Hawkeye ‘s episodes 1 & 2 are simultaneously a check-up on the MCU’s resident bow-wielding super dad, and a fun introduction to the MCU’s newest archer.
This review contains mild spoilers for episodes 1 & 2 of Hawkeye: ‘Never Meet Your Heroes’ and ‘Hide and Seek’.
In all honesty, when asked to list members of the Avengers, it’s unlikely that Hawkeye, aka Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), will be any of the first four names listed. His character has sort of always just… been there, despite being pretty predominantly billed and pretty integral to a lot of the MCU’s moving plot parts. And so it’s interesting, then, that the fourth MCU show to premiere on Disney+ seems to be heading in a direction that leaves filmic Hawkeye behind and thrusts a fresh, new heroic archer to the forefront: Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld).
Despite not being advertised as an origin story, the first episode of Hawkeye certainly has the trappings of one. Opening with a flashback to 2012, we meet young Kate (Clara Stack), who lives with her parents Eleanor (Vera Farmiga) and Derek (Brian d’Arcy James) in a lavish New York townhouse. She’s athletically gifted and monetarily privileged, opening up a balcony door to a stunning view of Stark Tower and the New York skyline, that’s suddenly rocked as the Chitauri attack the city. With her home threatening to literally crumble around her, Kate is saved from certain death by an arrow, of all things, and finds herself enraptured by a mysterious figure on the building opposite, who deftly swings through the air and expertly shoots down the invading aliens.
Flashing forward to present day, we find grown-up Kate (Steinfeld) in trouble for extensive property damage at college – she shot an arrow into an old bell tower for a bet – and reeling from her mother’s sudden engagement to sleazy would-be step dad Jack (Tony Dalton). She’s sort of stumbling her way around life, and ends up in the path of Renner’s Clint, who is just trying to enjoy a nice pre-Christmas trip to New York with his kids. Because when Kate ends up in possession of the ‘Ronin’ suit – aka the vigilante alter-ego Clint took on during the blip – she also finds herself in possession of Ronin’s enemies, and so Clint is forced to come to her rescue.
There’s an odd couple energy to the show so far, particularly in the second episode (‘Hide and Seek’), as the first (‘Never Meet Your Heroes’) keeps the pair apart until the last second. Renner and Steinfeld make a great double act, and their chemistry is really engaging. Kate’s hero-worship and childlike stubbornness versus Clint’s whole had-it-with-this-bullsh*t vibe, and Steinfeld’s fresh joi-de-vivre versus Renner’s familiar maturity, make for a really interesting dynamic that seems destined to progress into a mentor/mentee situation, perhaps with Kate taking up the Hawkeye mantle as Clint, and presumably Renner, rides off into the sunset and leaves the MCU in the hands of the young guns.
Episodes 1 and 2 also have a levity to them, as well as a freshness that comes with introducing a new character with genuine spark. This might darken as the entanglements with Ronin’s enemies – which include the ‘Tracksuit Mafia’ and their leader, deaf martial artist Echo (Alaqua Cox) – get deeper, but for now suggests that writer Tanner Bean envisions Hawkeye as more frothy fun than Wandavision’s allegory for trauma or Loki’s magical worldbuilding. And it seems to have upped the ‘witty banter’ like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier desperately needed to do. The humour is perfectly rye and well delivered from both Steinfeld and Renner, and it riffs on the moments where Hawkeye really shined in the previous MCU films, with his dry quips and the almost involuntary fatherly protectiveness. But it also doesn’t gloss over the serious bits. Renner manages to convey bewilderment, embarrassment, offence and grief in a matter of seconds as he watches ‘Rogers the Musical’, a light-hearted re-enactment of the pretty traumatic Battle of New York, as well as an all-singing, all-dancing recreation of his recently deceased best friend Natasha. It’s a scene that takes place within the first half hour that manages to encompass everything the show itself seems to be going for: humour with an undercurrent of honest feeling.
It also incorporates some aspects of Hawkeye’s canonical comic storylines – Lucky the Pizza Dog! Deafness! – in a way that doesn’t feel like a forced nod to fans who’ve criticised the adaptation of Hawkeye in the past. And, in a somewhat meta moment, makes reference to Hawkeye’s status as the least popular Avenger. (There’s a brilliant Hunger Games joke thrown in that might be the best one-liner so far.) It’s not perfect: the action feels a bit stilted at times, the pace seems somewhat slow and there are a few seemingly obvious cliché plot points hinted at, but hopefully the show is self-aware enough to play with audience expectation and deliver some surprises.
Overall, episodes 1 and 2 of Hawkeye are a fun reintroduction to the at-best-fifth most popular avenger, as well as a fun introduction to Kate Bishop. It’s a confident start, that doesn’t offer anything particularly ground-breaking or visually exciting, but promises to be a vehicle for some holiday adventure. Whether it keeps that promise, remains to be seen.
Hawkeye ‘s Episodes 1 (“Never Meet Your Heroes”) and 2 (“Hide and Seek”) are now available to watch on Disney Plus.