For years, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye has been the most underserved Avenger. First introduced in the briefest of scenes ‘Thor’, he has been a mainstay of the MCU since 2011 but never given a chance to shine. He spends the majority of ‘Avengers’ under the control of Loki, is given a couple of strong scenes in ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’ and ‘Captain America: Civil War’, and becomes a punching bag for grief in ‘Avengers: Endgame’. Of all the Avengers, Hawkeye is the least recognisable from his comic book counterpart. Many thought Renner would be done with the character after ‘Endgame’ and it was a pleasant surprise when it was announced he would be headlining a Disney+ show alongside Hailee Stienfeld as Kate Bishop, the Hawkeye-in-waiting.
Unfortunately, what we get in this first episode is very little Renner. Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop is front and center, highlighted by a credit sequence that focuses on her character, but this makes senses if you believe the rumours that she is integral to the future of the MCU. The story dives back into the 2012 invasion of New York, an event that is becoming a touchstone for the MCU, and see the moment of inspiration for Kate to become a hero. Seeing Clint Barton/Hawkeye take on aliens with a bow and arrow is the catalyst for her to become the self-described world’s greatest archer and master of all ancient weapons.
We are introduced to Kate’s shady mother, even shadier soon-to-be stepfather, played by Vera Farmiga (always good) and Tony Dalton (maybe a bit soap operatic). It’s his not long for this world, old money, controlling Uncle Armand (Simon Callow) that sets the plot in motion. Firstly, through attending an underworld auction that Kate stumbles upon during which she, through a series of events, acquires Barton’s Ronin costume. Secondly, by dieing and being discovered by Kate, which is bound to trigger events latter in the season.
The bits we do get of Renner’s Clint Barton are the highlights of the episode. When we are first reintroduced to him he is watching ‘Rogers The Musical’ with his kids. Clint has to sit through the musical theatre version of the invasion of New York with the cheese factor turned up to eleven. When the onstage Black Widow gets her solo, time slows and sound becomes muffled as Clint’s PTSD over Natasha’s death sets in but, in a smart gag, this is also because he doesn’t have is hearing-aids turned on because he just can’t stand the show. He’s lived these events so why does he have to watch them.
One refreshing thing about this show is that everyone recognises Hawkeye. In most superhero things it always the hero struggling with their identity and wishing that people just knew who they really were. Here, everyone knows Clint and respects him for what he has done even if they express it at inappropriate times like at the urinal. It’s nice to see Clint repected in front of his family and for his kids to fully be aware of who he is, it makes for a much more rounded character.
By the end of the episode the two protagonists are down together. Kate is running around New York in the Ronin outfit and makes it onto the evening news. Clint sees this and gets flashbacks of all the pain he inflicted when he adopted that persona. As the Ronin’s identity was never reveal he knows that whoever is wearing the costume is going to draw a lot of heat to them. And so it does as Kate is corner by the Tracksuit Mafia, who are out for revenge. This forces Clint to abandone his family and spring into action to save the day.
All Clint wants is to be a good father. You get the feeling that he has never had the opportunity to spend a Christmas with his family so now there is a clicking clock to solve the mystery and return home. He has his family, he does not need anyone else but he is a good person and is drawn to helping people. As for Kate, while she has suffered loss, she is not a wannabe superhero driven by familial grief. She was inspired directly by Hawkeye’s actions to become who she is and now she is face to face with her hero. This sets up a proper mentor/student relationship rather than a surrogate family
Both central performance are strong. Renner is finally given a chance to breathe in his characters skin and relax in the role. This could be a rebirth of his character in the same way that Chris Hemsworth adjusted his performance of Thor. Steinfeld is always a delight in roles that require a lighter touch and is well equipped to handle any darkness that is bubbling underneath.
This is only the first episode but one negative is that there is no clear villain being set up. Tony Dalton’s Jack Duquesne is so mustache twirling that it feels like a massive misdirect. The is a lot of speculation about who the overall antagonist is going to be so we will just have to wait and see.
Clearly this is a very expensive show and has a visual style on par with the theatrical releases that is so strong that scenes from the films can be cut in with the effect being jarring. Overall this is a solid piece of the MCU that hits all its targets but at the moment it is missing the spark that would make it unmissable.