What happens when you take everyone’s least favourite Avenger, give him his own show and a peppy sidekick? How about adding some popular elements from other big Marvel properties? Let’s review Hawkeye and find out!
Bullet Point Review
- The first Marvel Disney+ show to understand the television medium, allowing for longer character bonding scenes that would be cut for time in a movie, instead of just making a six-part film.
- Kate Bishop should be one of the major cornerstones of the MCU for the next several years, with rising star Hailee Steinfeld being one of their best gets in years.
- Easily Jeremy Renner’s best work in the MCU, completely reforming what has been a pretty lame interpretation of the titular character.
- Bolstering the well-built cast with guests Kingpin and Yelena made for some great dynamics and opens exciting new doors for the future.
- Probably needed one more episode to properly address some loose threads, as the finale felt a little haphazardly stitched together in places, despite overall being one of the better ones they’ve done.
- The MCU’s take on Matt Fraction & David Aja’s phenomenal book worked surprisingly well, but properly compensating and acknowledging comic creators is an ongoing concern.
The First True TV Show
It’s remarkable that it’s taken four attempts at live action TV for any of the MCU Disney+ shows to figure out what a television show is. Loki got very close at times, particularly with its finale, but Hawkeye understood the assignment from the first episode until the last. Before now, the philosophy for Marvel TV seemed to just be make a really long movie and chop it into six chunks. Maybe throw in some cliffhangers. Something like that. Even WandaVision, which made the television medium a part of its central premise, drifted more into generic MCU movie territory as it went on.
Conversely, Hawkeye used its extra run time for quieter moments that did nothing to advance the plot, instead focusing on character development and just… having fun? From Echo’s backstory flashbacks, to Clint’s broken hearing aid, to the two heroes drunkenly decorating a Christmas tree, these are the kinds of scenes you simply wouldn’t see in a Marvel movie. Which is a good thing! You’re not making a movie.
Where The Falcon and The Winter Soldier decided to lengthen the ‘say the plot and themes out loud for the folks in the back’ scenes, and add a dozen more to pad for time, Hawkeye gave Kate and Yelena ten whole minutes to just sit down at a table and talk over mac & cheese. And it was electric! Imagine casting good actors and just trusting them to create emotionally honest moments together?
Even the finale, which was contractually obligated to go all-out with the action, devoted a few minutes to its main characters building Trick Arrows together and Kate expressing what an inspiration Clint was to her growing up.
A Star Is Born
Speaking of Kate taking inspiration from Clint, signing up Hailee Steinfeld is one of Marvel’s best gets in years (alongside Florence Pugh.) Her youthful exuberance and legitimate acting talent made her a natural fit for an MCU lead from the first episode, which was almost entirely devoted to establishing Kate’s character and letting Steinfeld wear as many hats as possible. Having a diverse hat game is the most important arrow for a Marvel actor to have in their quiver – pun intended – as it all but guarantees you’ll be used in multiple movies. I would be stunned if Kate doesn’t spend the next half decade popping up all over the place and eventually becoming an Avenger.
The producers made the smart decision to transplant parts of Clint’s personality from the acclaimed Hawkeye comic onto Kate. The version of Hawkeye that has appeared on film for the last decade was simply incompatible with the clumsy himbo womaniser from the book, as the movies have defined him as an intensely private, hyper-capable, grimly serious family man. So instead Kate gets his exposed brick apartment and is the one to suggest the dumb idea of boomerang arrows, rather than playing the annoyingly perfect straight man. It let them keep the comic’s sense of style without having to completely contradict what came before, and softened both characters in the process.
My biggest hope going in was that it would end up essentially being a Kate show featuring Clint, rather than the other way around, and that did more or less hold true, though it was closer to 50/50 by the end. Most of the supporting cast revolved around Kate rather than Clint, and it was more about her gradual positive influence on him than it was him training her to be his protege.
Steinfeld was already a rising star with experience in popcorn flicks, and while there are depressing reports this was the least watched of the 2021 MCU shows, it must still have helped her profile, and let Disney get in on the ground floor with a big name of the future.
