It’s been a big year for the MCU between several films and four stand-out shows. Hawkeye rounds out this year’s substantial Marvel offerings with a short holiday-themed story.
In the 6-episode series, Clint Barton’s (Jeremy Renner) past violent actions under the persona Ronin start to catch up with him. The show introduces Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), a young woman who took up archery after being inspired by Clint during the NYC invasion in The Avengers (2012). Kate and Clint team up to unravel a complex plot involving the Russian mafia and Kate’s mother’s fiance. The series additionally introduces a new antagonist, Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox), a Deaf Indigenous woman who already has her spin-off show called Echo in the works.
The series draws heavily from Matt Fraction and David Aja’s fan-favourite run on the comic book series from 2012 to 2015. As a reviewer, it’s worth noting this was the first superhero comics series I ever read, and it left such a mark on me that I named myself after Kate Bishop. I tried to keep my expectations for the Disney+ series low because those comics are hard to match, and although I wasn’t completely wowed, I enjoyed plenty of fun along the way.
Hawkeye starts rough with a few episodes that wander and set up a lot of complicated exposition, but it eventually finds its footing. Although the exposition does keep piling on throughout the series, the characters become more complex and engaging over time. Kate in particular feels like she has a long cinematic life ahead of her and she helps bring youthful energy to Clint’s more reserved nature. Unsurprisingly, Hailee Steinfeld gives a committed, vibrant performance that helps elevate the series above its otherwise-plot-driven nature. Kate is very different from her comics counterpart (she’s no breathless fangirl of Clint in the books), but this Kate is funny, engaging, relatably flawed, and endearing.
Hawkeye doesn’t seem to come into its own as an excellent piece of MCU storytelling until its finale, where Clint and Kate finally seem comfortable and confident working together. Up until then, the stress and awkwardness of their relationship make the series feel clunky and uneven at times. The hyperfocus on developing a layered plot often gets in the way of allowing the characters to just breathe and soak in what’s happening to them scene-by-scene. The finale is excellent though, bringing together a strong story with a culmination of solid characterization and appropriately-high stakes. It’s hard to ask for more from it as a conclusion.
No spoilers, but the two major surprise cameo appearances are both well-wrought and earned, especially the first to appear. As the other three series have done earlier in the year, this one both introduces new, interesting characters and expands on some we’ve already seen, weaving together these individuals into a compelling ensemble.
Although the series borrows from the comics, including Lucky the Pizza Dog, Clint and Kate’s spectacular “trick arrows,” and even the red-glad “tracksuit mafia” saying “bro” all the time, comics fans might wish for more. I want to avoid being a purist about comics adaptations because they’re fully allowed to depart from the comics and often must, but I’m disappointed about the absent aspects from the source material that would have fit or improved the show’s tone. With that said, since most adaptations are a mish-mash of different comics, it’s enjoyable to see a series that picks a particular comic run and overall sticks to it as inspiration.
Like every other MCU project this year, Hawkeye sets up important elements that will continue to thread through future Marvel projects, so you’ll need to watch it if you want the full picture of the MCU. If you’re looking for some lighter Marvel viewing (in comparison with weightier ones from this year like WandaVision or Loki), Hawkeye can serve up some entertaining moments for its characters even if the plot often bogs down more complex development. If you love the series (or even just like aspects of it, like Kate and Lucky), I also can’t recommend the comics enough.
Hawkeye will leave fans wanting more team-ups between Clint and Kate, and if there isn’t another season of the series, then hopefully appearances in films and other series will follow (for Kate, it’s inevitable). Hawkeye has always faced some ridicule for being an archer among super-soldiers and gods, but the series demonstrates how the power of a good partnership can help two archers make meaningful progress in crime-fighting. Clint and Kate might be an unusual duo, but they’re a great one.
Hawkeye is available to stream on Disney+
by Bishop V. Navarro
Bishop V. Navarro (they/she) is a poet, writer, and media studies scholar from Tampa, Florida. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida and currently pursues a PhD in Communication at USF. Her scholarly work examines boundary vulnerability in horror and science fiction media. You can find her on Twitter, Letterboxd, Instagram, and Tumblr @vnavarrowriter