Fair warning: if you saw 2012’s The Avengers as an adult, the first episode of Hawkeye on Disney Plus is going to make you feel old. The Marvel Cinematic Universe TV series, set 12 years after Loki’s invasion of New York City, goes as far as recreating part of the seminal blockbuster in order to establish the influence it had on young Kate Bishop.
This isn’t like Avengers: Endgame and Loki, where it’s all framed by time-travel. Kate is nearly killed by a Chitauri before she’s saved by Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton. It’s a bold move, narratively and thematically placing Hawkeye at the forefront of the next generation of the Avengers Initiative. But after dozens of action movies, it’s also justified, and serves to make this corner of the world feel grounded and lived in. No better way to introduce Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate to the franchise; a skilled but over-confident archer looking to get away from her wealthy family’s expectations.
Over episodes 1 and 2 of the sci-fi series, Kate’s reverence for Hawkeye combined with her naivete leaves her in a sticky situation that forces Clint to make the save. There’s plenty of tropes at work – black market deals, shady rich guys, more cronies than your local pub during the Premier League – but it’s elevated by strong casting, and an emphasis on shaping the future of the MCU.
We get the Avengers reference early in episode 1, as a way of teeing up the contrast between our two heroes. On the one hand, Kate has become incredible with a bow and arrow, and she’s dead set on using that talent to do some good in the world, like her saviour all those years ago. Clint has unequivocally left avenging behind, now totally preoccupied with giving his children the best Christmas he can muster.
Their divide as the enthusiastic youth and the burned out elder makes for good tension, because as cool as it’ll be when they’re back-to-back with arrows out, you hate to see Clint’s festive family getaway interrupted. Especially since it’s because of his time as Ronin, the Punisher-like vigilante identity he adopted after Thanos’s snap, before they found a way to bring everyone back.
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But choices can have very unexpected consequences, and when Clint spies footage of someone playing pretend in the Ronin costume he quickly goes to confront them, finding Kate under the hood. Not quite how she imagined meeting her biggest inspiration, nor how he foresaw laying eyes on that outfit again.
Stealing the Ronin garb puts the two on a collision course with some shady figures, among them Kate’s stepdad, a smugly distrustful Brian d’Arcy James. The premise is solid, and well pieced together: Kate is in over her head, and Clint wants to get back to his kids in time for Christmas. Festive music, eloquently put together by composer Christophe Beck, lights, and decorations glimmer throughout, preying on our insecurities around seeing Christmas interrupted.
The drama is rooted in human conflict and personal stakes, drawing from Clint’s perspective as one of the purely unpowered Avengers. There’s no explosions like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, or mind-bending surrealism a la Loki and WandaVision. Kate argues with her mother, played by Vera Farmiga, while Clint plans holiday movie marathons. Even when things kick off, significant time is given to our two Hawkeyes waiting things out in a safehouse with Lucky the Pizza Dog.
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Once they’re together, velocity comes easy. Steinfeld is perfectly cast as Kate; warm, slightly brash, full of enthusiasm, an ideal audience advocate. A good foil to Renner’s tired, worn out soldier who just wants to go home, and grieve for his best friend surrounded by his family. Never quite as magnetic or convincing in the MCU as the likes of Chris Evans, Don Cheadle, or Scarlett Johansson, the material plays on Renner’s cynical side to entertaining results.
An impromptu LARP session makes for good comedy, showing us more of who Clint is away from all the fancy toys and secret compounds. Much as we might bristle at his cynicism, when you’ve been to the end of the world and back like he has, it’s understandable – he doesn’t have a lot of time for make believe. That’s where Kate comes in, showing unbridled passion for being a goodie at street level.
We don’t get to see much of her fighting skills, but what few moments there are – an impressive trick shot, and escaping some encroaching henchmen – suggest she has a few tricks up her sleeve. This isn’t quite the storming introduction eager fans might be looking for with Kate, caught up in uneven pacing as the two namesake protagonists are brought together.
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But such is the value in a miniseries, that we can have a transition that celebrates the hand giving the torch as much as the hand receiving it. Marvel Phase 4 is changing the MCU, and for the better. Kate Bishop has a lot to learn, but she has one of the most capable teachers the Avengers has to offer – and the best dog by her side.
Hawkeye premieres on Disney Plus on November 24.
Hawkeye episodes 1 and 2 review
Clint Barton and Kate Bishop’s Disney Plus series gets off on the right foot.