‘Hawkeye’ Hits the Mark with Its Low-Stakes Christmastime Delights
Hawkeye, the latest entrant in the MCU’s foray into small-screen programming, differs from its predecessors in myriad ways, most tellingly in tone and stakes.
The MCU’s outings on Disney+ so far have reveled in their high-stakes storytelling.
Wandavision had a sprawling meta-narrative about the principal character’s passage through the five stages of grief.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s bombastic elements were merely a trojan horse for the show to delve into consequential real-world issues such as race relations and PTSD.
And in Loki, the god of mischief wrangled with the epic forces of light and dark and reckoned with the end of the universe as we know it.
Given that context, Hawkeye offers a refreshing change of pace—because the stakes here aren’t end-of-the-world, it’s whether Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) will get home in time for Christmas.
Although named after the eponymous Avenger, the initial episodes of Hawkeye home in on Barton’s successor - the mercurial Kate Bishop, played with elan by the ever-charismatic Hailee Steinfeld.
The premise is in line with the low-key essence of the show—Barton is in New York on holiday with his kids while Bishop gets embroiled in some less-than-savory criminal business. Naturally, their paths cross, and shenanigans ensue.
The Grouchy Archer and His Plucky Protégé
Hawkeye’s light-on-its-feet narrative, coupled with the Christmas setting, makes for an unusually warm and endearing MCU outing, fueled by Barton and Bishops’ buddy-cop dynamic.
Renner, finally given the spotlight after playing second-fiddle for ten years, adds more wrinkles to Barton’s world-weary persona.
Relegated to being yet another cog in the machine in the larger, ensemble-driven blockbusters, here, courtesy of the deft character work opportunity the medium allows, Renner is firing on all cylinders.
His Barton is a broken man, filled with regret. Wracked with guilt, he wants to forget the agonies of his past, but he’s living in a world that will not allow him that luxury.
In contrast, Steinfeld’s plucky Bishop comes endowed with wide-eyed enthusiasm and a shoot-first-think-later approach.
And it’s that yin-yang dynamic that lies at the heart of what makes the opening episodes of Hawkeye a lively watch. Renner and Steinfeld’s palpable chemistry crackles off the screen.
Their characters form an unlikely duo, and the show doubles down on that aspect. Hawkeye is at its sharpest when its two principal characters share the screen, bouncing off each other and exchanging one-liners.
A Sprinkling of Pathos
It’s not all fun and games, though. As the show sheds light on the inner workings of Barton, we see the toll being a superhero has taken on him.
The characters’ partial hearing loss is a compelling reminder that Barton is one of the two human Avengers—he doesn’t have superpowers or a high-tech suit—he’s a man with a bow and arrow fighting forces far beyond his imagination. And that has consequences.
Barton is still reeling from the events of Avengers: Endgame, mourning the loss of Black Widow and processing the guilt over his time as the murdering vigilante Ronin.
While the show doesn’t take itself too seriously, it sprinkles in brief moments of aching poignancy regarding Renner’s Barton. That it does so without being heavy-handed is a testament to its merits.
At its core, Hawkeye is functioning on two fronts - Kate Bishop’s coming out party and Clint Barton’s possible swan-song. If the first two episodes are any indication, both aspects have been well serviced.
As the show progresses, the grouchy and reluctant mentor will potentially pass the baton (or, in this case, the quiver) to his enthusiastic protégé.
Hawkeye has begun how it means to go on—fun, frothy, full of heart and operating with relatively low stakes. While the show hasn’t altogether hit the bullseye yet, it’s not far off the mark either.