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Disney+'s Hawkeye turns the weaknesses of Marvel's least exciting Avenger into its greatest assets

  • "This may sound harsh, but Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, was never the most exciting Avenger in the Marvel films," says Shirley Li. "Next to near-invincible heroes such as Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk, he just looked ill-equipped, wielding a bow and arrow against monstrous aliens and killer robots. One of the original six protagonists in 2012’s Avengers, the master archer (played by Jeremy Renner) gradually became an afterthought, not even appearing in 2018’s Infinity War. But Hawkeye, the new Disney+ series, frees him from the pressure of appearing alongside his flashier colleagues—and, more important, frees his narrative from Marvel’s universe-expanding ambitions. Set in New York City the week before Christmas, the show, which starts streaming tomorrow, follows Clint as he teams up with a young archer named Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld); together they try to solve a crime connected to his stint as Ronin, the katana-wielding, vigilante alter ego he adopted in Avengers: Endgame. Since that film was released, the franchise’s scope has exploded, exploring new realities and dimensions in projects such as Loki and Eternals. Yet in Hawkeye, there is no bending of space-time or pruning of multiverses. Nor is there any wrestling with the legacy of a fallen hero, as in Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Black Widow. This show, at least in the two episodes screened for critics, seems to be squarely about Clint and Kate, and how these two regular people with impeccable aim can untangle a local conspiracy in time to unwrap their presents. Hawkeye’s story is small-scale in focus, but not in ambition."


    • Hawkeye is loose, amiable and downright chill: "In the Marvel series Hawkeye, the stakes are low. Comfortably so. Cozily so, even," says Glen Weldon. "The planet isn't in peril (well, any more than baseline), and the multiverse doesn't hover on the brink of extinction. Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), the sad-sack Avenger, just wants to get home in time to celebrate Christmas with his family. The six-episode series (the first two episodes of which were screened for press), is small in scope, and self-contained, and the conflicts take place at ground-level. Nothing is dire, nor fraught with peril. The tone, as a result, is loose, amiable, downright chill." Weldon adds: "For lovers of the comic, the series nails specific aspects — the ones that count. Clint's demeanor, for one thing. Renner captures the character's (literally) beaten-down quality, his willingness to assume the role of punching-bag, if it means protecting someone else. Clint spent so much time getting banged up in the comic that he sported bandages in every panel — that aspect gets a nice shout-out. The comic's standout character — a one-eyed dog who loves pizza — is brought over to the small screen and is, by any reasonable measure, a good boy. Most importantly, the relationship between in Clint and Kate is faithfully rendered. The chemistry Renner and Steinfeld share is palpable, but — importantly — it's not sexual in nature. For the story to work, their two characters need to meet at a place of mutual respect and understanding not clouded by desire, either requited or un-. In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the banter between the two leads often — too often — felt forced and leaden; here it moves at a fast clip."
    • Hawkeye is Marvel filler, like cheap socks or oversized t-shirt stuffed thoughtlessly into your stocking: "Merely there to take up space on Disney+, the first two episodes are so low-stakes and nonsensical it’s hard to believe they’re backed by millions of dollars and one of Hollywood’s most successful studios," says Ben Travers. "But then again, we’ve been here before — all year, in fact. Throughout 2021, Marvel has stoked the inviting fire of hope only to douse it with inattentive execution. Why should a bit of holiday trimming change Marvel’s way of doing business?" Travers adds: "All I want for Christmas is for Marvel to stop treating its TV shows like filler. After an intriguing start with WandaVision, Kevin Feige’s debut MCU entries for Disney+ have been erratic, at best. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier dive-bombed from a missed opportunity to outright infamy, before the overstretched Loki offered a few enamoring moments amid an onslaught of over-communication. Debating what’s gone right and wrong with Marvel’s transition to TV has followed a similarly long-winded journey, but it’s hard to argue every episode so far is indispensable; fans will be able to follow the movies just fine if they skip the Disney+ originals, and what does get examined in each six-hour show hardly feels worthy of all that time — which leads us to today. Hawkeye, the fourth live-action MCU series to debut on Disney+, has all the trappings of a sought-after seasonal present: an O.G. Avenger at its center, three Oscar nominees leading the cast (plus Better Call Saul’s Tony Dalton!), and a genre at least as popular as superheroes laced into its six-episode season. In case its not clear from Disney’s marketing, the photo above, or this merry introduction, Jeremy Renner’s first standalone story as Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) is also a holiday story, filled with steady snowfall, family bonding, and more gleaming evergreens than you can count. Yet anyone expecting to unwrap an adventure on par with any of Renner’s past outings as the bow-wielding sharpshooter will be in for a blue Christmas."