Some of why the ratings may have been lower is that nobody could argue that Hawkeye has historically been the worst of the original Avengers. He didn’t get introduced in his own solo movie and got the smallest role in The Avengers, which Jeremy Renner has frequently complained about. Then he was axed from The Winter Soldier, sidelined in Infinity War, and Endgame turned him into a murderous vigilante with a terrible haircut who got to live while the far more popular Black Widow was unceremoniously killed off. There’s a reason it took this long for Hawkeye to get his own solo project. Plus Jeremy Renner has had a number of real life controversies, and hasn’t made much of an impact on me as a performer since his earlier days with The Town and The Hurt Locker.
So imagine my surprise when the first season of Hawkeye came to a close and I found myself wanting to see more of the character in the future. This total about-face is thanks to both the performer and how the character was subtly rewritten.
It is inarguable that this was far and away Renner’s best acting work in the MCU, infinitely warmer and more human than he has been in the past, where he’s ranged from intensely boring to just a little dull. The Trick Arrows were always fun, but Clint Barton the person left a lot to be desired. Adding his secret family in Age of Ultron felt like an attempt to fix that, but he is more emotionally engaging after a five minute conversation with his kids in this show than after that entire movie. His bemusement at his youngest son’s antics and frequently telling them how much he loves them are lovely.
I was pleasantly surprised by how well Renner and the show in general handled his deafness, an ignored part of his character up until now, smartly attributed to all of the damage he’d soaked up over the years. They went to the well of his hearing aid breaking or being switched off multiple times, and every single instance was powerful, thanks to Renner’s acting and the show’s sound design. Clint tearing up as he has to pretend he can hear his son while Kate transcribes the conversation was perhaps the emotional peak of the season.
It also went a long way towards Clint accepting Kate as his friend and protégé, which was a story that was told organically from start to finish. Watching Kate gradually wear down his grumpy façade with her charmingly intense drive to become his partner and help with his “branding issue” was a delight. Early on Clint is doing the generic ‘you’re not ready for this’ routine, and by the end he is asking rather than telling, wearing the costume she had made for him and just generally being a nice man.
This is basically a completely different character without jettisoning his bullet points, one that I wish we’d seen all along, and nothing underlined his transformation more than whenever they re-used movie footage to illustrate his emotional hangups.
Rumours spread of Vincent D’Onofrio joining the MCU to reprise his acclaimed interpretation of Wilson Fisk from Daredevil shortly before the series debuted. As is often the case in our current trailer breakdown/leak culture, these rumours panned out, with four weeks of build-up culminating in the reveal that the Tracksuit Mafia and Eleanor Bishop worked for The Kingpin. Not just that, he was the mysterious “Uncle” that Maya and Kazi had alluded to as part of the most explicit tease in the season. After the Mephisto/X-Men controversy in WandaVision that left a handful of bizarre weirdos bitter towards the show’s creators, it was probably for the best that Fisk did make his MCU debut.
D’Onofrio was effortlessly better than 80% of MCU villains in only two quick conversation scenes, bringing back his unique cadence and little body language ticks that made him such an engaging character in Daredevil. He intimidated everybody in a ten-foot radius, and continued to be one step ahead tactically. All great stuff.
I was less of a fan of his borderline invincibility that allowed him to shrug off getting hit by a car and an explosion directly below his feet. The MCU effect, I guess. I’m in two minds about the deep cut costuming, as I appreciate the nod to a great comic cover, but it looked a tad silly in live action, especially with the hat.
While Kingpin was a surprise (despite the rumours), we knew going in that Florence Pugh would reprise her incredibly popular turn as Yelena Belova from Black Widow. The film had mixed reviews, but everybody agreed Yelena ruled, and locking in Pugh long-term as a one-two punch with Steinfeld was shrewd decision making by Disney. She wasn’t quite as good here as in the movie, but her offbeat energy, frequently hanging a hat on tropes that usually go unaddressed, and broken English ‘stoic enthusiasm’ were welcome additions. Her and Kate as frenemies was delicious, as they fought, talked about their fighting (a LOT) and then borderline flirted with each other. She also just about made an emotional standoff with Clint over the death of her sister work.
