that we saw Barton—at that point the least interesting of the Avengers—gain new dimension. But it wasn’t necessarily the moment itself that held the weight. It was the potential it carried, the possibility it suggested.
Fascinatingly, Barton has forgotten his own advice. Barton’s stint as unofficial Scourge of the Underworld reemerges as a source of pain for the eagle-eyed Avenger. He’s haunted by the lives he took and his precipitous pivot to antiheroism. That’s fertile ground that the showrunners seem hesitant to explore fully, but hopefully the next few episodes give Hawkeye the development he deserves.
The Christmas setting doesn’t factor into the plot. Yes, it helps bring key players together. And sure, there’s an emotional component to this that’s very Planes, Trains, and Automobiles-y (“I’m not gonna make my flight. One more day, I think.”). Perhaps more important, though, is its purpose. Hawkeye mines its holiday cheer for fleeting contentment before throwing its heroes headfirst into trouble.
But the show rightly splits its focus. Hawkeye separates the man from the mantle and gives the distinction to another, someone with the spirit and skill to do the kind of good the world needs. Bishop is an earnest hero-to-be who yearns for fulfillment that her family’s wealth can’t give her. She’s snarky, quick, and well-rounded, but she’s also awkward and blunt. When Bishop finds and steals the Ronin suit, Hawkeye grumpily confronts her and demands she return the suit. Predictably, that becomes more difficult than either of them anticipated.
Hawkeye front-loads its story with nods and flashbacks, allowing the rest of the season to remain present with its concepts and characters. Not too much happens in the first two episodes, but the final seconds of Episode 2 hint at potentially huge developments for the series and the larger MCU.
Tonally disparate but admirably faithful to that common theme, the first few live-action MCU series have largely delivered. Hawkeye is no different. It may not be the most exciting entry yet, but given some time and development, it’s likely to surprise us.