    • Hailee Steinfeld dominates Hawkeye: "She sells the frustrated teen aspects of Kate – always pushing at her would-be mentor’s boundaries – and scenes as a horrified and powerless bystander to her mother’s (an as-ever underused Vera Farmiga) relationship with Jack as well as she does the blockbuster action sequences," says Lucy Mangan. "If the plot isn’t up to much – what little happens in the first two episodes is erratic and riven with holes that leave you taking a lot on trust and hoping backfill will begin soon – the characters are credible and worth a little more emotional investment than usual. Or at least MCUsual, although we are not in Wanda and Vision territory either."
    • Steinfeld's Kate gets to be prickly and confrontational in a way female heroes rarely do: "But her rebellion isn’t the empty 'don’t tell me to smile' Captain Marvel version; Kate feels real and relatable," says Rosie Knight. "She cares about her mother even when her gut instincts revolt against Eleanor’s choices. She saves someone we saw her verbally spar with earlier — and who may be a huge danger to her — simply because it’s someone her mother cares for. There’s a messiness to her that feels right. Kate breaks into the MCU in a way that feels organic and groundbreaking. She sets a new precedent for a generation of heroes who lived in the shadow of the Avengers, whose lives and losses were shaped by them. The ease with which she enters the already-overstuffed Marvel Universe feels refreshing. And her inbuilt knowledge of the world — because she grew up in it — frees the audience of exposition. Steinfeld is charming and rude, funny and heartbreaking."
    • Steinfeld hits the target as Kate Bishop: "Kate is, to go for the obvious rhyme, great. She’s good at kicking ass and not caring about names, and she’s obsessed with bows and arrows," says Kimberly Ricci. "Kate’s also someone who has all makings of wanting to be a superhero. She’s an enormously cool character and worthy of taking Hawkeye’s place in the MCU, should the powers that be choose to go there. With all of that said, the way that these two meet, and the relationship that they develop, and the quest that they undertake results from some convincing timeline patchwork. As well, there’s a lot of humor in this show with Clint’s “I’m so over this” attitude mined for laughs. He is so frustrated that he’s in this world again. And that’s fun, especially when he realizes that someone does or does not recognize him. As well, the city transforms into a character, and it annoys the hell out of Clint while he fights his way back to his family (and away from his past), hopefully before Christmas."
    • Hawkeye is too wrapped up in the MCU to find its own voice: "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," says Caroline Framke. “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 a** 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." 
    • This is the best we’ve seen Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton in the MCU: "He’s able to play on all the vital parts of his character—the family man humanity, the old curmudgeon-y grunts, and the dad jokes—without having to get lost in the mix with the rest of his A-list costars," says Charles Barfield. "Just wait until you see grumpy Clint Barton interacting with LARPers in the park. It’s just so much fun, and something that couldn’t happen to any of the other Avengers. And because we don’t have world-ending stakes, Hawkeye is finally able to use his fighting ability and trick arrows in a way that feels appropriate and badass. Credit has to go to the creative team (directors Rhys Thomas and Bert & Bertie, as well as head writer Jonathan Igla) for also taking advantage of the Christmas setting in the best possible ways. Unlike the pseudo-Christmas vibe of Iron Man 3, it’s clear Hawkeye is embracing all the joy and wonder of such a classic film and TV setting. Christmas songs, cold weather, lights in New York City, all of it are just spot-on in creating the vibe that works for this story. This just makes Hawkeye the perfect holiday series to play during holiday family gatherings to please just about anyone."
