Screen Time [Christmas Countdown]: Hawkeye

Air Date: 24 November 2021 to 22 December 2021
Network: Disney+
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Hailee Steinfeld, Tony Dalton, Alaqua Cox, Vera Farmiga, and Florence Pugh

The Background:
In one of their more blatant borrowings from their competitor, Stan Lee and Don Heck debuted Clint Barton/Hawkeye in the pages of Tales of Suspense all the way back in 1964. Originally introduced as a foil for Tony Stark/Iron Man, Hawkeye eventually became a member of the Avengers, was involved in some of Marvel’s most prominent storylines, and has even become a symbol of representation for the deaf community in recent years. Jeremy Renner helped the D-list archer become a household name after he was cast in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) but was very much restricted to a supporting role compared to his other, more compelling peers. Marvel Studios sought to change this with the launch of Disney+, and Hawkeye was one of the first characters slated to have his own show exclusive to the streaming platform, which executive producer Trinh Tran aimed to explore his backstory, his time as Ronin prior to Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), and introduce his protégé, Kate Bishop (Steinfeld), to the MCU. Accordingly, the show was heavily influenced by Matt Fraction’s comic book run, in which these elements (and Hawkeye’s deafness) were prominent features. The show aimed to delve deeper into Barton’s mindset and how the Snap had affected him, while also formally incorporating elements from Marvel’s Netflix shows into the MCU proper, and further lay the groundwork for a potential Young Avengers project. Despite issues caused by COVID-19, the six-episode series was highly praised when it debuted on Disney+; critics enjoyed the banter between the two archers, the seasonal setting, and the chance to spend more time with Barton, while also praising the grounded action sequences. While there has been no talk of a second series, a spin-off for deaf antagonist-cum-anti-hero Maya Lopez (Cox) was put into production for a 2023 release.

The Plot:
Former Avenger Clint Barton just wants to get back to his family for Christmas but his life is thrown into disarray when he crosses paths with would-be superhero Kate Bishop and is thrust into the middle of a conspiracy from his past that threatens to derail far more than the festive spirit.

The Review:
I mentioned in my review of his debut appearance that I’m not overly familiar with the character of Hawkeye; I’ve definitely read more stories of his DC Comics counterpart and Hawkeye generally just pops up in any stories I read that feature the Avengers or other Marvel Comics characters. As a result, while I’m familiar with Matt Fraction’s work with the character, I’m by no means a die-hard Hawkeye fan. I’ve always been a bit dismissive of him; this isn’t because he doesn’t have any superpowers, I’ve just never really been motivated to seek out his stories. However, having said that, I am a fan of Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of the character in the MCU; Hawkeye got a bit shafted in first Avengers movie, but has since become the heart (or, at least, moral compass) of the team. He’s shown himself to be a devoted family man, something none of his peers can boast of, a surrogate father and mentor and to have real emotional depth to his character, going on a killing spree as the vigilante Ronin after Thanos (Josh Brolin) wiped out half the universe (including Clint’s wife and kids, who eventually returned, of course) and being visibly broken after his best friend and partner, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), sacrificed herself to help undo Thanos’s actions. I think it’s cool that Hawkeye got the chance to spread his wings in a series devoted to him, but I do think Marvel Studios missed the chance to do a sort of spy/thriller set in the past that showed how Clint and Natasha first met and joined the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), which would also have shed new light on S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), but I suppose that still isn’t completely off the table and this is a good compromise as I can’t say for sure if a Hawkeye solo movie would land too well.

Burdened by grief, Clint is forced to protect Kate from the ghosts of his violent past.

