3 out of 5
Created by: Jonathan Igla
covers season 1
Hawkeye is the first Disney+ Marvel series to remember something: to have fun. Yeah, WandaVision had shtick, Falcon and The Winter Soldier had buddy-cop dynamics, and Loki had Tom Hiddleston’s mugging, but these shows also had style and purpose and meaning schmaltzed all over the them, trying to be way more than the sum of their parts, while also getting caught up in the now ever-churning intersecting-crossover-multiverse nature of the MCU machine.
“Fun?” you question, in that frustrating way you have of questioning every word that I write, but I get ya’: the Marvel brand seems to be all about fun, snippy-snipin’ banter and fantastic explosions and needle drops. But that’s all very manufactured. Back in the days before Marvel took over the world, the original Phase 1 flicks – even Thor – had this grounded sensibility that, oddly, gave the multi-million blockbusters an underdog vibe. We got caught up in Avengers fever, yes, and had to battle world-ending monsters, but that vibe was still there, and carried us through to breakout expressions of the same, like Guardians of the Galaxy. But things have to get bigger and there’s more investment on a formula, and so here we are: copyrighted ‘fun,’ quite different from how it all began.
Hawkeye achieves this rather through necessity: there’s no galactic battles for the guy-with-a-bow; no magic. He’s a ground level hero, and so he’s given ground level problems to deal with: mopping up the aftermath of his Blip-y Ronin murderer persona, and dealing with Russian mobsters, and a precocious teen (Hailee Steinfeld) who’s also an archery prodigy, thanks to a fun – there’s that word again – bit of plotting involving her forming an obsession with Hawkeye, as a child, while witnessing his actions in the first Avengers flick. Having that limitation prevents too much style from getting all up in the series’ business (although clearly with both story visual notes taken from Matt Fraction’s and David Aja’s run on the comic), and the character’s status as a loner further invites a more introspective character arc.
The casting runs circles around this setup: Jeremy Renner is a much better boiling pot sad sack than he’s ever been as a leather-suited hero type, and Steinfeld brings incredible weight and believability to her character’s obsession, her evolution in maturity throughout the series, and her arrow-flingin’ and fightin’ abilities. Directors Rhys Thomas and Bert & Bertie also marry the choreography explosions to the story-telling well; it doesn’t feel like two separate shows. Again, even when things escalate – car chases, rooftop fights – there’s a throughline of street-levelness to everything that sets it in a clearly defined universe.
But: the MCU still isn’t fully ready to let us have nice things.
While I wasn’t nearly emotionally invested enough to in the world’s characters to be invested in the losses that stemmed from End Game or the Blip, I’m okay with Hawkeye using that as a jumping off point for studying Clint Barton’s struggles – with his past; with his public persona. However, this also very much puts a leash on the show, which only has 6 episodes to work through some heavy emotions, and has to spend a lot of that justifying / explaining the whole Ronin thing. If we weren’t so in need of connecting all of these series, there would’ve been ways to bring that in without making it a central plot point, leaving the focus more on mobsters and Hailee’s character. This bleeds into some moves made past the midway point, which slam us right back in to all the immersion breaking Marvel typicalness, bringing in a character who is playing a part, versus Renner and Steinfeld actually embodying their roles; and bringing in an admittedly jaw-dropping cameo that unfortunately then further diverts attention from what could’ve been the stronger emotions at the core of the show. So throughout, we have a lot of fun, and the Barton / Kate pairing itself is a wonderful thing, but this is all constantly shaped by the need to play in the same exact sandbox as everyone else… despite setting up the Hawkeye-verse as kinda sorta outside those cosmic borders.
And then, technically, the show takes a hit from some very odd editing. While the action is definitely entertaining, and exceedingly well staged, sequences will go to pain-staking ends for one shots or to incorporate some great sets, and then at the peak of a scene… just cut to another one. It’s disruptive, and prevented longer-running action sequences from hitting free-flowing highs. These aren’t pointless edits – like what we cut to also has value – or jarring, as it’s very followable, it’s just, like, a rather spartan, unindulgent approach, when some indulgence would’ve been fine; I’d wonder if the short 6-episode runtime required such compression – this is definitely the first Marvel series where I not only think more episodes could’ve helped to smooth out some of my issues with it, but that I also just wanted more of on principle – flaws and all, I was enjoying my time with Renner, Steinfeld, a pizza-eating dog, and, in general, the series.
Which does leave us in a good spot: I could take or leave what Disney+ has shown us of the MCU so far, but I really hope Hawkeye gets another shot, and I won’t even add caveats to that – I’d take another imperfect season like this one over another Loki.