Hawkeye Is Built For Casual Marvel Fans, And That's Why It Works

There are hardcore Marvel fans, and then there are people like me. People like me catch every new Marvel release, but maybe not during opening weekend. Maybe we sit through a few like they're homework, just to make the next "Avengers" movie make sense. We are the non-committal Marvel fans, the ones who are mostly here for the vibes. I love "Thor: Ragnarok," have always had a hard time caring about "Captain America," and my main takeaway from "Spider-Man: Far From Home" is that it's a great unintentional homage to "The Lizzie McGuire Movie." Casual Marvel fans: we exist.

And now there's a show for us. "Hawkeye" offers plenty of payoff for serious Marvel fans, but it's also accessible and enjoyable for people who aren't heavily invested in the MCU. For one thing, much of the series' emotional arc connects directly to the "Avengers" films, which are franchise landmarks which pretty much everyone has some baseline knowledge of. But "Hawkeye" also includes a lot of satisfying elements that make it an easy entry point for anyone who may have found themselves zoning out through much of Phase 4.

Hailee Steinfeld Makes Everything Great

If I had to describe the "Hawkeye" secret sauce in a few words, it'd be these: Hailee Steinfeld. Or Alaqua Cox. Or (spoilers for the latest episode) Florence Pugh. All three actresses are dynamic and excellent, but Steinfeld's Kate Bishop is the scrappy heart of the series, and the glue that holds it together. Kate is eager and enthusiastic in a way that most of the heavily traumatized, post-Blip Avengers aren't.

She's also impulsive, stubborn, and chronically incapable of being chill. From the moment she unintentionally topples an historic clock tower as part of a bet in episode 1, I knew she was a hero after my own chaotic heart. Steinfeld balances all these traits with ease and good humor, slipping naturally into the character as if she's already been playing Kate Bishop for years.

Thoughtful, Character-Driven Representation

Kate Bishop aside, Alaqua Cox's Maya Lopez is reason enough to give "Hawkeye" a shot. The Native American actress plays a skilled fighter who happens to be Deaf and an amputee, just like Cox herself. If I were up on my Marvel lore, I would be excited to see Echo appear on-screen for the first time, but I was perhaps even more ecstatic to meet her as someone who had no idea who she was. I share a sentiment that's common among folks who have mixed feelings on Marvel; when it comes to diversity, the Disney-owned studio lagged behind for a long time, and in the past, it often set the bar extremely low when it came to depicting characters from marginalized groups (see: the pre-"Loki" glaring lack of LGBTQ+ characters with names).

In contrast, Maya's story is presented with care and nuance. We see that when she was young, Maya's father (the always amazing Zahn McClarnon) couldn't afford to send her to a specialized school, so she had to learn lip reading. "You have to learn to jump between two worlds," her father tells her, voicing a sentiment that applies both to superheroes and people navigating disabilities and impairments.

In a later scene, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) breaks his hearing aid, so Kate jumps in to help transcribe an emotional phone conversation with his son. This might be Renner's most poignant moment in the series to date. Clint, a character known for his emotional isolation, has to accept help. Doing so means being more vulnerable and open about his personal needs than he wants to be. As someone with a chronic condition, this an all-too-familiar scenario that I didn't ever expect to see on screen, and "Hawkeye" executes it beautifully.

Who Can Resist Christmas?

"Hawkeye" has characters who are easy to root for, but it also has another element that's hard to hate: the holiday season. As the never-ending debate about what counts as a Christmas movie rages on, "Hawkeye" plants its flag firmly in camp Christmas. The series' jolly end credits, often accompanied by seasonal songs, are a reminder of the December setting. It's tough to forget, as Clint's wife, Laura (Linda Cardellini) is at home with the kids, waiting for the aloof hero to make his way back in time for the holiday. A car chase through a Christmas tree farm, snowy set pieces, and a decked out holiday version of New York all drive home the point.

This may seem like a small thing, but it's not, and the passive presence of Christmas is yet another way "Hawkeye" sets itself apart. Clint, Kate, and Maya have all lost someone they love, and their unresolved grief is a motivating undercurrent throughout the series. The hyper-cheery Christmas setting is actually in stark contrast to the state of our heroes' hearts, and an interesting narrative choice that will surely culminate in the show's final episodes.

"Hawkeye" isn't perfect, but it's a satisfying re-entry point for anyone who might not be hooked on Marvel, or who might have fallen out of love with these movies somewhere along the way. The series is making bold choices in casting, characterization, and narrative, and it has plenty to offer, even — and perhaps especially — for casual Marvel fans.