When we catch up with Clint, he’s still carrying the grief and guilt over Natasha’s death; he’s unimpressed, to say the least, and somewhat insulted by Rogers: The Musical’s glorification of the Avengers and their strife and haunted by Natasha’s sacrifice. He’s also now shown to be partially deaf and wearing a hearing aid (which he turns off to spare himself Rogers’ cheesy songs and later, to tune out Kate’s incessant babbling) and is irked that the musical includes superheroes who weren’t even in the battle. And that’s not even mentioning the “Thanos Was Right” graffiti he spots in the men’s room; here’s a guy who lost everything, put his life on the line countless times, and lost his best friend to bring back untold billions of lost souls and his reward is seeing his exploits turned into a cringe-worthy stage show (Marvel Universe Live! had better action, costumes, and production value) and anonymous accusations that all that pain and loss was not only for nothing, but unappreciated by a certain few. He’s also shown to be uncomfortable with the hero worship some show him, dismissive and annoyed by fans, and cares little for his “branding”; in “Hide and Seek” (Thomas, 2021), Kate voices her concerns that he’s too “low key” to sell and thus has been denied his proper share of the limelight and a big part of their emerging partnership is her emphasising that Clint needs to open himself up more so he can inspire people the same way he did her. “Partners, Am I Right?” (Bert and Bertie, 2021) shows his counterargument to this; Clint has always seen himself as a weapon, rather than a hero or a role model, and he’s too traumatised and too weary from his losses and years of fighting to want to be in the public eye. Indeed, he begins the show simply wishing to spend a happy, if cringe-filled, Christmas with his kids – supportive daughter Lila (Ava Russo) and his sons, veritable blank slate Cooper (Ben Sakamoto) and young Nathanial (Cade Woodward). He’s stunned when he sees a report of his former murderous vigilante persona, Ronin, on the news and immediately sends his kids back home to their mother, Laura (Linda Cardellini); haunted by the deaths he caused while in the guise, Clint makes it his mission to track down whoever’s in the getup to protect them from reprisals and is aghast to find Kate under the mask. Concerned for her welfare, Clint’s paternal instincts kick in and he takes her to safety; dismissive of her because of her age and claim to be “the world’s greatest archer”, despite her obvious talent with a bow, Clint wants only to dispose of the Ronin suit, tie up his loose ends with the Tracksuit Mafia, and get back to his family for Christmas; he has no interest in a partnership or teaching Kate anything at first, but they slowly bond throughout the events of the show despite his crotchety nature.

Kate is overjoyed to be joining forces with her idol and applying her skills to superheroics.

While the show bares the name of Clint’s alter ego and his strife and character are at the forefront of the narrative, Hawkeye is, primarily, the Kate Bishop show. The series begins with a flashback showing young Kate (Clara Stack), already a keen archer, being inspired by Hawkeye’s bravery and heroism during the Chitauri attack on New York City, which left Kate’s father, Derek (Brian d’Arcy James), dead and saw her and her mother, Eleanor (Farmiga), saved by one of Hawkeye’s arrows. Vowing to protect herself, her mother, and others in the same way as her hero, Kate grew up studying fencing, archery, and martial arts; the first episode’s opening credits are essentially an animated montage showcasing Kate’s tenacity and will to succeed but, while she’s certainly gifted with a bow and in a fight, she’s young, inexperienced in the field, and has no real idea of how to best use her skills. This comes up constantly throughout the show as she’s forced to think on her feet, react to dangers with either fast thinking or her martial arts skill, and use her surroundings to her advantage, all of which shows her to be highly adaptable, but in over her head. However, she has good intentions; she puts herself on the line to rescue a one-eyed stray dog, Lucky (Jolt), and manages to scramble through most fights through luck, perseverance, and the element of surprise. Kate briefly adopts the Ronin identity when she becomes suspicious of her mother’s new fiancé, the swashbuckling, charismatic Jack Duquesne (Dalton), and becomes caught up in a murder mystery after finding Jack’s uncle, Armand Duquesne III (Simon Callow), dead from a sword wound. Since the Tracksuit Mafia have a grudge against Ronin, and Kate’s not exactly a pro at covering her tracks, she quickly finds herself a target and is blown away when her hero, Hawkeye, rescues her. She’s disheartened to learn that he plans to part ways with her as soon as the suit is destroyed and when he shows reluctance to teach her anything, but she remains persistent; when Clint allows himself to be captured by the Tracksuits to try and warn them off her, she uses her mother’s security company to track him and literally comes crashing in to rescue him. Though aggravated by Kate’s recklessness, inexperience, and methods when it comes to dealing with criminal scumbags (she’s just as likely to offer them relationship advice as she is a beatdown), Clint genuinely wants to keep her safe and thus severs their fledgling partnership when Yelena Belova (Pugh) becomes involved. Though devastated at failing to live up to her promise and the example of her hero and his fellow Avengers, a candid discussion with Yelena only fuels Kate’s desire to be a part of that life and she openly defies him, her mother, and her naysayers to aid her hero and show that she’s more than capable of living up to the mantle of Hawkeye.

