Who’s the worst Avenger? Settling the argument in song, the first episode of Hawkeye peaks during a lavish Broadway extravaganza, Rogers: The Musical. “The Hulk is incredible, smashing things up, While Iron Man takes to the sky”, sing the cast, all dressed as dancing chorus-line versions of Marvel’s greatest heroes. “Captain America’s strong and that Thor is a god, And Lord knows they’re easy on the eyes… Black Widow’s a knockout who can knock you out, And when Ant-Man flies you won’t hear a sound…” At this point, Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), who has been sat snarling in the audience, switches off his hearing aid and heads for the exit.
No longer cast as a supporting character in at least five other people’s stories, post-blip Hawkeye seems even more redundant than ever. Only really known for being able to shoot arrows reasonably quickly, he’s the least powerful, least charismatic, least recognisable member of the team, and he knows it. “Your problem is branding,” says young fan Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), spotting his disappointment when someone mistakes him for a Katniss Everdeen cosplayer in Times Square. “My problem is you,” he barks back, now more miserable than ever since he’s weighed down by a sidekick, a storyline and a legacy that he doesn’t really want.
It’s Christmas, and Barton is trying to get home to his wife and kids for the holidays. Reluctantly crossing paths with an over-eager superfan, the pair get dragged into a revenge plot that ties up the loose ends of Hawkeye’s Ronin days (see Avengers: Endgame for the references). Executive produced by Jonathan Igla (writer on Mad Men) and directed by Saturday Night Live regular Rhys Thomas and Bert & Bertie (the duo who made Amazon comedy drama Troop Zero), Hawkeye gives Clint six episodes to grab his own spotlight and step out of the shadow of the other Avengers. The only trouble is, he steps right into the shadow of someone else instead.
Part of Hawkeye’s trouble has always been Jeremy Renner. Always trying a bit too hard to convince us he has a personality, his blank slate persona looks even less refined here stood next to Hailee Steinfeld – who’s bright, grounded charisma lights up every scene of Hawkeye. There’s a clear mantle-passing narrative building up in episode one and two (and anyone who’s read Matt Fraction’s brilliant Hawkeye comic run knows exactly where this is headed), but you sort of have to feel bad for Renner: now not even cast as the star of his own spin-off series.
Bishop gets just enough backstory in episode one to set her up as Clint’s new protégé (saved by Hawkeye as a kid, trained in martial arts, archery and fencing, expert hacker, sassy, rich loner persona…) but the real adventure begins in the present day when her mum (a welcome Marvel debut from Vera Farmiga) invites a moustache-twirling new evil fiancé (Tony Dalton) into the family. A great wine cellar punch-up sees Bishop steal Clint’s old Ronin costume from a gang of Russian hoods, but her vigilante antics get noticed by all the wrong people – forcing Clint to step in and cut short his Christmas plans to help out.
There are bigger arcs starting to build early on (Dalton’s arrival cueing up new Marvel baddie Swordsman, Simon Callow’s mysterious dead uncle, a late cliffhanger cameo from a big new super), but Hawkeye’s intro episodes are mostly interested in setting the scene: a great, slick Christmas buddy comedy that’s all about giving Steinfeld a warm welcome to the MCU. With the Avengers 2.0 line-up still slowly being built out of upcoming films and spin-offs (She-Hulk? Sam Wilson’s Cap? Shang Chi? Florence Pugh’s Black Widow?), at least this time around the new Hawkeye is shaping up to be less of a dud.
- This year’s Baby Yoda is sure to be Lucky the one-eyed pizza dog. Already a big part of the comics, Lucky plays a big part in the Taskmaster storyline that may or may not be finding its way back into the MCU (after Olga Kurylenko’s take on the character in Black Widow)
- Rogers: The Musical is credited to Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the Broadway legends responsible for Hairspray and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Expect the fan petition to get the musical made for real to start soon…
- The chorus line “we’ll conquer the Chitauri then get shawarma when we’re done” is a nod to the end-credit sting joke from Avengers: Assemble (which apparently actually affected global shawarma sales)
- Tony Dalton’s dastardly looking Jack Duquesne is the alter ego of Marvel Comics supervillain Swordsman – a master fencing expert who wields a Mandarin-built super sword that shoots lasers
‘Hawkeye’ debuts on Disney+ tomorrow (November 24)