Hawkeye gets off to a fast start because it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

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Hawkeye gets off to a fast start because it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Hawkeye is a number of things. It’s a chance to spend more time with one of the lesser-known Avengers, an origin story for an up-and-coming hero, and a detective drama set against the backdrop of Christmas in New York City, as the MCU expands into yet another genre. Most importantly, it’s a Marvel show that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which makes the first two episodes unexpectedly enjoyable.

This review contains minor spoilers for Hawkeye’s first two episodes.

Despite being named after the Avenger with a bow, Hawkeye is really a story about two people. Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) is one of them, a surly hero and one-time vigilante who is now trying to enjoy life with his children, who were originally killed as part of Thanos’ genocidal plan. Clint and his family are seen attending a musical (a goofy show about the Avengers that features a singing Hulk) and taking his kids out for Chinese food in a stereotypical Christmas in New York montage. Despite his best efforts, time and countless battles have taken their toll. He zonks out, gets irritated when he’s recognized in public, and now wears a hearing aid as a result of standing too close to a few too many explosions.

Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) grew up idolizing Hawkeye to the point of becoming a state champion archer on the other side of the story. Their stories intersect when Kate rescues and then dons the Ronin costume — a key part of Clint’s story in the MCU — and engages in a fight with the Tracksuit Mafia, a criminal syndicate. Clint is forced to abandon his idyllic family time when he sees the Ronin suit on the news. Eventually, the two archers join forces, though Clint is a reluctant participant.

There’s a mystery surrounding the Ronin suit here, but the show’s highlight is Kate and Clint’s growing, often antagonistic, relationship. Of course, the original Hawkeye is adamantly opposed to it. He’s just trying to get everything back to normal as soon as possible so he can return to his family. At one point, he expresses to Kate that she is ruining his Christmas. Meanwhile, Kate has been longing for this moment since she was a child, and she refuses to let it pass her by. They have great combative chemistry, seemingly always approaching problems from the opposite direction. Clint gives her his phone number at one point but warns her that it is only for emergencies. He’ll “block and delete you” if you make personal calls. “Call you later!” Kate exclaims as he walks away. The chemistry is strong enough that even one of the MCU’s least appealing characters becomes likable.

The contrast between the self-serious, cynical Clint and his more energetic and charming counterpart is what makes the show work in the beginning. It is not limited to the characters. Hawkeye looks and feels like a gritty drama at times, such as during its Daredevil-style fight sequences or when Clint is irritated by fans trying to take selfies with him in the bathroom.

However, it is nicely balanced by all of the lighter moments. Hawkeye is at its best when it puts Clint, in particular, in ridiculous situations; at one point, he’s forced to participate in a LARP despite clearly not wanting to. My favorite scene was when a group of mobsters began bickering about New York real estate after someone made fun of their warehouse hideout. There’s even a pizza-eating dog named Pizza Dog (one of many references to Matt Fraction and David Aja’s run on the Hawkeye comics).

Not everything about Hawkeye works — its serious moments can come across as a little heavy-handed like some “Thanos was right” graffiti in a bathroom, and I’m not completely sold on the Christmas theme just yet — but its first two episodes make a strong first impression. Hawkeye, like the best of the MCU on Disney Plus thus far, including WandaVision and Loki, stands alone just enough to avoid superhero fatigue. That could change as the show progresses and becomes more connected to the larger MCU. However, it manages to transform a show about the least-fun Avenger into something with a surprising amount of heart and humor early on.

 

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