Family is at the heart of Hawkeye and drives much of the plot and its characters.

Family is a key component of Hawkeye; Clint is torn between cleaning up the mess from his blood-soaked past and spending Christmas with his family; having already lost so much time with them during his days as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (essentially a glorified assassin) and Avenger, to say nothing of the five years he spent indulging his violent whims as Ronin, Clint just wants to have a quiet, peaceful life with his wife and kids and is constantly heartbroken at the prospect of breaking his promise to be home for the holidays. Refreshingly, his relationship with his kids is as strong as his marriage; his kids are generally understanding, sympathetic, and supportive of him, as is Laura, who never gives him a hard time or yells at him for prioritising his mission over his family. It’s not like Clint needs the guilt trip, either, as he carries the burden of potentially letting his family down throughout the show and nowhere is this evidenced better than during his heart-breaking phone call with Nate where, thanks to having lost his hearing aid, he’s forced to rely on Kate to act as an interpreter. As a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent herself, Laura understands Clint’s mission; his desperate desire to not only get rid of the Ronin suit but also recover a mysterious watch with ties to her past is only further fuelled by repeated references to the “big guy”, a dangerous individual who makes even the ridiculous Tracksuit Mafia more of a threat. Although he has no interest in taking on a partner after losing Natasha, Clint comes to see Kate as an equal and almost a surrogate daughter, and even builds his own network of allies after being forced to endure the theatricality of a group of live-action roleplaying gamers (LARPer) to retrieve the Ronin suit from firefighter Grills (Clayton English). Family is incredibly important to Kate, too; she’s more than a little perturbed to find Eleanor is engaged to someone else and, despite Jack’s efforts to be understanding and friendly, she is cold and aloof towards him. This turns to suspicion when she discovers a link between him and the Tracksuit Mafia; however, Eleanor refuses to listen to Kate’s claims and is horrified when she forces him into a fencing duel, accusing her of lashing out due to being at a crossroads in her life and still grieving over the loss of her father. Still, Kate is torn between being genuinely pleased with her mother’s newfound happiness and her vow to keep her safe; it brings her no pleasure to deliver evidence of Jack’s presumed misgivings, but she’s devastated to learn that he’s merely a patsy and that Eleanor has been orchestrating events to pay off a debt her husband owed to the “big guy”, none other than the kingpin of crime himself, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio).

Backed by her goons, and against Fisk’s wishes, Maya is determined to avenge herself on Ronin.