Both characters spiced things up in very different ways, and it’s a shame we didn’t get even more of them because of their actors’ magnetism.
Slightly Too Short?
On the topic of wanting more, I couldn’t help but wonder after the finale if they needed one more episode. It pains me to say that, because WandaVision was definitely too long, and we don’t want to drift towards that Netflix thirteen-episode bloat, but there was just a little too much mess in the last episode that might have been avoided with more time.
Consider that the biggest mysteries of the first episode were the circumstances of Armand Duquesne’s murder and The Tracksuit Mafia going after a Rolex from the Avengers compound. Neither of those are explained, beyond Eleanor and Armand bickering, and the watch revealing Laura Barton is a retired Mockingbird. But those are thin, unsatisfying payoffs.
You cast the legendary Simon Callow as Armand for ONE episode? No flashback with him and the uber-talented Vera Farmiga getting to cross swords? Hell, Eleanor murdered her fiance’s uncle and then framed him for it, and that leads nowhere beyond Jack saying he needs to talk to her, and Kate apologising on her mother’s behalf. Where is the awkward break-up?! And while Laura’s Rolex established some fun new comics canon, there is zero explanation as to why The Tracksuit Mafia were trying to steal it for Kingpin in the first place.
Likewise, one of the tallest orders the show faced was to introduce Echo and justify her impending spin-off. Alaqua Cox put in an excellent shift as Maya, portraying so much with striking facial expressions and sign language, but she doesn’t show up until the end of the second episode, and then has to move from antagonist to hero in three episodes. I don’t think they pulled that off, personally, with it feeling like a large chunk of her story was missing from the end. We can see she’s started to put things together in episode five, and then keeping her cards close to her chest when talking to Fisk in the finale, but there was something off about her battle with Kazi. Did she know he was the one to betray her father? It doesn’t seem like it, yet she didn’t hesitate to start fighting her best friend/lover. Half of Kazi’s dialogue being clear ADR didn’t help any of that.
Despite all of this, I did think it was potentially the best finale they’ve done so far, after WandaVision disappointingly reverted to a generic MCU ugly CGI action fest and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier threw all logic out the window. Loki had the guts to make the crux of its ending a long conversation centred around an incredible actor, but the need to explicitly lead into a second season meant there wasn’t a conclusive ending. Hawkeye opted to close most of its doors, but leave them unlocked in case there ends up being a second season. I just wish some of those bumpier elements had been smoothed out with an extra episode beforehand.
Please Credit Creators
For years, the obvious answer to Hawkeye being so unpopular and not getting a solo project seemed to be an adaptation of Matt Fraction & David Aja’s award winning comic, and that’s exactly where Kevin Feige opted to take the show. As mentioned above, they made some smart adjustments to make it fit the MCU more organically while keeping a lot of the personality and style of the book.
The beautiful opening and closing credits evoked Aja’s stunning artwork, but also shone a light on a problem the MCU has had since its inception: credit and compensation. Time and again, comic writers and artists reveal how little (if anything) they’re paid when their work gets adapted into a billion dollar blockbuster. Most are buried away in the special thanks in the end credits, and almost none are invited to the premieres.
There is no justification for not paying larger tribute to these creatives, both in the form of larger financial kick-backs, raising their profiles with more prominent on-screen credits (why doesn’t the above image have their names on it???), and giving them the basic dignity of an invite to the red carpet events. While Matt Fraction secured a position as ‘Consulting Producer’ on this series, it was only because Rhys Thomas reached out to him and took suggestions on the soundtrack, rather than Kevin Feige putting these people on the payroll by default.
Please do better with this in the future; you’re the largest entertainment company on the planet. Also, can we credit Aja as much as Fraction? His art is easily 50% of what made the book special, if not more.
