Hawkeye has never been a big player in the Marvel Universe. Though a founding Avenger, his character always hung around the fringes and took a back seat to the big hitters. This is where the latest Disney+ series comes in. By lifting large plot beats and concepts from Matt Fraction and David Aja’s seminal comic run, this show seeks to give Clint his time to shine and pass on his mantle in a holiday themed adventure.
Our pilot episode, “Never Meet Your Heroes” opens on Kate Bishop’s family in the midst of the Chiaturi invasion back in 2012. Immediately from this opening sequence the show is telling the audience, “This is Kate’s story.” When a well timed arrow saves the young Kate, she sets off on her quest to live up to the man who saved her life. What follows is a rather creative opening credits sequence that hits the highlights of Kate’s life.
The credits here like a lot of the shows visuals, clearly take from David Aja’s style from the comics, which is a huge plus. Perhaps what works best here is how they actually tell a story. Most opening credits nowadays are just title splashes or nice graphics, but this episode lays out Kate’s life and achievements through its credits. It makes for some cool visuals and accelerates our understanding of her background without exposition.
We next catch back up with Kate as a 22 year old troublemaker, played by Hailee Steinfeld. She immediately steps into the role from her first moments on screen and makes for a compelling presence; which works to the show’s benefits when it detours into the private life of her family.
When Kate returns home for the holidays she is greeted by her mother and her new fiancé, Jack, who has been hidden from Kate. Of course drama ensues but none of it is that interesting. The familial conflict with the introduction of a new step-parent is well traveled narrative ground and unfortunately the show does nothing to subvert this.
Interspersed throughout here is Clint’s story. Jeremy Renner once again steps back into his character and he looks as tired as ever. He always seems on the verge of retirement and this time is no different. When on a holiday trip with his kids he gets dragged back into the life he’s constantly trying to put behind him. His past as Ronin comes back to haunt him and leads to his fated meeting with Kate.
The show does try to make him more like his comic counterpart by giving him hearing loss. It’s unclear what role this will play in the show, but it does make sense for an average guy to have sustained damage from stopping alien incursions and world ending threats.
With both our character’s established, the episode then sprints towards its inevitable conclusion. Kate stumbles into a world of black market dealings and intrigue with her family somehow connected. All of which leads to her fateful meeting with Clint at the end of the episode. As a pilot, it does set up all the pieces into play and has fun doing so, but it doesn’t really feel like a Hawkeye show.
The second episode, “Hide and Seek”, divides the runtime better between the two leads and gives Clint more time to shine. We follow the duo as they hit all the familiar beats of a reluctant mentor and his eager fan. The dialogue between Renner and Steinfeld is quippy and the show is at its best when they’re together. Unfortunately, the episode’s story isn’t as strong.
The main plot of the episode sees our heroes chasing down the macguffin suit established in the pilot. What follows is a mad dash across New York as our heroes dodge trouble and get used to each other. Once their mission reaches its conclusion Clint seemingly bids Kate farewell and their lives to never intersect again, until they do.
We spend increasingly more and more time with Kate’s family dynamics, which despite the show’s best efforts do not make for the most compelling bits. Steinfeld continues to be the standout performance here, but everything surrounding her just fades into the background.
It’s hard to buy into the dynamic between her mother and soon-to-be step-father because it’s something we’ve all seen before. From Jack’s introduction we can immediately tell he’s not a man to be trusted and her mother being blind to it all just comes off as contrived.
Clint however, does get some better moments in this episode. The most laugh out loud sequence has Clint take part in a LARP group. It’s goofy, absurd and feels taken right out of a comic as we see him singlehandedly take on a group of overly enthusiastic nerds. Alongside this seeing him get to interact with the Track Suit mafia is really cool to see onscreen, especially for comic fans.
All of this leads to the episode climax with the introduction of a new villainess and the reunion of Kate and Clint. This episode does end on a better note for the rest of the series to pick up from and hopefully what follows will be more intriguing, especially with all the winks and nods so far.
Altogether, Hawkeye is off to a rocky start. Its holiday atmosphere and style set it apart from the regular Marvel fare, but its drama and story leave something to be desired. Both episodes have their fair share of action and funny moments, but the narrative detours into cliché feel underwhelming. The Bishop household drama is never that interesting either, despite the time devoted to it. At this point, it remains to be seen if this will become a compelling passing of the torch or just another bloated set up for a new character.
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