Hawkeye Review: Jeremy Renner And Hailee Steinfeld Are Superb In Marvel's Street-Level Superhero Series

More often than not, Hawkeye has been a punchline in Marvel Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only is he one of only two members of the Avengers without superpowers, but his weapon of choice is a bow and arrow. However, in the pages of comics, Matt Fraction and David Aja revealed a new side to the archery-adept Avenger, and Marvel Studios is about to do the same by adapting their comic book run into the "Hawkeye" TV series coming to Disney+ on November 24.

Based on the first two episodes of "Hawkeye" made available to press, this is a refreshingly low stakes, street-level superhero series that gives Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) room to breathe, even as it crowds his personal space and upends his family Christmas with an aspiring but promising young hero by the name of Kate Bishop, played perfectly by Hailee Steinfeld. This new dynamic duo soars in "Hawkeye," even if the plot at the center of the holiday-set series doesn't necessarily command attention from the get-go. 

A New Hero Enters the Marvel Cinematic Universe

"Hawkeye" begins by taking us all the way back to 2012. A couple are arguing about being able to afford the upscale New York City residence in which we find them. While the father thinks everything will work out just fine, the mother believes the comfortable life that he's lived has made him delusional, when a real problem falls into their lap. This is Eleanor and Derek Bishop (Vera Farmiga and Brian d'Arcy James), the parents of young Kate Bishop, who is not so sneakily trying to listen by climbing her dresser and listening through an air vent. When she accidentally knocks something to the ground, Mom and Dad know what's up, and it's clear that Dad is the one who typically deals with stuff like this. 

After a nice little heart-to-heart where Kate's father passes down some sage advice, Mr. Bishop heads off to do some work in his home office, leaving his daughter to spend some time bonding with her mother. But before the two can begin playing checkers and having lunch, they're interrupted by quite the disturbance. It's 2012, and the Battle of New York between the Avengers and Loki and his Chitauri alien army is about to begin.

Explosions rattle the luxurious New York apartment and suddenly aliens can be seen flying by the windows, blasting lasers around the city. In an impressive single-shot take, we see Kate slowly become more and more scared of what's happening outside her home. Through the massive overhead skylight, one of the colossal Chitauri leviathans slowly slinks through the air. Kate Bishop has a front row seat to the assembly of the Avengers, but it's hardly an experience she'll cherish. However, she's about to get a dose of inspiration in one of the most terrifying moments of her life. After a huge hole is blown in the side of her home, she's nearly attacked by a Chitauri soldier flying towards her house, until an arrow disintegrates the vehicle on which its riding. That's when she sees that famous, heroic shot of Hawkeye leaping off the corner of a skyscraper while simultaneously shooting arrows at Chitauri enemies. But this will hardly be an experience she cherishes. 

Kate and her mother may have survived the Battle of New York unscathed, but her father wasn't so lucky. At her father's funeral, young Kate Bishop vows to protect her and her mother. Though Eleanor reassures the kid that's her job as a mother, Kate is already one step ahead of her, and she immediately asks for a bow and arrow.

This is our introduction to Kate Bishop, and this opening scene makes it clear that on top of being a series that gives us more time with Hawkeye, it's also her origin story. In case you need any more evidence of that, a stylish credits sequence featuring animation inspired by Matt Fraction and David Aja "Hawkeye" comics actually fills in the gap between 2012 and where we're about to find the character in her college years. In a Marvel Studios first, this credits sequence actually does some storytelling by showing us all the skills that Kate Bishop has acquired over the years. Not only does she quickly become a gifted archer, but she's also well-trained in martial arts, fencing, and gymnastics, making her quite the impressive young woman who is ripe for suiting up as a superhero.

Christmas with Clint

In the present day, Clint Barton is getting ready to enjoy Christmas with his family. Before heading back to the Barton homestead, Clint and his three kids are partaking in a Broadway show in the form of "Rogers: The Musical," which provides yet another perspective on the Battle of New York by way of a low-rent but lively stage production that puts an upbeat spin on an event that was actually quite harrowing for those involved, including Barton himself. It's a hilarious high-point in the show in the cheesiest way possible, and it'll make fans want to see a full-fledged Avengers musical, or at least the uncut version of this particular musical number that has plenty of hammy references to "The Avengers."

But the Avenger's thoughts aren't back in 2012. Instead, they drift away to a more recent tragedy when the Broadway version of Black Widow cartwheels across the stage. From the get-go, it's clear that "Hawkeye" is going to let us dig into the character more than ever before. The series lets the weight of being a superhero when there isn't a world-ending scenario sit on the shoulders of the audience, and it's a little uncomfortable. All the things that people admire the Avengers for are sources of trauma and harrowing emotions for these superheroes. That's especially true for Hawkeye, who has started to feel the repercussions of his heroics by losing his hearing, forcing him to wear a hearing aid. Plus, it doesn't help that everywhere people recognize him for his heroics, even if they're kind and thankful for it. 

Though Barton is distracted by these distressing thoughts, he's still squarely focused on giving his family a great Christmas. The holidays are probably much more meaningful for Barton after his entire family was snapped away for five years at the hands of Thanos. As "Avengers: Endgame" revealed, this tragic turn of events took Barton down a dark spiral that turned him into the ruthless assassin known only as Ronin. Coincidentally enough, it's his grim tenure as this lethal killer that will put him on a path with Kate Bishop.