I was initially incredibly hard on Episode 3, feeling that the best moments from the big car chase scene that made up around half the runtime had been given away in the trailer. I was on an island on that one, and as time has gone on and I think back on the season I have to concede I was wrong. I still wish the chase gave us more big moments, but two of the absolute best pieces of acting in the show occurred in it, with Echo’s flashback and Clint’s broken hearing aid.
While I’m willing to push it up the rankings compared to my original takes (and likewise calm down about the first two), the clear head and shoulders best episodes were the fourth and fifth, which put the emphasis on hanging out and talking. Relationships blossomed and new players entered the fray. The obvious common denominator between the top three episodes was they were all directed by Bert & Bertie. Neat!
All of this being said, I enjoyed this show from start to finish, so feel these rankings are far more arbitrary than the previous shows. Yell at me, agree me, I don’t care, because the whole season rocked.
- ‘Partners, Am I Right?’ (Episode 4)
- ‘Ronin’ (Episode 5)
- ‘Echoes’ (Episode 3)
- ‘Hide and Seek’ (Episode 2)
- ‘So This Is Christmas?’ (Episode 6)
- ‘Never Meet Your Heroes’ (Episode 1)
For as much as I liked Loki, it never sits right with me when a finale just says ‘see you next season!’ I like a dramatic cliffhanger, but there’s a difference between say… “Not Penny’s Boat”/”We have to go back!” and finally blowing open the mysterious hatch only to… not show what’s in it. I much prefer this show’s approach of doing its best to wrap everything in a way that if it is a one-and-done, audiences don’t feel robbed, while still not ruling out the possibility of a second season. My instinct going in was this should be a simple, self-contained story about Clint passing the Hawkeye mantel to Kate. While I would be okay with that, I also think there is enough material to work with to justify a sophomore attempt.
We do know for certain that Echo will star in her own series, something I found remarkably cocky on Disney’s part. They already have far too much content, the character isn’t major enough to justify a vehicle, and it seems presumptuous to announce a spin-off before the show even debuts. Alaqua Cox ended up being an engaging performer, and bringing Kingpin into the equation certainly adds more meat to the bone… but what is this show going to look like? Will it be a quasi-fourth season of Daredevil, with Charlie Cox jumping aboard as her love interest? Who will interpret for her now that she and Kazi are enemies? Hell, is Kazi even alive? Fra Fee did a lot with minimal screen time, so I’d welcome a return. Ditto Zahn McClarnon for more childhood flashbacks. They have some options, but just as many questions that need answering.
Speaking of Kingpin and Daredevil, some have assumed their appearances in the MCU mean everything from the Netflix-verse is on the table and that fan favourites Kristen Ritter and Jon Bernthal won’t be far behind. I’d be okay with that, as while all of those shows had length and pacing issues, there was an awful lot of high quality content made over the years. Signing up the best of these (and apparently bringing Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henderson back too) increases the chances of the others, but I wouldn’t assume anything is canon yet. Iron Fist is the obvious red-headed stepchild, to the extent the comic character has suffered too, but Jessica Henwick was popular and did just have a major role in The Matrix Resurrections, so who knows? Maybe The Defenders live!
Finally, as I said multiple times, I would hope and expect for Kate Bishop to pop up all over the place going forward and for Disney to take advantage of locking in Hailee Steinfeld and Florence Pugh to contracts while they’re young. The two have incredible chemistry and can effectively occupy Clint and Natasha’s spots in the MCU, perhaps as members of a New Avengers team. More likely as the lead of a Young Avengers team. Blue sky thinking? Why not a Hawkeye & Black Widow movie? Whatever it ends up being, inject this dynamic duo into my veins.
I thiiink Moon Knight is the next Marvel Disney+ show, but they’ve been weirdly non-committal about their upcoming schedule beyond what year things are coming out, so you may not hear from me much in this column for a while. Ideally I’d like to run some one-off articles, or perhaps dip into Daredevil given recent events, but I’m also in the middle of moving house so could do with a break. Watch this space?
Check out The Matt Signal Beyond, in which I recap episodes of Batman Beyond every Saturday and Sunday. This weekend Batman forms an unlikely alliance to battle Kobra, and Terry must look after a fake baby…