‘Hawkeye’ Is Too Wrapped Up in the MCU to Find Its Own Voice: TV Review

·4-min read

For more than a decade, Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton, aka “Hawkeye,” has been the odd man out in the Avengers squad. Now, he’s getting his own television series that both eschews the straightforward superhero script and looks exactly like what you’d expect from the Marvel machine.

Unlike most of his peers, Clint has zero superhero powers to speak of beyond an uncanny ability to hit a mark with his bow and arrow. The other exception to the rule was his best friend Natasha (Scarlett Johansson), aka “Black Widow,” who’s dead by the time Clint gets his own show. Now, Clint is still Hawkeye to the point that someone might ask for a selfie at the urinal, but he’s still apparently not famous enough to inspire many double takes even in the middle of Times Square. (Clint’s notoriety appears to shift in every other scene as the script demands.) His association with the Avengers makes him interesting to the broader world, as seen in the show as Clint and his kids watch a surreal musical about Captain America and friends (“Rogers!”), including a manically grinning “Hawkeye” facsimile. But more than anything, he’s just a guy who wants to get through a single Christmas with his kids and wife (Linda Cardellini) unbothered, and preferably in one piece.

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From head writer Jonathan Igla, “Hawkeye” takes place during the December holiday season in New York City, an absolutely irresistible setting that immediately makes the series feel like something a bit different. “Hawkeye” also, however, takes place after the events of “Avengers: Endgame,” and therefore has to weave the catastrophic events of that entire saga into the series for at least continuity’s sake. This proves an especially heavy burden in the first episode, which has to introduce Clint’s eventual protégée Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), update us on the status of Clint and his family, and make clear the show’s ties to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The series’ opening is particularly clunky about this as it reveals Kate’s origin story, not trusting its audience to figure out that Kate seeing Hawkeye kick ass might inspire her to pick up a bow and arrow of her own when she could just literally say to her mother (an underused Vera Farmiga), “I need a bow and arrow.”

More frustrating still is that, as Kate and Clint get deeper into trouble in the first two episodes (premiering simultaneously Nov. 24 on Disney Plus), the show fails to capitalize on the fact that they’re both expert archers in any of its initial fight scenes. Instead, we get the same bland mishmash of rock ‘em, sock ‘em punching that most any other superhero show could’ve included. In these segments, it’s hard to see any of the comic personality that director Rhys Thomas has otherwise shown in comedies like “SNL,” “John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch,” and “Documentary Now!” (Future episodes of the six-episode series were directed by the team of Bert and Bertie; it will perhaps be more interesting to see what they do with “Hawkeye” after the show’s cleared its throat of all exposition.)

In its best moments, this TV version of “Hawkeye” hearkens back to the brilliant 2012 comic series of the same name. From writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja, this series first made Clint and Kate such a sharp pairing by leaning into the fact that they’re both just people with damage who happen to be really, really good at archery. The comic’s success hinged on their easy banter, mutual skills, and nuanced relationship (which, in a refreshing change of pace, never approached anything romantic). It was also extremely funny, using the medium’s ability to do extensive narration from both Clint and Kate’s perspectives that never felt superfluous or forced. The show does adopt some of the literal aspects of the comic’s run, such as the somewhat hapless “tracksuit mafia” and the one-eyed dog that eventually comes to be known as “Lucky the Pizza Dog.” Otherwise, though, the Disney Plus “Hawkeye” is too beholden to the larger MCU as a guiding narrative force and generic house style of filming to truly find its own voice as Fraction’s “Hawkeye” once did. And in the first two episodes, at least, Kate and Clint barely get enough time together onscreen to fully develop the affectionately snarky back and forth that made them such a compelling pair in the comics.

When they do get the chance to ping off each other, though, Renner (who clearly relishes the chance to portray Clint as a person outside his traditional brooding) and Steinfeld (an expert at playing headstrong young women from “Edge of Seventeen” to “Dickinson”) prove they could give the original Clint and Kate a run for their money. Hopefully, the rest of their “Hawkeye” series will give them more of a chance to do it.

The first two episodes of “Hawkeye” premiere Wednesday, Nov. 24, on Disney Plus.

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