Hawkeye has always been a sort of control group for the Avengers. While the team may have super soldiers, wizards, iron men, and a talking tree, Hawkeye has a bow and arrow. Sure, he’s really good at archery, but still. Back in Avengers: Age of Ultron, we saw how Cliff Barton (Jeremy Renner) was uncertain about how integral he was to the team, and even Matt Fraction’s “My Life as a Weapon” comic begins with Hawkeye talking about how he’s just “fighting with a stick and a string from the Paleolithic era.” Part of his story is that he's just a normal guy fighting alongside gods, and while that can be interesting in comic books, so far in the MCU, he’s often felt like a strange addition. Barton aptly summed up his position in the MCU in Age of Ultron when he said “the city is flying, we’re fighting an army of robots, and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense.”
Yet thanks to Disney+, characters that have been put off to the side can finally get their time to shine. Already this year, we’ve received a closer look at the relationship of Wanda Maximoff and Vision, had a buddy action series with Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes, and explored time and space with Loki. After a decade in the MCU, Hawkeye finally gets his moment with Hawkeye, but like Black Widow, the series feels long past due, while also like a goodbye to a character that we are just finally starting to know on a deeper level.
But that’s not to say Hawkeye doesn't do a great job with the time we do have with Barton. Within the opening minutes of the first episode, the show finds a way to demonstrate how Hawkeye could be someone’s favorite Avenger, how crucial he can be to the team, and the impact that being a hero can have on the lives of others. Simply put, in just one episode, Hawkeye does more for the character than 10 years in the MCU has.
In the first episode, Barton comes to New York City with his children to celebrate the holidays, and check out Rogers: The Musical. Yet when Barton is confronted by enemies from his time as Ronin, he sends his family back home and tries to sort out his past in order to be home for Christmas.
Hawkeye also introduces Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), a 22-year-old who has looked up to Hawkeye ever since he inadvertently saved her life at the Battle of New York. Bishop has become a great archer in her own right — which gets her into her fair share of trouble — and it's her finding and putting on the Ronin outfit that stirs up Barton’s past. The two pair up as Barton tries to find out who is coming after the newly resurfaced Ronin.
Naturally, Hawkeye does a solid job of making Renner’s Barton interesting in a way we’ve never seen, largely by tapping into that family dynamic we saw briefly in Age of Ultron. Especially in the second episode, and in his scenes with Steinfeld, we get more of that light-hearted, funnier Barton. But unlike all the other Avengers, who are super-powered icons, Hawkeye shows just how much the weight of the past decade of fighting has affected Barton. During the performance of Rogers: The Musical, Barton struggles with the memory of losing Natasha, and after years of explosions and action, he now has to wear a hearing aid.
Yet through the eyes of Steinfeld’s Bishop, we also see the importance of heroes in the world. During the second episode, Bishop tells Barton that he is “selling inspiration,” and while she doesn’t come out and say it, she’s clearly her inspiration for the direction her life has taken. If Hawkeye is the passing of the baton from Barton to Bishop, Steinfeld immediately makes her character a welcome addition to the MCU. In her opening scene, we not only see just how brilliant her archery skills are, but we get a sense of humor and fun to the character that wasn’t always there with Barton’s Hawkeye.
Barton’s story makes him explore his past, be it the many battles he’s fought with the Avengers, or his secret history as Ronin and the enemies like the Tracksuit Mafia he’s trying to take down. But the show also takes the time to give him that lightness that Bishop inherently has, as the second episode features Barton engaging in a LARPing campaign, that while relatively inessential, does add some lightness to the character.
On the other hand, while Bishop is a delightful character from the jump, her story — at least in these first two episodes — is probably the weakest aspect of the series thus far. Bishop’s story, set in a world of wealth, complete with black-market auctions, living room fencing bouts, and a murder mystery, sounds more fun on paper than it does in execution. Of course, these first two episodes are just set up for the larger story, as we are introduced to Bishop’s mother Eleanor (Vera Farmiga), and her villainous fiancé, Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton), but at this point, Bishop’s solo story does make the series drag slightly.
But Hawkeye really shines when Barton and Bishop get to play off each other, as Barton is the cynical hero who has seen it all, having to face the sincerity of Bishop. Together, they have a wonderful dynamic that plays with the idealized version of heroes versus the truth about heroes, all while the two engage in some excellent banter.
Even though it took Barton a decade to get his own story, Hawkeye uses his past and his trauma as a strength. Hawkeye wouldn’t work without seeing the pain and history of this character, and when balanced with Bishop’s attitude and the Christmas setting, Hawkeye manages to tell a story about the physical and mental wounds of Barton, while still maintaining a spirit of festive joy and warmth. He may be the last of the original Avengers to get his own story, but Hawkeye makes it worth the wait.
The first two episodes of Hawkeye are available on DIsney+ on Wednesday, November 24, with new episodes debuting on Wednesdays.
The city is flying, we’re fighting an army of robots, and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense.
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