The show’s themes of family are also exemplified in Maya Lopez, the head of the Tracksuit Mafia, whom Fisk regards as a daughter and one of his greatest assets. Deaf since birth, Maya communicates only through sign language (with helpful subtitles often appearing for our benefit) and violence thanks to being raised by her doting father, William Lopez (Zahn McClarnon), to be a keen fighter, thinker, and to closely observe and anticipate the movements and intentions of others using her other senses. Maya is thus a brutal and highly skilled fighter despite her lack of hearing and artificial foot; she was devested when Ronin murdered her father, the original head of the Tracksuit Mafia, and vowed to hunt him down and kill him, a vendetta that causes her close friend and second-in-command, Kazimierz “Kazi” Kazimierczak (Fra Free), to grow concerned not just for her welfare but for attracting undue attention to their organisation and angering the Kingpin. Distrustful and filled with rage, Maya has her goons target Kate as she’s their only lead to Ronin and refuses to listen to Clint’s claims that the vigilante is dead or Kazi’s attempts to reason with her; Clint goes so far as to ask Kazi to convince Maya to veer from her path as it can only lead to her destruction. Although Clint has the edge in terms of experience and adaptability, Maya proves the more agile and skilled of the two with her kicks and flips; still, Clint is able to subdue her and threatens to kill her if she continues to target his friends and family. Using a mixture of words and sign language, he attempts to relate to her since they’re both essentially living weapons but she only relents when she’s faced with the irrefutable proof that it was Fisk who ordered her father to be killed. As if Maya wasn’t bad enough, she has a whole gaggle of tracksuit-wearing goons at her disposal; the Tracksuit Mafia are a quirky bunch who all wear matching clothes and repeatedly end their sentences with “Bro”. The Tracksuits exhibit an amusing and interesting amount of personality; while they all dress and somewhat sound, look, and act alike, they’re not just mindless minions. They mock Clint and Kate, subjecting them to nonstop Christmas tunes while tied to kiddie rides, enjoy RUN DMC’s “Christmas in Hollies”, are fond of their lairs and offended when people question them and their methods, and are seen as both ruthless and clumsy, which ties into the themes of vulnerability and flawed characters.

Yelena is determined to kill Clint, while Fisk seeks to consolidate his stranglehold on New York.

Family is also a driving motivation behind Yelena’s vendetta; a flashback shows that, after the end of Black Widow (Shortland, 2021), Yelena was snapped away while freeing her fellow “sisters” from their programming. From her perspective, she instantly returned, finding her surroundings changed and life having moved on five years in the literal blink of an eye. Disorientated, her first thought was to find Natasha and she was devastated to learn that she was not only dead, but that Clint was responsible. I get that she’s blinded by rage and grief, but she’s very quick to judge Clint based on his bloody past considering how shady her own past is. Still, despite wishing to kill Clint, Yelena goes out of her way to warn Kate off him using her own signature (and awkward) brand of persuasion and even respects Kate’s ability and tenacity (it’s clear that she’s holding back during their encounters), but cannot condone her admiration of the man she believes killed her sister. Her final confrontation with Clint sheds some light on her motivations; refusing to fight, Clint relates a version of what happened to Natasha and takes a massive beating as Yelena works her grief out on him, blaming him for not fighting or trying harder and he’s only able to get through to her by sharing the secret whistle and knowledge he has of her from Natasha. It seems she’s jealous of the time Clint got to have with her and for not being there to try and stop her, and she finally realises that they both loved her and that she’s been consumed by anguish and gives up her vendetta (though their relationship remains noticeably frosty). And then there’s Fisk, making his official debut in the MCU and, presumably, tying the events of the Marvel Netflix shows closer to this shared universe; forced into a business arrangement with Fisk to pay off Derek’s debt, Eleanor angers the Kingpin when she not only tries to back out of their arrangement to keep Kate from knowing the truth but also tries to blackmail him. Garbed in his trademark white suit, Fisk exudes the same menace and authority as he did in Daredevil (2015 to 2018) with even the subtlest movements and it’s honestly fantastic to see him brought in as such a threat. He’s dangerous enough to put the wind up Clint and is known for reacting to insults with ruthless aggression; his threat is so tangible that Clint finally recognises Kate as his partner and vows not to leave until he’s been dealt with. Having trained and raised her as his own, Fisk admires Maya and demonstrates a respect and love for her but remains a natural manipulator and has a rage seemingly boiling under his skin. The audacity of Eleanor and Maya’s actions, and the reappearance of Ronin, enrages and insults him, leading to him personally attacking Eleanor after his plot to have Kazi assassinate her backfires. Here, we see his incredibly physical strength; he easily rips off a car door, shrugs off and breaks Kate’s arrows, and even survives being hit by a car and caught in an explosion when Kate’s forced to rely on her trick arrows to counter Fisk’s near-superhuman strength. Although wounded, the Kingpin manages to flee, only to be confronted by Maya; his attempts to reason with her apparently fall on deaf ears (…no pun intended) and result in his death at her hands, though we don’t actually see the shot or him die so I’m confident he’ll resurface at some point.