    • Hawkeye is a refreshingly low-stakes Marvel series: "If you think of the Avengers as an NFL team, Hawkeye is the equivalent of the field goal kicker," says Richard Roeper. "He’s the small guy who has a particular and valuable set of skills that can be implemented at crucial times — but let’s be real, he’s no Thor or Hulk or Cap when it comes to getting in the trenches and throwing down with mega-villains from far-flung galaxies. The Avenging humans who remain human, e.g., Tony Stark and Spidey without their suits, Black Widow, et al., are of course the most vulnerable superheroes. (Rest in power, Tony Stark and Natasha Romanoff.) So it is with Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton/Hawkeye, the reluctant antihero who wants nothing more than to retire the bow and arrow and live out his days as a husband and father to his loving family — but we all know that ain’t happening. This is the refreshingly low-stakes, earthbound (at least in the episodes I’ve seen) setup to the new Disney+ adventure series Hawkeye, which favors a relatively light and even comedic touch between the occasional burst of violence, with Renner doing a superb job of adding colors to the titular character’s personality palette. Especially in the scenes with his accidental protégé Kate Bishop (a wonderful Hailee Steinfeld), Clint/Hawkeye proves to be a classic father figure mentor: all gruff and 'Leave me alone, kid' on the outside, but instinctively protective and caring. It’s a terrific formula, and thanks to the crisp writing and the easy chemistry between Renner and Steinfeld, Hawkeye could have the wings to fly for a long time."
    • Hawkeye is the Marvel show that feels the most like television: "While WandaVision was essentially about television and its value as a comforting balm as well as a nostalgic distraction, while The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki tried to be, Covid restrictions notwithstanding, 'cinema in six 45-minute episodes,' this latest MCU miniseries is structured and paced like an old-school television show," says Scott Mendelson. "Hawkeye is, thus far, an MCU equivalent of 1980’s adventure shows, most specifically MacGyver. No, neither Jeremy Renner nor Hailee Steinfeld defuse a bomb with chewing gum or escape from a prison with duct tape and a paperclip, but the small-scale, gee-whiz sensibilities, as well as the core plot (Barton reluctantly helps a young woman in over her head and targeted by bad guys), but Hawkeye is the MCU show which feels the most like, well, TV."
    • Hawkeye is the latest series named for or associated with alpha males being reforged as a female fighter's story: "In the same way that Netflix's Master of the Universe animated series was not, in fact, about He-Man and Mad Max: Fury Road stars Charlize Theron's post-apocalyptic Amazon Furiosa, Hawkeye introduces Steinfeld's heroine as a wealthy young woman with a vigilante's soul," says Melanie McFarland. As she notes, "Renner approaches the whole hero business with a resounding 'meh,' which is his prerogative. Along the way he's been dogged by ugly allegations surrounding a custody battle with his ex-wife Sonni Pacheco, which he's either refuted or refused to comment upon, and still doesn't leave the most flattering impression. Neither have we been trained to expect much from his solo efforts, like his very basic acid-washed jeans rock or his starring role as an organized crime 'fixer' in the Paramount+ series Mayor of Kingstown, a 2003-era brood fest that somehow time-traveled to 2021. What does all this have to do with Hawkeye? Simple – it explains why a show named for the least of the world's mightiest superheroes works best as an introduction to the wonderful Hailee Steinfeld and her character Kate Bishop, set up via this series to inherit Hawkeye's mantle."
    • Hawkeye is a bland show for a bland superhero: "Appropriately for the most basic Avenger, Hawkeye is a simple, conservative kind of superhero show," says Gavia Baker-Whitelaw. "Set during the run up to Christmas, Clint (Jeremy Renner) and Kate battle street-level villains while grappling with private family conflicts. Unlike WandaVision or The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, there’s no attempt at high-concept storytelling. If you already love Hawkeye, you’re probably fine. If not, the show does little to flesh out Renner’s characterization. So far, anyway...To accommodate Renner’s characterization, Hawkeye flips the dynamic between its two leads. Now Kate is the messy one, while Clint is a mature authority figure who tries to keep her out of trouble. In other words, they reverse the comic’s subversion of typical mentor tropes. Clint’s family complicates the situation further because, in order to tell a fun story about Kate and Clint fighting Russian mobsters, Clint must abandon his real kids in favor of this new kid. Will Hawkeye manage to wrap things up in time for Christmas?? Who cares! His family life always seemed highly unconvincing."
