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Since his big screen introduction in 2011, Clint Barton’s Marvel Cinematic Universe journey hasn’t always hit the mark.
To recap: Jeremy Renner's cameo in Thor was almost a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair, and he spent the majority of The Avengers being mind-controlled by Loki. Age of Ultron offered a welcome corrective to that lack of screen time, establishing Barton’s family and making him more human, and while his part in Captain America: Civil War is smaller than anyone else’s, it’s effective.
The events of Infinity War — which Barton does not appear in — leads to the heartbreaking scene that opens Avengers: Endgame, in which Clint watches as his family turns to dust.
The path that that sets him on is a big reason why it's easy to be in two minds about the Hawkeye Disney+ series. On the one hand, the trailers have indicated that the show will be heavily influenced by Matt Fraction and David Aja’s tremendous Hawkeye comics run (seriously, seek it out if you haven’t already), and we are very much here for the introduction of Kate Bishop.
Watch a trailer for Hawkeye
But Endgame turned Jeremy Renner’s Barton into a mass-killer (with a really bad haircut, no less), and it seems that nobody — from the Avengers themselves, to anyone in S.H.I.E.L.D. — really cared enough to put a stop to it.
How do you reconcile that fact with what looks to be a jovially-toned series? If the first two episodes are anything to go by, the answer is… carefully. Because in the early going, Hawkeye gives us a nice balance of fun, low-level heroism without forgetting what Clint has been through, or what he’s done, or what he’s still suffering from.
We start with one of my favourite opening sequences to anything in the MCU, as we return to 2012’s 'Battle of New York' from a slightly different vantage point. In addition to learning why Hawkeye is her favourite Avenger, we get to see where a young Kate Bishop’s drive to protect people comes from, en route to a beautiful opening credits sequence that recaps her exploits and grows her up to the Hailee Steinfeld version of the character that we’ll be following.
The reintroduction of Clint is just as effective, for markedly different reasons. He’s in the audience for Rogers: The Musical (yes, it’s awesome, and yes, I need to see the full version immediately), but while everyone else is enjoying a musical recap of the Avengers’ greatest feats, no pride or joy crosses Barton’s face.
There’s only sadness for Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow, the Avenger — and more importantly, his best friend — who sacrificed herself to save the universe in Endgame. The fact that some still feel that Thanos was right is just another gut punch.
What Hawkeye looks to be setting up, then, is a past his prime sharpshooter (Clint has a hearing aid in this series, a great detail, ripped from the comics development that I would have loved to see happen in real time on screen) who is pretty much done with the hero gig, and an enthusiastic fangirl whose similar skillset and more optimistic mindset make her the perfect successor.
We have to wait until the end of the first episode for Clint and Kate to share the screen, but not only is much of that storytelling smart — Ronin and the truth about what Clint got up to while he was wearing that suit is sure to be a big focus of the series — but the pairing quickly proves to be a delight.
While Kate is excited and wants to learn all there is to know about being a hero from her idol, all Clint wants to do is be home in time for Christmas. Even though they’ve only spent an episode in each other’s orbit, they’re already beginning to rub off on each other. It’s fun to watch.
Other elements of the show haven’t quite caught fire yet. Vera Farmiga plays Kate’s mother Eleanor: she is clearly up to no good, but the series is being very patient about that inevitable reveal.
The mystery surrounding Eleanor, her fiancée Jack (a suitably smug Tony Dalton), a murder via sword, and a mysterious watch is yet to feel urgent. And while the action in the early going has been fine, we’re two episodes in and there hasn’t been a hint of arrow combat yet.
But this is still a stronger than expected start to the series, and I’m excited to see where it goes over the next four episodes.
From the quiver
Christophe Beck — who has done great MCU work on the Ant-Man films, and more recently WandaVision — is on score duties for Hawkeye, and I like how he’s playing around with classic Christmas tunes and blending it in with his original orchestral work.
It’s interesting to see what elements from the excellent Fraction comics this series is pinching and repurposing for the MCU. A lot of the stuff that happens to Clint on the page – like befriending Pizza Dog (who doesn’t get hit by a car, thank God) happens to Kate on screen.
The Tracksuit Mafia are also taken straight from the comics, and they’re just as hilarious on screen as they are on the page. Get ready to hear “bro” A LOT over the next few weeks.
Welcome back to MCU Wednesdays! Delighted to be reviewing Hawkeye here for the next few weeks. Hope you enjoy my coverage.