The Summary:  
Hawkeye stands out from much of the MCU by taking place during the Christmas season, which is a prominent theme throughout the series and lights, decorations, snow, and Christmas songs are everywhere. Even the first episode’s opening credits, styled after the art of David Aja, are sprinkled with Christmassy bells and tunes, and Clint’s primary goal is to get home to his family for the holidays. Although Kate constantly digs at him for refusing to open up to others and share his feelings, he’s only like this about the superhero life and his past; he relishes Christmas with his family, watching movies and wearing terrible jumpers and such, and a lot of his closed off nature is as much from his resentment at missing out on family time as it is the ghosts of his past. These ghosts are prominent elements throughout the show; although Clint is one of the more low-key Avengers, he has his fans and a reputation as a hero, which makes him extremely uncomfortable as he doesn’t want or ask for any thanks or special treatment but it proves useful in getting them information and co-operation from the LARPers and even winning the trust of Eleanor and Jack. However, this comes with a price; when Kate comes over with pizza and Christmas decorations, he accidentally lets slip a story about Natasha and, struggling with his grief, is barely able to tell Kate a version of his decision not to assassinate her and gets emotional reminiscing about her and the loss of his family during the Blip. This particular ghost resurfaces when Kate is tossed over a rooftop by Yelena; this time, Clint chooses to lower his would-be-partner to safety, and he makes a special trip to a plaque in the Avengers’ honour to bare his soul to his fallen friend when he makes the difficult decision to briefly return to the Ronin persona. Clint’s past is a driving reason behind Yelena’s distrust and hatred towards him; she questions why everyone has forgiven him for his murderous actions and Kate’s loyalty to someone she barely knows, especially after she deduces that he was the violent Ronin.

Archery, brutal hand-to-hand combat, and fun trick arrows make for some intense action scenes.

While Hawkeye’s emphasis is very much more on being an intriguing thriller full of character moments, there’s a fair amount of action peppered throughout to keep things visually interesting and engaging. Though just a man, Clint is extremely adept in a fight; he and Kate are similar in that they’re both adaptable and have to fight tooth and nail since they lack superpowers, though their accuracy with a bow borders on the superhuman at times. Clint is easily able to break or slip free of his bonds (amusingly leaving Kate clueless as to how he managed this), makes a habit of taking in and assessing his surroundings and potential threats, and is able to make seemingly impossible shots often without even looking. Both he and Kate can engage with multiple opponents at any one time, though Clint has the edge in experience even though the loss of his hearing aid can leave him disorientated. Their fighting and archery skills are at the heart of many of the show’s action sequences; there’s a recurring subplot regarding the retrieval and creation of Clint’s trick arrows, which allow him to blow up, ensnare, electrocute, disable, and even enlarge and shrink targets. Probably one of the best action sequences is in “Echoes” (Bert and Bertie, 2021) where Clint and Kate struggle to communicate when he’s rendered functionally deaf and must fight off Maya, Kazi, and the Tracksuits in a high-speed pursuit in a sequence taken almost beat for beat from Matt Fraction’s comic run. Yelena also contributes to some intense and thematically interesting fight scenes; her clashes with Kate are more like amusing scuffles between sisters since she’s not actually trying to hurt or kill the young archer, but her fight with Clint is as brutal and emotionally charged as Maya’s battles with the former Avenger since both are hellbent on avenging themselves on their opponent.

The show goes to great lengths to show the wear and tear this life has on its all-too-human characters.

