It’s been a busy year for Marvel Studios, one jam-packed with countless film and television releases. And as 2021 comes to a close, Hawkeye‘s festive, action-packed finale arrived to close out the year alongside the theatrical release of Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Hawkeye sees the return of Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton and the highly anticipated introduction of Kate Bishop, portrayed by Hailee Steinfeld. It’s Marvel Studios’ most grounded series yet, even more so than the global adventures of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. And yet, despite the lack of super-powered individuals and flashy superpowers that have come to define much of what the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to offer, Hawkeye is an absolute masterpiece from start to finish.
To start, I’d like to propose a raise for whatever brilliant soul in the writer’s room that pitched the idea to have the show take place in the days leading up to Christmas. While it would still be an entertaining and enjoyable endeavor, even without moments like seeing Clint accidentally stuck inside of the iconic Rockefeller tree, the holiday spirit embedded in the episodes — and the classic “I’ll be home for Christmas” attitude — gives the show an undeniable charm. This interacts exceedingly well with Hawkeye’s humorous undertones, which are heavily carried by way of Clint’s sarcasm, Kate’s goofiness, Yelena’s deadpan jokes, and the unfettered chaos that is the Tracksuit Mafia.
The show’s plot unfurls intuitively as a result of Kate’s accidental run-in with the Tracksuit Mafia. And although it should feel busy juggling the introduction and budding team up between Clint and Kate with Ronin, the Tracksuits, Maya Lopez, Kingpin, Eleanor Bishop, Jack Duquesne, and Clint’s family, in reality all of these threads weave together to create a pretty seamless story. There’s even still time in between for so many other fantastic things, like Lucky the Pizza Dog, Rogers the Musical, Clint’s foray into the world of LARPing, and plenty of dangerous trick arrows.
Despite the fact that Jeremy Renner has been a staple of the MCU and the Avengers since his (small) first appearance in Thor, Clint has never been directly front and center in the various stories that have unfolded in the franchise. He was always limited to being a key supporting player, and his lack of superpowers often meant he fell to the wayside against his larger than-life-colleagues. Similar to Sam Wilson’s journey as seen in the MCU up through The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, Hawkeye proves yet again that great stories about heroes don’t need to be about epic powers and cosmic battles. In the words of Kate Bishop, “You showed me that being a hero isn’t just for people who can fly or shoot lasers out of their hands. It’s for anyone who’s brave enough to do what’s right, no matter the cost.”
As a long-time Clint Barton fan, it was very gratifying to see a story focused on him, and it was even better that it pulled inspiration from Matt Fraction and David Aja’s incredible comic series (and speaking of that, can we all just stop to appreciate those beautiful opening credits?). Renner has an extensive acting career outside of his time as the MCU’s (first) resident archer, and it really shows here, because he steps into the spotlight and carries Hawkeye with a practised ease.
Admittedly, going into the first two episodes, I wasn’t sure where Hailee Steinfeld’s portrayal of Kate Bishop would land for me in comparison to the existing character from the comics. That being said, I was more than happy to eat my words as she gracefully hit her stride by the third episode, delivering what was undeniably a fantastic performance wrapped in a bow. Steinfeld’s determined, humorous, and pure-hearted approach in her portrayal of Kate is exactly the type of young hero that the MCU needs in its lineup for Phase 4 and beyond.
In the comics, Kate Bishop is one of the leaders of the Young Avengers, a team whose members have slowly and quietly been trickling into the MCU. They were formed after Avengers Disassembled, a storyline that depicted the upheaval of the Avengers’ existing roster — sound familiar? In the wake of the dissent that began in Captain America: Civil War, which was later followed by the stinging losses in Avengers: Endgame, the time is ripe for a group of well-meaning kids to team up to try and save the world themselves. It remains to be seen if this is in the cards for Marvel Studios, but I feel entirely confident that Steinfeld can and will lead the charge as an integral pillar of the team.
Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova was an instant fan favorite following her introduction in Black Widow, quickly establishing herself as a promising facet of the future of the MCU at a time when new heroes and villains are popping up left and right. Fans were right to be excited about her imminent return in Hawkeye, because her dry-wit humor and the self-assured way that Pugh carries herself in this role fit like a glove within the show. Utilizing her character as a side plot to the Tracksuit Mafia business added necessary depth to the show, but it also provided some much needed closure for both Yelena and Clint.
While it was satisfying to finally see Natasha Romanoff fully in the spotlight in Black Widow, fans were still disappointed at the lack of funeral and overall fanfare around her tragic and heroic death in Endgame. Hawkeye may be a show about Clint Barton and Kate Bishop, but it’s also an emotional tribute to Natasha and a reminder that she hasn’t been forgotten. Viewers were able to get an up close and personal look at the grief, guilt, and residual trauma that Clint still feels over losing his best friend and the pain that the loss has inflicted on Yelena. Even though Yelena’s mission was initially fueled by rage, together the two were able to finally commiserate over the loss of Natasha.
It’s hard to believe that Hawkeye was newcomer Alaqua Cox’s first acting role. From the moment Maya Lopez was revealed at the end of episode 2, Cox hit the ground running as a strong, fierce character, commanding attention in all of her scenes. Now, I’m more excited than ever to see Cox return to the MCU to lead her own series — Echo — which Hawkeye did an excellent job at setting the stage for. A frequent scene partner of Cox, Fra Free was also fantastic in the role of Kazi Kazimierczak. Together, the two shared an obvious chemistry that made their tragic story hit hard by the finale.
Overall, Hawkeye once again serves as solid and undeniable proof that Marvel Studios can easily carry over the momentum of its success with its mammoth blockbuster titles to the small screen as well as it continues to pursue its collection of Disney+ Originals. Hawkeye stands its ground as a formidable entry for Phase 4 of the MCU, and now we can only hope that a well-deserved second season is in the cards for Clint Barton and Kate Bishop.