Written by Anna Harrison
Hawkeye has never been anybody’s favorite Avenger (unless you want to be a contrarian), and so the announcement that Jeremy Renner would be headlining his own show was met with rather muted enthusiasm, mostly because no one cared that much. Even with the revelation that the series would take cues from the commercially and critically successful Hawkeye comics from writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja (among others), which follow the archer as he stumbles from one bad situation to another, it was hard to muster the same passion for this as previous Disney+ shows like WandaVision, with its kooky format and the theories it spawned, or Loki, which followed a beloved fan favorite. Luckily, it’s easy to exceed zero expectations, and Hawkeye proves to be a pleasant and charming holiday surprise—not groundbreaking, but a solid chance for an underutilized character and actor to finally shine, ten years after his first appearance in Thor.
Our titular hero was last seen in Avengers: Endgame, where his family disappeared from Thanos’ snap, prompting him to go on a murder spree and kill those he deemed unworthy of surviving said snap. He shaved half his head, he got a sleeve tattoo, he traded out his bow and arrow for a sword—he was very edgy, in other words. Now, with his family back, Clint Barton has to face the consequences of his years of vigilantism, with an added helping of LARPers and a one-eyed pizza dog. The biggest addition to his world, however, comes in the form of college student Kate Bishop, played by the effortlessly watchable Hailee Steinfeld, who stumbles into the mess that Clint has made.
Hawkeye is as much about Kate as it is about Clint. In the comics, both have shared the titular moniker; while that is only hinted at here, there is no doubt that the show is a twofer split between Renner and Steinfeld, and the two have easy chemistry that makes even some clunky dialogue go smoothly. Kate, with her wide-eyed overeagerness and sheltered upbringing, proves a great foil to Clint, the grizzled veteran whose face gets steadily covered in bruises as the show goes on, and the unlikely mentor/mentee relationship they form and the banter that results is the best part of the show.
There are other strong parts, too: this is the first time the addition of Clint’s family, introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron, has truly added depth to the character, even though they stay on the periphery for most of the show. There’s an exhilarating car chase in episode three, somewhat marred by a bad green screen but inventive and fresh all the same. (The directors of that episode, a duo who go by the name of Bert and Bertie, directed episodes three through five, far and away the strongest of the bunch, and they show a pizazz often lacking in Marvel directorial efforts.)
But, alas, Hawkeye runs into the same problem that has plagued nearly every MCU show on Disney+: pacing. It seems that even in a series meant to stay small and street-level, Marvel can’t help but pack it to the gills with characters that promise an interesting future but deliver an indifferent present. In his time as a murdering vigilante, Clint crossed paths with Maya Lopez (newcomer Alaqua Cox), aka Echo, whose spinoff was announced before Hawkeye even premiered. Then there’s the drama with Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton, delightful), Kate’s stepfather-to-be, and two more additions who may or may not surprise you, depending on your propensity to stay for post-credits scenes and how often you browse Marvel spoiler subreddits, but are both squeezed in at the last second and don’t get the treatment they deserve. Setting up for the future is par for the course with Marvel, and they do it with flair for Kate Bishop, but too many of the characters orbiting the two Hawkeyes feel superfluous, and the limits of a six-episode miniseries become all too apparent when everyone collides for an undercooked finale.
Still, as far as MCU shows go, Hawkeye rests comfortably in the upper tier, bolstered by excellent performances from Renner and Steinfeld, and it does a remarkable job of getting you to care about the most unremarkable Avenger. It’s just frustrating to see that, even after three other live-action shows, Marvel and all their money still haven’t figured out how to make a season of television without trying just a bit too hard.
Hawkeye is currently available to stream on Disney+.