This ties into one of the most intriguing aspects of Hawkeye; the depiction of emotional and physical vulnerability. As stated, and demonstrated, Clint isn’t superhuman and nowhere is this more evident than in this show, which routinely shows him applying frozen foods and ice packs to his many aches, pains, and bruises. Indeed, Kate is disappointed when her first lesson from her hero isn’t how to do anything exciting but how to dress and treat her wounds, and Clint repeatedly relates how living the superhero life has caused him a great deal of losses. Not only has he seen friends and colleagues perish, but he’s lost out on time with his family, is dealing with the burden of age and wear and tear, and a lifetime of explosive, high-octane action and dangerous situations have cost him his hearing. Kate, however, remains undeterred; she’s determined to learn from his example of being a regular person standing up to impossible situations and continuously tries to change his image and make him see that he’s an admirable hero since, while he has made his fair share of mistakes, his bravery and refusal to abandon her to her fate prove that’s not just some cold-blooded killer. Although she’s been raised in luxury and Clint sees her as somewhat spoiled, Kate has fought and grafted her whole life; she threw herself into her training specifically to live up to Hawkeye’s example and starts the series cut off from her mother’s money after damaging the college bell tower, meaning she has to break into the family home and her mother’s files to dig up any dirt on Jack. Vulnerability also comes into play with Maya; like Clint, she’s essentially a living weapon but one not yet slowed by age and injury. Rather than be a victim of her handicaps, Maya has learned to embrace them and use them to her advantage, proving to be an aggressive and driven adversary, but she’s just as vulnerable as Clint and Kate. Kazi is on hand to tend to her wounds but takes no pleasure in seeing her hurt, or on such a self-destructive path. It’s clear there’s more to their relationship than just being colleagues; she’s devastated when Kazi chooses his loyalty to the Kingpin and their criminal lifestyle over her and, just as she refused to give up her vendetta against Robin so too does he refuse to walk away and be with her, leading to a fight between the two that leaves him dead at her hand, much to her heartbreak.

An intense and engaging series that bodes well for the MCU’s street-level projects.

Overall, I was very impressed with Hawkeye. In this day and age, with where the MCU is now with all these cosmic, multiversal adventures, I can understand why some people might be disappointed to see things coming back down to Earth, literally and figuratively, for a more grounded series but, personally, I really enjoy that we can be galivanting around at the edge of perceiving reality one minute and then tackling street-level crime the next. Hawkeye is definitely the kind of character you want for a series like this and I’m really glad that Marvel Studios haven’t neglected to put some serious focus on their street-level superheroes; there’s so many stories to tell with guys like Hawkeye and villains like the Kingpin and it really helps to show how this world is alive and breathing both out in the universe and at home. While I’ve never been a massive Hawkeye fan, it was fascinating seeing a very human (if still very skilled), flawed hero grumbling and snarking his way through another jaunt into that life. The relationship between Clint and Kate was fantastic, with her being more optimistic and unorthodox in her methods and a quick study once Clint chose to actually share his knowledge, making her a fun addition to the MCU and, presumably the Young Avengers. The icing on the cake was including the Kingpin and I really hope we see more from him in Maya’s spin-off and future shows, but Hawkeye really impressed me with its deconstruction of what it means to be a superhero in the MCU and the toll that life can take on someone who just wants to leave the violence behind. And I haven’t even mentioned the glorious slice of cheese that was Rogers: The Musical and have only touched upon some of the intense action and exchanges seen in the film, all of which carry so much more gravitas as we see these characters hurt, dealing with the fallout from their fights and physical trauma, and struggling to cope with the burden of their past or living up to their expectations, whether self-imposed or otherwise.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you enjoy Hawkeye? What did you think to the themes of grief, vulnerability, and family explored in the series? Did you enjoy the exploration of Clint, the insight into his background, and the relationship between him and Kate? What did you think to Kate and are you excited to see her return as Hawkeye going forward? Were you surprised to see the Kingpin make his return/debut and how would you like to see him used in the MCU in the future? What did you think to Maya and Yelena and their vendettas against Clint? Whatever you think about Hawkeye, drop your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media.

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