Review by C.J. Bunce
The first two episodes–a full third of the series–have arrived for Marvel’s fourth live-action series of the year on the Disney+ streaming platform and it’s a good start, already faring better than those prior series. Hawkeye is about Jeremy Renner’s unassuming superhero Clint Barton aka Hawkeye from the Avengers movies–and yet it isn’t. Although the first episode gets off to a slow start, it’s Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop, who replaces Hawkeye in the comics, who proves quickly she’s going to be an exciting fixture for the next iteration of the Avengers line-up. She’s in good company, joining Black Widow’s Florence Pugh’s new Black Widow to take the franchise forward, along with Natalie Portman as new Thor in next year’s movie Thor: Love and Thunder, and Tatiana Maslany as She-Hulk in next year’s series She-Hulk.
Hawkeye is billed as a holiday show and it is, but it falls short in that department, probably because Marvel/Disney didn’t use a key arrow in its quiver: the creator of your second favorite Christmas movie.
That’s Disney/Marvel director/executive/writer Jon Favreau, who created the immediate classic holiday movie Elf, and he’s been working his own magic on everything Disney and Marvel from Iron Man to The Mandalorian since. Every scene of New York City in Elf has a touch of magic, a spirit of Christmas joy rarely captured by moviemakers. Could Favreau at least have been tapped to offer some advice? Instead this feels like a Christmas episode of a CW series–still potentially better than any other Disney Marvel series this year with only the first two hours into it. The trailers had that magic touch, but it just didn’t make it to the final cut.
Unfortunately Hawkeye is the most boring Avenger on the big or small screen. Or is it Jeremy Renner’s inability to find some kind of spark in the role? Matt Fraction’s comic book take on Barton is close to the Barton that Renner shows us here–washed-up, tired, an unassuming Everyman who doesn’t seem to get enjoyment out of anything in life. Renner chooses to be not-present in what could have been a humorous battle with a local LARP club. He’s not Old Man Logan, but similarly bitter–phoning it in with his family (he acts like an actor pretending to be a father), berating the adult woman star as a “girl” even though Steinfeld is within a couple years of Scarlett Johansson’s age in her first MCU appearance as Hawkeye’s partner Black Widow (and she’s old enough to be in the U.S. military special ops forces). The excuse seems to be his PTSD from the end of the world, the “Snap/Blip,” it’s just his character, etc., another heavy dramatic concept like those that have bogged down the other three live-action Disney MCU series this year. Barton simply seems checked out–without any charisma or pizzazz or zip he’s set up to either fade away following this series, meet a similar fate as Black Widow, or, hopefully, have a turnaround and take on a respectable role training the next generation of Avengers.
It’s Rhys Thomas’s first time directing something this big, or it could be a lack of vision from the slew of writers, who built these first two episodes replicating a DC Arrowverse show, not building a character who will eventually need spring-boarded onto the big screen.
Thankfully we have the new blood ready to take over with Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop. She’s younger and new but she’s also smart and talented, physically and mentally the right type to apprentice for a place on the Avengers pantheon. She seems more together than Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, and of a similar if different prowess combat-wise as Florence Pugh’s Black Widow. As Barton consistently dismisses her, she doesn’t fall for it–the difference is her confidence. She’s confident in her age and experience and skill so she doesn’t need to take Barton’s guff, while being respective of one of the heroes that saved the galaxy. Which makes her a refreshing superheroine for the MCU. As much as Hawkeye is a blatant long-standing knockoff of DC’s Green Arrow, this new female Hawkeye has all the traits of one of DC’s better young superheroines: Batgirl. This new Hawkeye has similar eagerness, desire, motivation, and engagement.
There’s potential here. The show almost hits its marks, mainly because Steinfeld plays Bishop as eager and not naive. By the end of Episode 2 Barton and Bishop begin to work together with the similar humor and banter as they do in the comics. Yes, a stepdad plot is embarrassingly stupid for a 22-year-old to care about, and Bishop–not to mention Steinfeld–seems to know she’s out of place in this plot more tuned for a younger audience like in Stargirl. Yes, a Steve Rogers stage show may have been a cute idea on paper, but listen to the lyrics and you hear a lot of information that the in-show creators (and in-show audience) would not have been privy to (a shawarma joke? really? and why is the musical about saving New York when they saved half of the galaxy?). Yes, the antagonists are bland, too. Yes, at only six episodes it’s clear this is going to be another Marvel series that should have been edited down to a two-hour movie–there is absolutely enough content that could have been more stylishly edited with an up-tempo soundtrack. So far this is not composer Christophe Beck’s best work.
But look at when Bishop goes solo in Ronin garb: maneuvering out of a cloak-and-dagger auction gone bad, fighting her way out of the (ack) tracksuit mafia, and using her abilities to save the day. And the series is dressed up nice, complete with logo and titles and comic artwork right out of David Aja’s and colorist Matt Hollingsworth’s Eisner Award-winning comics pages and covers. And it has Lucky the Pizza Dog.
It has its faults, but it has promise. Hawkeye′s first two episodes are now on Disney+ with new episodes landing each Wednesday. Don’t miss out on the books that inspired it all, Fraction/Aja/Hollingsworth’s Hawkeye, available in a full compendium here, and in a digital omnibus format now here.