First look Disney+ TV review: Hawkeye
Ivan Radford | On 01, Dec 2021
This review is based on the first three episodes and contains minor spoilers. New episodes arrive weekly on Wednesdays.
Forever the “other one” of the Avengers, Hawkeye finally gets to take centre stage in Hawkeye, a Disney+ series that gives the archer a solo outing. It’s a suitably small scale affair for a hero whose strength has always been that he’s not super – and Jeremy Renner’s charismatic performance has always been a perfect fit for the Marvel bow, because his downbeat, hangdog, everyman presence is at once amusing, wry and relatable.
When we catch up with him, he’s even more hangdog than usual, having made it through the events of Marvels Phase 1 to 3, and feeling guilty for surviving this far when others haven’t (see Avengers: Endgame). Infinity War, in particular, left its mark on the archer, after he went rogue as Ronin, a vengeful samurai vigilante. Now? He’s put away that suit and just wants to enjoy Christmas with his family, who – in a painfully astute touch – are used to him not being around.
We first see him here in the audience for Broadway hit Rogers: The Musical, the kind of playfully self-aware send-up of Marvel’s own back catalogue that the MCU does in its sleep, and while the songs on stage are hilarious, Renner doesn’t chuckle once.
Hailee Steinfeld couldn’t be more his opposite as Kate Bishop, a young woman who was saved by Hawkeye in the Battle of New York and has since pursued archery in a bid to become her idol’s equal. After accidentally damaging college property in an archery stunt (as you do), she ends up back at home in the bad books of her mother, Eleanor (Vera Farmiga), who is now hooking up with new fiancé Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton, delivering each line with a suspicious glint). Dragged along to a charity gala, she ends up in a black market auction where the Ronin suit goes under the hammer – and so her path is set to cross with Hawkeye, who has to wade back into New York’s criminal underworld to clear up the ensuing mess.
The result is a buddy comedy double-act that’s naturally entertaining, thanks to Steinfeld’s pitch-perfect enthusiasm and Renner’s laconic frown – she’s desperate to learn anything she can from him, and he couldn’t care less. When it comes to character and conversations, the series is wonderfully observed, not least in the way that the scripts explore the fact that Hawkeye now has a hearing aid – something that underscores that his heroic days are over, but also, when caught without it, leaves him poignantly trying to reassess what he needs and depends on and who he is. Renner conveys all this in one heart-wrenching phone call with his family.
The problem, though, is that our perfectly paired partners have nothing to do – in three episodes, the series throws them into all manner of scenarios, from LARPing to showdowns with the “Tracksuit Mafia”, but struggles to find any semblance of plot or momentum. The introduction of Echo (Darnell Besaw), the daughter of one of the Tracksuit Mafia’s members, opens up an interesting and fresh perspective on superheroics. But she’s teased at the end of Episode 2 in a way that means nothing to anyone who hasn’t read Marvel comics before and, even in the third episode, doesn’t get much more to do than leave us wondering what she might do next. (The answer, inevitably, is go on to star in her own solo Disney+ series.)
While the action does eventually set in, with the fun of trick arrows promised by the trailer, none of it ties anything together – Hawkeye’s bemused reaction to Kate’s obsession with Jack, whom she is convinced is up to no good (but without much evidence), sums up how uneven the storytelling has been in what is still essentially the first act of the narrative. There’s style aplenty, thanks to Christophe Beck’s score – which playfully riffs on festive classics – and it’s refreshing to see the MCU think small for once, but Hawkeye ironically repeats the mistake made by The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: it’s a series that you suspect would work better as a feature film.
Hawkeye is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.