Just in time for the holiday weekend, Disney+ and the Marvel Cinematic Universe are giving us something to be thankful for: a new MCU TV series. Surely Marvel's Kevin Feige took one look at its audience of rabid fans and said "Yes, I know what the people want." And that's why we're getting a Hawkeye spinoff for Thanksgiving.
Look, I get it. I hear the groans. Hawkeye?! you say. The worst of the Avengers? But it's true. The Disney+ series picks up Clint Barton's story after Avengers: Endgame. He's harboring some hearing difficulty and survivor's guilt from the great battle to defeat Thanos — an endeavor that took the life of his best friend Natasha — as well as the dark days he spent during the "Blip" as the merciless vigilante Ronin. Hawkeye follows Clint in New York City, where he ends up partnering with the young Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) in order to fend off enemies from his Ronin days and get back to his family in time for Christmas. The question is, how hard will it be to get audiences to care about the show's title character?
When we're not arguing about which is the superior Chris or how many old Spider-Men are going to be in the new movie, it seems like the one thing almost every Marvel fan can agree on is that Jeremy Renner's Clint Barton is the superfluous appendage of the MCU. This was a take that calcified somewhere between the first and second Avengers movies, and there hasn't seemed to be a good reason to budge from that position since. So I realize that my task here may well be a bigger obstacle than I'm capable of surmounting. Still, I'm here to make the case that Hawkeye — the character, Clint Barton, as played by Jeremy Renner in five MCU movies and soon to be one MCU series — is better than we think..
We first saw Hawkeye in a cameo in the first Thor movie, where the expert marksman and agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. stood watch over Thor's hammer, Mjolnir, although he crucially declined to take Thor down when he came to retrieve it. It's worth noting that in a series of films that — especially in their earliest installments — were built on the charm and, in many cases, humor of wordy heroes like Iron Man, Hawkeye's dialogue-free intro to the MCU didn't give him much room to make an impression.
In Hawkeye's first real movie, 2012's The Avengers, Clint spent half the movie, as director Joss Whedon admitted, "scowling" under the mind-control thrall of Loki's scepter (and what we'd eventually come to understand as the mind stone). And by the time he got out from under Loki's control, he was shooting arrows in a battle that included energy beams, lighting strikes, and a big vibranium shield. While the other MCU heroes were off getting sequels and appearing in mid-credit teases, Hawkeye wouldn't be seen again in a Marvel movie for another three years.
In the meantime, Jeremy Renner himself was becoming an increasingly difficult celebrity to like. Divorce proceedings dredged up threats he may have made against his ex-wife. There was the unfortunate "slut shaming" controversy while on a press tour for Avengers: Age of Ultron where he and Chris Evans joked like a couple of frat boys about how Black Widow's romantic storylines with various Avengers made her the "slut" of the films. He then inexplicably created an app for himself? One that quickly got shut down because of internet trolls, as if that wasn't completely predictable. Also, he's a Niners fan. Not good. Renner also at this time became somewhat notorious for being the guy that studios tried to siphon their long-running franchises off to, with little success. First, Renner stepped into the post-Matt Damon Jason Bourne movie and then he joined Tom Cruise's spy team in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol and Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation. In the case of The Bourne Legacy, audiences made it clear they weren't interested; and in the case of the Mission: Impossible movies, Tom Cruise made it clear that he wasn't interested in surrendering his franchise.
And since there wasn't much of Hawkeye for fans to hold on to, his less-than-essential contributions to the Avengers team were less charmingly doofy and more "hey can't we just get rid of him?" By the time Age of Ultron came around, a lot of MCU fans and film critics were over it. Most critics dismissed Ultron as a step backwards for the MCU in general, one of the first movies where the overstuffed, interconnected nature of the Marvel project really started to chafe. It's too bad, because Age of Ultron rules. It's more of a closed-off adventure story than it gets credit for (Ultron is created and destroyed within one film!), it speaks to some of the bigger thematic issues of the Avengers (are they protecting the world or just giving the world's baddest creatures something to target), and presents the Avengers as a surrogate family in a way the first Avengers only hinted at. This is established in a couple crucial ways by — wait for it — Clint "Hawkeye" Barton!
For one thing, the movie introduced Clint's family — his wife, Laura (Linda Cardellini) and kids Cooper, Lila, and eventually baby Nathaniel. This was a side plot that got snarked upon with some regularity. Back on the farm with Clint's dumb family! Never mind that without that particular sojourn we'd have never gotten Captain America splitting a log apart with his bare hands in frustration. But also, Clint's family is a crucial counterpoint to the orgy of machine violence in the rest of Ultron. Say what you will about Joss Whedon — speaking of people who fell out of favor rather rapidly — but his instinct to delve into Clint's home life was a correct one. Clint wasn't superpowered. That had been the running joke, but it is also essential to his character. He's the guy who's just a guy, and when he's not punching a clock for S.H.I.E.L.D., he's back home on the farm with his wife and his kids, which is what really matters and what they're all fighting for. If Natasha Romanoff — the only other non-superpowered Avenger — was the heart of the team, then Age of Ultron established Clint Barton as its conscience.
The other thing that Age of Ultron did was it made Clint an essential part of Wanda Maximoff's origin story. She mind-warps him early in the film, a trigger for Clint given the whole Loki business, but as she makes her turn from Ultron loyalist to newbie Avenger, it's Clint who ushers her in, sharing with her a confessional moment that helps her find the courage to go out and fight.
Clint and Wanda's bond recurs a few more times in the MCU — it's in support of Wanda that Clint joins Captain America's faction in Civil War; and at the end of the carnage in Endgame, Clint and Wanda share a quiet moment together, having each lost someone deeply meaningful to them, in Natasha and Vision.
The new Disney+ Hawkeye series addresses the time that Clint spent as "Ronin" post-Blip. Thanos's little finger snap took away his entire family, and as established, Clint's family was his whole life. After they all disappeared into the picturesque Missouri daylight, the next time we saw Clint, he was operating as a ruthless vigilante in Japan, having traded in his precision bow and arrow for an up-close-and-personal samurai sword. Natasha's personal bond with him — and the faint promise that the Avengers could bring everyone back — was barely enough to bring Clint back into the fold. We were assured that Clint had gone to a very dark place. How dark Clint got during that time may or may not come up in Hawkeye. The tone seems pretty fun and even a little festive. Christmas time in New York City! Fangirl Kate Bishop tagging along! But the function of Hawkeye has always been to ground the superheroes of the MCU to the real stakes on the ground. He's not the most fun. But doesn't that make him more in need of a weekend in NYC more than just about anyone? Not that it'll stay that way. In addition to Ronin's enemies, he's also got Natasha's sister, Yelena (Florence Pugh), after him. In the Black Widow post-credits scene, Yelena got recruited by Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) to hunt down the man she says was responsible for Natasha's death: Clint.
If the Clint Barton character doesn't find a way into the hearts of the Marvel fanbase after Hawkeye, it's probably never going to happen. But it deserves to happen. 2021 has been the year for the characters who Hawkeye affected the most: we got the spinoff movie for his deceased bestie Natasha, the breakout TV series for his momentary mentee Wanda, and a time-loopy spinoff for his one-time captor Loki. All the stars are aligned over NYC at Christmastime. Maybe we can all be thankful for a Hawkeye show after all.
Hawkeye premieres on Disney+ Wednesday. November 24, with new episodes dropping Wednesdays through December 22.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.