Hawkeye was always poised to bring the multiverse’s focus back to “normal”. A story surrounding two non-superpowered archers taking on street-level organized crime is undoubtedly a far cry from most of Phase Four’s entries, particularly the previous four running up to it. The series is certainly a back-to-basics return to form and it is too early to tell if that will be Hawkeye’s greatest weapon or chink in its armor.
The nature of the show could raise plenty of questions and invoke compelling human themes in times of vast cosmic and reality expansion. For example, can a project that feels like it could belong in Phase One or Two be successful or viable in the MCU’s current context? How will the MCU handle the very different passing down of another major mantle in the face of the upcoming onslaught of legacy heroes in the franchise? What does the series want to say about the mantle’s legacy versus Clint Barton’s? While no single episode could answer any of those questions, the premiere of Hawkeye didn’t really seem to acknowledge any of it. Instead, it felt generic and somewhat empty, doing mostly surface-level work that might be indistinguishable from previous New York-centric and street-level Marvel TV shows.
Episode 1 feels like the primer of all primers. We catch up with Clint Barton, who we last saw going through the time travel and universe-threatening wringer of Avengers: Endgame. While Hawkeye may have always been the “lame Avenger,” Clint was given some of the most substantial off-screen narrative of any character, so it feels natural to get individual time with him. Clint is with his kids, enjoying New York before Christmas about two years after the events of Endgame. Depending on what you’re looking for from Clint Barton after all this time, you might feel a bit underwhelmed by Jeremy Renner’s performance. He is fairly one-note, cynical, dismissive, and simply tired. But look a little deeper, and it’s fair to say that Renner is playing Clint skillfully. Clint is all of those things, and the idea that a man that has gone through nearly every Avengers ordeal plus his own Blip trauma would be much more than a shell of a human being is somewhat absurd.
Still, the stormy gray cloud hanging over Clint, and the series, is his stint as the crime-hunting, murdering vigilante Ronin during the five years that his family—along with half of the universe—was gone. Despite this major player of a concept, Episode 1 treats it fairly flippantly. It’s there, it’s what brings him and Kate together eventually, but it’s just…there. The series has plenty to go to flesh it out more aggressively if it chooses to do so. To not would seem to waste and off-handedly play off one of the character’s biggest arcs (though like most of his arcs, it’s mostly off-screen). There is a rumbling in this episode of how Clint views himself both as Clint Barton and Hawkeye. There are multiple moments where he is recognized by the general public, and he seems uncomfortable with the attention but surprisingly comfortable with the superhero identity. He isn’t second-guessing his worth as a hero, but he isn’t thinking about it much either. It seems predictable that his inner workings will be exposed more vibrantly throughout the series, but right now we are very much still at the starting line.
The episode spends maybe most of its time introducing and priming Hailee Steinfeld’s newcomer, Kate Bishop. The episode starts with Kate rather than Clint, and we see a very quick but well-established origin story for the young archer. The rest of her time in the episode is spent on her finding herself witnessing her mother Eleanor’s (played by Vera Farmiga) new fiancé Jacques Duquesne (played by Tony Dalton) participate in some underground criminal organization. The episode spends an interestingly large amount of time on Kate snooping around the basement of the high society gala where a black-market auction is taking place, mostly staring at the event through shelved wine bottles. Eventually, the auction is attacked and Kate dons the Ronin suit that had been up for grabs to try and take on the tracksuit mafia that invades the joint.
There, we see some of her physical skills come into play. But it feels like we are still lacking in some of her personality. Kate undoubtedly has personality, but the drudging focus on setting up an underlying criminal plot—in the form of mostly Kate being resentful and skeptical of Jacques and watching very generic crime play out in front of her. Her relationship with her mother is also set up to be something more interesting down the line, but it also lacks spark right now. Her bell/clock tower destruction and a few of her quips served to highlight her character, but she was often lost in the otherwise standard and so far forgettable crime plot that Hawkeyeseems to be laying out for the audience with a heavy hand.
Ultimately, Kate masquerading as Ronin for the evening leads Clint to find her to retrieve the suit. The fact that Clint springs into action so quickly at the first sighting of a presumed Ronin sighting speaks to, hopefully, some of his stronger emotions on the issue yet to come. It is in the last seconds of the episode that Clint and Kate actually meet one another. The arguably slow pace of their pairing is to be expected and is probably necessary given the need to establish a new character and re-establish a known but often overlooked one. Still, considering the rest of the episode felt a bit flat and not particularly noteworthy, it was a bit of a disappointment for the credits to roll right after the truly exciting moment.
The premiere of Hawkeye establishes that the series is taking the superhero game back to its basics. With that comes ample potential, both positive and negative. The series is in a prime position to do some phenomenal character work and tell a story that is both literally and figuratively grounded. It could be a refreshing note for the MCU and perhaps triumphantly usher in more of the “ordinary” heroes and stories once again. Still, the series has the potential to be generic—so far, there is little plot despite spending a great deal of time on it this episode, and the plot that exists isn’t anything noteworthy yet. Episode 1 shows too little a bit too uneventfully, but it clearly is meant to be a starting point and a foundation for the main characters and the ensuing adversarial plot pieces down the line. Only time will tell if “ordinary” will simply fall flat as being just that, or if it will manage to carve out a satisfying and memorable piece of the MCU pie.