4.5 out of 5 stars

Few people were longing to see a television series focused on Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), one of the less-popular Avengers and someone without any superpowers. So when Hawkeye was announced as a project for Disney+ by Marvel Studios, anticipation was low to non-existent, thanks to more exciting prospects like WandaVision, Loki, and even The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Sometimes it pays to be underestimated, as Hawkeye turns perceived weaknesses into strengths, telling a more character-based and grounded story that does what all of these shows were intended to: improve a character who wasn’t given prominence in Marvel’s movies.

Hawkeye opens with Clint Barton spending time with his kids in New York City, sight-seeing and attending a performance of Rogers: The Musical, until fate conspires to keep him in the Big Apple for much longer, vowing to meet back up with his family at home for Christmas. The reason for this is the reappearance of “Ronin”, the renegade vigilante alter-ego he adopted between Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019), driven by the apparent loss of his family. Of course, Ronin’s return just means his costume’s now fallen into the wrong hands, which draws him into the orbit of 22-year-old Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), the daughter of wealthy businesswoman Eleanor (Vera Farmiga) and a self-confessed Hawkeye fangirl with an aptitude for archery herself. But after Eleanor’s future brother-in-law is murdered after a black market auction of items stolen from the destroyed Avengers compound, Kate and Clint are pulled into a mystery that also involves deaf gangster Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) and her notorious ‘Tracksuit Mafia’.

Taking clear inspiration and a few action sequences from Matt Fraction and David Aja’s celebrated run of Hawkeye comic-books, it’s little wonder this series works so well. WandaVision was similarly predicated on existing material that Marvel Studios could draw from, and that seems to guarantee a bedrock of quality for the TV writers to embellish.

It also helps that Hawkeye is less of a star-vehicle for Jeremy Renner than anticipated, as the character’s easygoing personality and dry sense of humour works best as one element of a big ensemble (hence his presence in every Avengers film), or in direct contrast to someone more upbeat — which is why Hawkeye being an origin story for his new partnership with Kate Bishop works so well. Clint may have had a connection to Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow that had its moments, but it mostly amounted to subtle hints about their unseen missions together, as the movies were also keen to have Black Widow spark with Steve Rodgers and Bruce Banner. Only Renner and Scarlett Johansson’s chemistry together helped sell those character’s platonic connection.

However, in Hawkeye, the partnership of Clint and Kate is central to everything and it works remarkably well. Clint’s a childhood hero who becomes a quasi-father figure to Kate, but also a mentor and partner. This type of platonic dynamic isn’t one we see that often and comes across as fairly fresh, mostly because Steinfeld and Renner have an unexpected rapport that makes their characters especially interesting when bouncing off each other like a father whose daughter is a little too keen to follow in his footsteps. The best episode is easily the third, “Echoes”, primarily because the leads are allowed to banter for the majority of it and dive headfirst into a car chase that plays to their skills as action-comedy performers. Evidence of a more down-to-earth rapport follows in “Partners, Am I Right?”, with Kate sharing a relaxed evening with Clint and watching Christmas movies together, which cements how fantastic these actors are together.

There’s perhaps a little too much thrown into Hawkeye’s six-part storyline, so perhaps a few characters or subplots should’ve been shaved off to concentrate on what truly matters. One unfortunate casualty is the aforementioned Maya, who gets a brilliant introduction in “Echoes”, but by the end of the series has melted into the background too much because of the belated introduction of two other characters — whose identities are spoilers. The murder-mystery that kickstarts the series also doesn’t go anywhere particularly interesting, as it only really exists as a means to keep Eleanor simmering away in the background and for a red herring to be dealt with too easily.

Still, these are minor quibbles. The strength of Hawkeye is its modest ambitions, more relatable stakes, and tighter focus on character. WandaVision and Loki were high-concept shows with an abundance of imagination and spectacle, while even The Falcon and the Winter Soldier involved a lot of globe-trotting to give it a larger scope. Hawkeye is out on the streets of New York (with a rich atmosphere thanks to the location shooting and the decision to have everything take place around Christmas).

And by focusing on a street-level story about organised crime, much like Netflix’s Daredevil, it’s able to feel more like a genuine TV series than a two-hour film idea stretched out into weekly chapters. But when there are moments that demand a cinematic flair, or some money to do full justice, Marvel can thankfully dip into its purse to produce the goods. A chase involving trick arrows in “Echoes” and a set-piece around the Rockefeller Center ice rink in “So This is Christmas?” are memorable highlights, but the show never feels like it’s using its Marvel connections and estimated £25M per episode budget as crutches. You’re always kept on the hook by the developing story, but also the entertainment value of watching Clint and Kate together.

Overall, Hawkeye is surprise success that only makes a few mistakes. It’s a shame a few more episodes weren’t there to flesh out the story more, or give a few characters room to breathe, but it never fails in its goal of rehabilitating Hawkeye in the eyes of audiences unconvinced of his usefulness as an Avenger. What value does a guy who’s good with a bow and arrow bring to anything in a universe with gods, monsters, and aliens? Hawkeye shows you exactly how inspiration someone ordinary and relatable can be, while having great fun putting its odd couple pairing through the wringer. Maybe it could have been more surprising or shocking, as things are played fairly safe narratively, but that does mean Hawkeye is the only MCU series that feels like it did exactly what it aimed to do…


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Cast & Crew

writers: Jonathan Igla, Elisa Climent, Katie Mathewson, Tanner Bean, Erin Cancino, Heather Quinn & Jenna Noel Frazier.
directors: Rhys Thomas & Bertie & Bertie.
starring: Jeremy Renner, Hailee Steinfeld, Vera Farmiga, Tony Dalton, Linda Cardellini, Alaqua Cox, Fra Fee, Brian d’Arcy James, Aleks Paunovic, Simon Callow & Zahn McClarnon.