Hawkeye promises a whole lot of light fun and even some compelling new characters, but it also suffers from some of the biggest problems of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
There is a lot to like about Hawkeye at first glance. The series promises to elevate one of the less-examined Avengers and give him the spotlight. Fans always love when this happens, especially when the series has the backing of Matt Fraction, the comic writer who wrote a defining take on the character. We also have a new hero looking to take up the mantle of the archer, and Hailee Steinfeld is undeniably magnetic and enjoyable as Kate Bishop. Add to that the usual Marvel sense of humor and expected action and there’s plenty here to take the series to a really interesting place.
Unfortunately, Hawkeye looks to be another example of the worst parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe experiment. The biggest of these is something that kneecaps the entire series: this all feels like a lot of wheel-spinning to set up characters and potential stories for later. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been able to maintain its momentum thanks to fans always looking forward to the next thing. In the weakest of these projects, that is all they seem to serve. Hawkeye feels like one of the most shameless examples of this facet of Marvel storytelling.
The series clearly exists to give us a new Hawkeye in the form of Kate Bishop. And let’s be clear: Hailee Steinfeld becoming the new Hawkeye is a good idea. Steinfeld is easily the most compelling actor in the series and the entire endeavor is here to boost her up to the level of a marketable A-list superhero. She more than deserves that status, but there are a whole lot of boring crime stories and slow reveals that we have to trudge through to get to that eventual point. The limited series format is absolutely a great medium for certain stories, but this is one instance where the story probably could have been more successful as a two-hour movie.
But what of Jeremy Renner, the original Hawkeye? At this point, it is hard to not ascribe some sense of fatigue for him in the role. With the series obviously giving him a potential out as the hero, his exhaustion at having to deal with all the conflicts thrown into his path reads as the actor’s resignation peaking through. In some ways, this makes him the least interesting iteration of the character that we have seen in any Marvel project. Renner isn’t bad in the role, but there is a distinct feeling that he is ready to step out the door and leave all this to the new kid.
Marvel has struggled with their more “grounded” heroes this year. Between The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Black Widow, and now Hawkeye, there is a concern that maybe the Disney powers-that-be aren’t quite as in sync when it comes to these less fantastical stories in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The filmmaking is functionally pedestrian with little to no flair, and the world these characters exist in is rarely if ever creatively stimulating. We will have to see if Disney will allow some of these more “grounded” characters to go to grittier places, but as it stands, their strategy does not seem to be working. The criminal underworlds we see in Hawkeye are some of the least interesting we’ve seen from the House of Ideas.
Honestly, a lot of people are probably going to like Hawkeye. It is a totally digestible experience but one that feels extremely airy which makes its marshmallow structure blandly appealing. The agenda is clear as day that this entire story is little more than a stepping stone to greater things. There is very little reason to get invested in the characters since we know they are getting spinoffs or will be full-on replacing other heroes. Hawkeye makes very little argument for its own existence.
With Marvel on the verge of going truly bonkers with multiverse shenanigans and reality-warping stories, Hawkeye feels like it will end up being a quick wiki article scan to get caught up on where everything stands instead of its own standalone story. That’s a bummer for someone like Hailee Steinfeld who is going to be a great addition to the Marvel ensemble. Hopefully, the next time she shows up, it will be in a story that stands on its own two legs instead of another cardboard puzzle piece in the bigger Marvel picture.