    • Hawkeye is welcoming to newcomers in a way that other Marvel Disney+ shows, like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, have struggled to accomplish: "Any necessary exposition is baked into the dialogue or the setting, and the main narrative prioritizes character development and chemistry over intra-franchise connective tissue," says Angie Han. "You could probably enjoy the buddy comedy action beats of Hawkeye without much caring about what’s happening in the rest of the MCU, though all those Easter eggs can feel like pointed invitations to start."
    • Hawkeye gets off on too slow a start: "Renner is often a bit flat as Hawkeye, but he’s actually not bad here—he just hasn’t been given much to do," says Brian Tallerico. "The Marvel Comics versions of Hawkeye often allowed for a more cynical, wise-cracking character—someone who was not only the best athlete in the room but one of the smartest guys too—and it's like the MCU has drained him of some of that 'Wolverine-esque' charisma. He has a couple of scenes here, mostly with his kids and later with Kate, that hint that he could become a more charming lead, but only time will tell. With the possible exception of the scene-stealing, one-eyed dog Lucky (who fans of the Fraction/Aja comic will remember fondly and be happy to see here), the show definitely belongs to Steinfeld. It seems like the Disney+ shows are being used to segue between character phases of the MCU. The action of WandaVision will undeniably influence multiple characters; Falcon and the Winter Soldier was really about handing Cap’s shield down to a new holder; Loki ended with the reveal of a villain that will certainly be seen again. But Hawkeye made me wonder how much these 'transitions' are going to hold up on their own. Steinfeld could play Kate Bishop in a half-dozen more MCU projects and become a fan favorite, but that potential doesn’t make this introduction rich enough on its own."
    • Hawkeye is fun to watch because it's a Marvel series that doesn’t take itself too seriously: The contrast "between self-serious, cynical Clint and his more energetic and charming counterpart is what makes the show work early on," says Andrew Webster. "It extends beyond the characters as well. There are times when Hawkeye looks and feels like a gritty drama, like during its Daredevil-style fight sequences or when Clint is exasperated dealing with fans trying to take selfies with him in the bathroom. But it’s balanced out nicely because of all the more lighthearted moments. Hawkeye is at its best when it’s putting Clint, in particular, in ridiculous scenarios; at one point, he’s forced to participate in a LARP despite very clearly not wanting to participate in the imaginary battle. My personal favorite moment was when a group of mobsters start bickering about NY real estate when someone makes fun of their warehouse hideout. There’s even a dog who eats pizza named Pizza Dog (just one of many nods to Matt Fraction and David Aja’s run on the Hawkeye comics)."
    • Inside "Rogers the Musical," which was shot over two days in front of hundreds of people, at a local Atlanta theater
    • Marvel searched far and wide before they found Native American deaf actress Alaqua Cox: “Alaqua is one of a kind, absolutely,” says Marvel casting head Sarah Finn. “She went through a large audition process. … We were all rooting for her, from the beginning.” Cox says the Hawkeye team made sure she was comfortable in her first acting experience. “They knew I was overwhelmed being on set for the first time and provided me a lot of support,” she says. Meanwhile, Cox was informed midway through filming that she would star in an Echo spinoff series. “Hawkeye is my first experience of acting. Now I’m going to get my own show in the MCU? It’s wild,” says Cox.
    • Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld compare Hawkeye with their other ongoing shows, from Mayor of Kingstown to Dickinson: "I mean, I think there’s some similarities to that," says Renner. "Maybe take out the adjective extreme, or whatever. It might just be, you know, grumpy and tremendous. I don’t know. Yeah, there’s some lines that blur, but not that many. She’s just great at her job, and I’m great at my job. And then it’s a great character mix up. I think that there’s a great, wonderful need for these characters to coexist." Steinfeld adds: "In fairness, I didn’t really know exactly what to expect. I was actually in the middle of another project when I got the call for this one. And I just knew that I was going from one to the other, and I knew it was going to be completely different — as far as the role in the world that I was living in, to what I was, to what I was going to be doing. That much I knew. But I don’t know that I really necessarily could have prepared myself for something like this. It’s on such a large scale. I mean it’s a whole universe, right, that I’m stepping into that is completely established. And there was, you know, part of me that was like, this can be a little daunting, but I had some wonderful support walking into this and felt very welcomed and supported. So I felt like it was a smooth entrance into the MCU."
    • Renner and Steinfeld developed a bond on set like their “problem-solving” characters: “When there was a problem or an issue, we found solutions instead of focusing on the problem,” Renner says. “And that happened very, very early on. So it obviously continued, and it was great to have an ally to move through any obstacles because there’s going to be a ton when it comes to this kind of stuff.” Steinfeld also notes that they bonded over their busy lives starring collectively on four shows: "It’s been busy. We had that to bond over," says Steinfeld.
    • Hawkeye director Rhys Thomas was always interested in Hawkeye as a character: “He’s kind of always been the underwritten, underdog character in the Avengers," he says. "The outsider. I liked that. It felt like a good way in. Also, his story is so compelling.” Thomas, who co-created Documentary Now!, noted that Kevin Feige is a fan of the IFC documentary spoof. “It was funny because Kevin is a fan of Documentary Now!, which is always surprising because I assume no one actually watches a lot of the shows that I’ve made,” Thomas says. “Hopefully, the surprising thing they got with me is that I get really hung up on story. Yes it’s comedy, but story and character—I do like to take that quite seriously.”
    • Hawkeye executive producer Trinh Tran on why the show is more lighthearted than previous MCU series: "Well, as we were brainstorming and talking about the story a couple of years ago, we were trying to figure out how we can set this series apart from Wandavision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki," says Tranh. "And one way was to set it around the holiday times. Out of all of the characters, it made sense for Clint Barton’s story to be told around this time of year because he’s a family guy. He’s one of the few Avengers with kids, and after the fallout of what happened in Endgame — where he lost his kids for five years, became Ronin and got them back — this is the first Christmas that he’s going to be spending with his family. And the big question of the series is if he’s going to be able to make it home in time in order to do so. So there’s that big weight that he’s trying to figure out as he’s stuck elsewhere. He’s trying to deal with something that has put him on this mission and he has to figure out how to get out of it. And in terms of the lightheartedness, we wanted to show a different side of Clint that we haven’t seen before, in comparison to all of the Avengers movies that he’s in. And I find it so much more interesting that there is a version of Clint that is a little bit more humorous from the Matt Fraction (comic book) run. So we wanted to pull a little bit of that into the series, and we thought that Kate Bishop, out of everybody, was the perfect candidate in order to do so."
    • Why Hawkeye went all in on the Christmas theme: “I don’t think that it occurred to a lot of the MCU veterans that it was an immovable thing, because they’re very much used to having that shuffle ability. I remember there was a moment where it was like, no, it’s going to go by this point, and this sort of look of panic,” says Thomas.. “The Christmas thing? It predates me. The (Matt) Fraction run has a little bit of that there. It was like this organic thing. I don’t know if it was released-oriented or what, but the six days before Christmas run up was like an early hook. It felt like a great way of heightening the stakes, and also it felt very grounded to our human character.”
    • Hawkeye definitely looked toward Die Hard and Home Alone for inspiration: “There’s definitely that style in there,” says Tran. “There’s Home Alone, that I really love as well, too. Die Hard obviously has the action, has that character. So we looked at a ton of them. We looked at different Christmas music as well, too. But most importantly was also, ‘How do we integrate it and maintain that feeling that we’re after in all the projects that we have created?’"

    TOPICS: Hawkeye, Disney+, Hailee Steinfeld, Jeremy Renner, Jonathan Igla, Rhys Thomas, Trinh Tran, Marvel

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