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To date, Disney+’s Marvel Cinematic Universe series have focused on saying goodbye to established characters and/or passing the torch to new ones, and that seems to once again be the case with Hawkeye, a six-part affair (debuting Nov. 24) that concerns the Avengers’ sharpshooter Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) forming an unlikely partnership with a potential heir to his bow-and-arrow throne. Like its predecessors, it operates as a bridge between the MCU’s first three phases (which concluded with Avengers: Endgame) and its future, along the way engaging in the sort of creative world-building that’s so far been the strongest suit of the studio’s small-screen adventures.
Showrunner Jonathan Igla (Mad Men) and director Rhys Thomas (SNL) have designed Hawkeye, above all else, as a vehicle to introduce Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), who as a young girl witnesses the carnage of Avengers’ Battle of New York in up-close-and-personal fashion from the confines of her opulent Manhattan penthouse home, which shares a direct line of sight with Avengers tower. During that siege, Kate loses her father (Brian d’Arcy James), who perishes during the onslaught, and witnesses Hawkeye take on a horde of invading aliens. These intertwined incidents prove equally formative for Kate, who in the present day is a 22-year-old college student and master of martial arts and archery, the latter of which she demonstrates during a school prank gone awry that lands her in hot water with her security-firm bigwig mom Eleanor (Vera Farmiga).
Kate comes from wealth and privilege but she dreams of being a superhero, and she gets a chance to show her do-gooder stuff when she attends a Christmas gala with Eleanor and her new beau Jack Duquesne (Better Call Saul’s Tony Dalton). There, she learns that Eleanor and Jack are engaged, and sneaks into a wine cellar where a secret auction is taking place, with Jack and his uncle Armand (Simon Callow) bidding on the retractable sword and costume of the Ronin, the underworld-assassin alter ego that Hawkeye assumed following Thanos’ Blip. Before those items can be sold, however, members of the Tracksuit Mafia storm the festivities in search of a watch, and Kate is thrust into makeshift action while wearing the ninja suit. She acquits herself admirably, but her new outfit soon attracts even more trouble for herself and Pizza Dog, a stray that she saves and rescues during the melee.
As this takes place, Hawkeye also catches up with Hawkeye himself, who’s in Manhattan to celebrate the holidays with his three kids. Hawkeye is first seen at a Broadway performance of Rogers: The Musical, an amusingly goofy song-and-dance production based on the Battle of New York that Hawkeye finds alternately cheesy and, at the sight of the actress playing the late Black Widow, more than a bit sad. Due to superheroic wear and tear, Clint now needs a hearing aid, and in the face of this phony and inaccurate rendition of his personal experience, he tunes the glitzy spectacular out—which his equally morose and exasperated expression suggests is something he’d like to permanently do to his celebrity (and his past) in exchange for a quiet domestic life with his loved ones.
The starting point for Hawkeye’s twin narrative threads is the affect the Avengers have had on everyday society, and that’s seen again in episode two, when Hawkeye has to track down the ninja suit at a Central Park LARPing event where his reputation is both a blessing and a curse. The show situates Hawkeye in a world that adores him but doesn’t really know him, and after he’s compelled to abandon his kids and find Kate—who’s made headlines for donning the ninja suit, which she subsequently loses—he’s lectured by the admiring young woman about his “branding” issues, which she claims are caused by his fondness for keeping things close to the vest. Certainly, as played by Renner, Hawkeye is a melancholic vet eager to hang up his weapons, expressing exhausted disappointment at missing out on family holiday traditions in favor of once again going through the enemy-battering motions.
Hawkeye views Kate as merely a troublemaking wannabe. She, on the other hand, is thrilled by the opportunity to learn from, and work alongside, her idol, and Hawkeye thus establishes two surrogate father figures—one good (Hawkeye), one presumably bad (Jack)—for its heroine. Subtlety has never been Marvel’s strong suit, and in the show’s first two episodes, that also goes for its attempts to paint Jack as the show’s Big Bad. As comics fans know, and as hinted at by his fondness for fancy blades, Jack is secretly The Swordsman, an occasional nemesis of Hawkeye. Still, the presence of Vera Farmiga, as well as the story’s dogged attempts to cast suspicion away from her, implies that she’ll be this saga’s ultimate villain, whose initial nefarious act is to have Armand executed.
Hawkeye and Kate’s subsequent ordeal will pit them against Echo (Alaqua Cox), the deaf leader of the Tracksuit Mafia, who makes her maiden entrance at the end of episode two (which is the last installment given to press). They’ll also wind up in the crosshairs of Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova, who’s interested in deducing Hawkeye’s role in her sister’s death. Since Yelena’s likely destiny is to become the MCU’s second Black Widow, her participation furthers the franchise’s transition to a Phase IV filled with new Avengers. In that respect, just like WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki before it, Hawkeye invariably feels like a functional puzzle-piece endeavor more than an inspired stand-alone work.
Nonetheless, there’s enough humor and personality to keep Hawkeye’s early going fresh thanks in large part to Renner, who embodies Hawkeye as a battle-scarred soldier more interested in licking his wounds and embracing those important to him than in reveling in fame or returning to ass-kicking business. Whereas Steinfeld is charismatically eager and foolhardy as Kate, Renner exudes a bone-deep weariness wrought from one too many fights, one too many falls, and one too many tragic losses. His mixture of disillusionment, sense of duty, and let’s-get-on-with-it stoutness turns out to be the most absorbing element of this latest Marvel affair—and MCU fans undoubtedly won’t find these proceedings nearly as tiresome as their protagonist does.