An Assembly of Archers

As a college-aged adult, Kate Bishop can't help but get herself into trouble. Since she's grown up with a comfortable lifestyle, she's a little entitled when it comes to doing what she wants without facing much of the consequences. However, rather than turning her into a selfish, arrogant brat, it's made her a confident but meddlesome aspiring hero who can't help but speak her mind, no matter how brash it might be. Steinfeld manages a performance that is self-sure without being overly cocky. She's quick-witted, fast-thinking, and seemingly unafraid of throwing herself into danger when she thinks something nefarious is afoot. That's especially true when it comes to trusting or even tolerating her mother's boyfriend Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton). Immediately, it's clear that Duquesne can't be trusted, but Kate isn't exactly sure why, and the audience is never explicitly told in these first two episodes. Dalton certainly leans into his presumed villainous nature in an almost cartoonish fashion — even his mustache seems like it can't be trusted. But otherwise, we're left in the dark as to what his underlying intentions might be, which is partially why the plot doesn't exactly demand attention.

Kate Bishop finds herself donning the Ronin suit to make a getaway out of an illegal underground auction happening at an upscale party where both Jack and his father Armand Duquesne (Simon Callow) were bidding to pay a handsome fee for the suit and retractable sword once belonging to Clint Barton's dangerous alter go. Unfortunately, that puts Kate Bishop square in the sights of some nasty customers who would like to see the Ronin dead, including a Russian criminal ring known as the Tracksuit Mafia. Barton knows the kind of nasty things he did under the guise of Ronin, and when Bishop's name ends up being linked to the alter ego, he can't help but try to keep her out of harm's way. That means he's going to be late for Christmas, but hopefully not too late. It's a classic Christmas countdown with six episodes and six days left until Christmas.

"Hawkeye" brings these two together spectacularly. They make for a great team, even if Bishop is much more eager and enthusiastic about being caught up in this dangerous situation than Barton is having to deal with it. Their dichotomy gives them an amusing chemistry that doesn't put them at each other's throats, but Bishop is still clearly being kindly tolerated by Barton, mostly because he'd rather be spending Christmas with his family. Even so, Barton has a more vaguely annoyed disposition when dealing with her rather than being downright cold or dismissive. Barton sees that she's anxious to prove herself, but he's trying to keep her from getting to that point, especially since it seems Bishop still has plenty to learn about laying low and protecting herself in ways she might not consider. Plus, her overall eagerness leads to a bit of clumsiness.

A Refreshing Low Stakes Series with Intrigue

"Hawkeye" feels refreshing because of its street-level action and lower stakes. There's no world-ending scenario here. It's Clint Barton trying to keep a bold, capable young woman from making a mess for herself. There is some kind of underlying plot here that we're not made privy to in the first two episodes. Though Jack Duquesne is clearly being set up as a villain, there are only suspicions about what he's up to without any clear definition. There's also a second villain introduced at the very end of the second episode in the form of Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez, the character who will be known as Echo in her own upcoming spin-off series on Disney+. But again, the character's place in this story and whatever her plan might be are still in the dark after two episodes. There also just might be something mysterious going on with Kate's mother that she doesn't realize, potentially making way for an interesting twist. It all raises curiosity more than anything, which is fine since we'll find out what's going on in the four remaining episodes. However, without knowing exactly what we're up against, it does make the plot feel less significant, even if it's still intriguing.

The good news is that means "Hawkeye" puts much more of a focus on Clint Barton and Kate Bishop as characters, and Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld couldn't be better in this scenario. Renner is perfectly jaded and methodical when it comes to dealing with the Tracksuit Mafia (or anything other than spending time with his family), and Steinfeld's confidence and energy makes it so entertaining to watch her get in and out of dangerous situations. When it comes to the action, these two kick plenty of ass too, though we'll have to wait to see what it's like to see them both working together at the top of their game. 

If there's one place where "Hawkeye" falters, it's in the feel of the second episode. After a cinematic series premiere that's on par with a lower profile Marvel Studios movie, largely thanks to that opening sequence set during "The Avengers," the following episode feels cheaper and slower. That's partially because Barton and Bishop don't even meet until just before the credits roll in the first episode, and we need time to see what their dynamic is like in the second episode. But it's also because the quality of the action, cinematography, and just about everything feels like it's been dialed down significantly, to the point where it feels like an episode of a network crime procedural. There's an entire scenario involving live-action role-playing that's played for laughs and likely meant to be something that helps soften Clint Barton's general grumpiness, and it ends up feeling a tad more silly than amusing. Even the music feels like it takes a backseat after a big Christmas soundtrack and an impressive orchestral version of "Carol of the Bells" gave off the perfect blockbuster Christmas vibe throughout the series premiere. 

Hopefully the dip in quality in the second episode is simply because Marvel Studios knew they had to grab everyone's attention with that first episode by doing something that felt like a movie. Since this is only a six-episode series, I'm sure things will escalate quickly, and we'll be back in blockbuster territory. The trailers have already indicated there's some promising stuff that isn't seen in these first two episodes. Thankfully, the character work in "Hawkeye" is more than enough to keep the attention of fans, and the buddy-comedy action vibe of the series is broadly entertaining without feeling detrimentally generic. So this should be a nice present to open in the coming weeks as we get closer to Christmas.