Never in the past decade would I have imagined being jazzed for a Hawkeye show. And partially for that reason, oddly enough, I’m now jazzed about Hawkeye. I’ll explain that seemingly contradictory thought, but let’s get this out of the way first: this is no WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Solder, or Loki. All of these Disney+ MCU shows arrived in highly anticipated fashion for a few reasons:
(1) Open-ended threads with potentially high stakes: Fans wanted to know how Vision’s death was handled, and how Wanda coped; likewise for the Cap passing the shield to Falcon; and Loki stealing the Tesseract, and so on. With Hawkeye, the biggest open thread didn’t materialize until a Black Widow credits scene, which left fans wondering how Yelena will show up to avenge Natasha’s death. While that stake isn’t anything to dismiss, it’s really got nothing to do with Hawkeye himself, since it’s based upon a lie conjured up by Countess Valentina.
(2) People have strong feelings for Vision, Wanda, Falcon, Winter Soldier, and Loki: These characters were damn likable, and even when some of them did terrible things, they managed to pull the heartstrings and/or exude charisma while doing so. Whereas Hawkeye? He’s a closed book, for the most part. He’s often been the guy who would do his duty when necessary, but he often had one foot out the door. Hell, he’s attempted to retire at least twice. He wanted a quiet life with the fam and to forget about all of this Avengers stuff. And while he’s not at all loathsome like, say, Star-Lord, he’s not a character that people clamor over on his own. Hawkeye only wants to go home!
So, I wasn’t expecting much from Hawkeye other than a “placeholder,” yet this show finds so much glee in the Hawkeye-wants-to-go-home thing. The poor guy is utterly miserable while sitting through a Captain America musical, and he has a visible reaction to seeing the Natasha character. She, of course, was his strongest tie to the Avengers and pulled him back in after his turn as the vigilante Ronin. That offshoot gave Clint Barton his meatiest story that we’ve seen onscreen, but consider this: Hawkeye didn’t appear in Infinity War, and Ronin arguably got swept away in the behemoth that was Endgame. The MCU could have permanently put him on ice at that point and let him go back to the fam for good, but nope.
With all of that said, the MCU’s taking pointed steps to replace retired Avengers with successors. Chris Evans literally passed the Cap shield to Anthony Mackie; Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man can never truly be replaced, but Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange looks (at least) to be filling the Spider-Man mentor shoes in the upcoming No Way Home. And Natasha Romanoff’s Black Widow mantle will be taken up by Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova, even though she (apparently) signed onto the wrong team for the time being. Pugh is confirmed to appear in Hawkeye, and I previously assumed that she’d be the most endearing part of the show, but there’s a lot more to offer.
At the top of that heap would be Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop, a Manhattanite who is about the right age to have grown up in the shadow of the Avengers. And that’s wild, really, considering that the Battle of New York happened nearly a decade ago with the Chitauri invasion and all of the PR fallout, which spiraled after other high-profile incidents. Kate Bishop has been watching this whole situation carefully. She looks up to Hawkeye in particular, yet even she can see that he’s no longer really into this hero stuff. And he hasn’t been into it, dating all the way back to Civil War times.
And that’s all good. I can’t say that Hawkeye, in fact, will depart the MCU because Disney+ did not screen the entire Hawkeye season for critics. Yet the wheels are definitely in motion and, more importantly, Kate Bishop’s resourcefulness, layered personality, and charisma all make her a compelling and dynamic onscreen presence. She’s unapologetically messy but driven and headstrong and a fresh take on a female hero. Steinfeld aces the role. In addition, Kate’s complicated mother is portrayed by Vera Farmiga (who is in everything these days, and I’m here for it). Kate’s also got a would-be stepfather, played by Tony Dalton who’s still rocking that Better Call Saul mustache.
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. 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.
Speaking of family, Hawkeye’s wife is still portrayed by Linda Cardellini. If you’re excited to see her in this show (and who wouldn’t be? you’re not a monster), don’t hold your breath because the most egregious thing I’ve seen in Hawkeye so far is that Laura Barton needs more screentime, and Linda Cardellini, who is best part of any project, is forced to phone this one in. That’s still forgivable, though, because the Hawkeye focus is about acknowledging a new generation and a less cynical type of Avenger than Clint (or Natasha, or Bruce Banner). Yep, there’s something about the still in-progress assembling of Avengers who are striking more of a balance. They’re very aware of how the world perceives heroes, and they know the perception is largely bullsh*t, but they do believe that they can make a difference. They’re wary but not weary.
That sentiment’s been brewing for awhile because, remember, Falcon initially surfaced in The Winter Soldier because he wanted to assist Steve Rogers, and he still had to earn that shield over the course of several movies, and then he had to convince society and himself that he really wanted it. That process seems to be in the works for Yelena, who looked up to Natasha, and we’ll potentially see the pattern continue in She-Hulk with Jennifer Walters and Banner. For the moment, it’s all about Kate Bishop, who’s learning the ropes from Hawkeye. Steinfeld’s a pleasure to witness onscreen and proves to be essential to the morphing MCU brand. And damn, can she aim those arrows.
Disney+’s ‘Hawkeye’ debuts on November 24.