Marvel’s Hawkeye fired the studio’s final arrow of 2021, and came close to epitomising the studio’s yearly efforts in a single television show; it was packed full of high highs and low lows, but finally settled somewhere in the middle.
Jeremy Renner’s return as Avenger Clint Barton didn’t quite take the marvellous risk that WandaVision did, yet easily outclassed the abomination that was Eternals. All in all, it’s probably one of the better recent additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Barton’s return had been a highly anticipated one considering where we’d left his character after Avengers: Endgame. He’d just spent a number of years as a masked vigilante, swording down crime group after crime group as he came to terms with his family’s disappearance.
However, that return got off to a relatively shaky start. Throughout the pilot episode Never Meet Your Heroes, Renner’s performance feels somewhat robotic. His conversations with Barton’s three young children feel particularly awkward, as though his heart isn’t really in it.
Thankfully, he does improve as the series goes on. Renner’s performance ups in quality even if his lines are occasionally delivered in not-so-enthusiastic fashion, and his chemistry with co-star Hailee Steinfeld is strong throughout.
As for his character, Hawkeye has provided an effective template on how to explore our lesser-powered heroes. The very realistic effects that various Avengers-level threats have had on Barton are clear to see, with his hearing problems just the tip of the iceberg. His use of a hearing aid props up that realism, and the heartbreaking scene where he can’t hear his own son over the phone provides a brilliant representation of what life can be like for deaf people.
Marvel went about that representation in the right way, too; they didn’t shove an issue down our throats like they did in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and thankfully returned to a show-don’t-tell method that served them so well in WandaVision.
One elephant in the room, however, was the lack of repercussions Barton seemed to face for his crimes as Ronin. He was let off a bit easy, with none of the character’s close contacts seemingly affected by his actions.
Let’s not forget that Barton probably spent the best part of five years murdering people as he vented his anger. Come Endgame we could temporarily forget that as he once again joined forces to save the world, but the start of this show should have seen him embroiled in some sort of alter-ego battle. Ronin should have been battling to come out again; instead, Barton is back to normal and is only forced into action when someone else is spotted in his suit.
There were no awkward moments with family, and even when new ally Kate Bishop finds out about his horrible past there is no conflict. He is far too easily forgiven for crimes so heinous.
The only people that do want revenge on Barton are a group of laughable gang members who present possibly the least threatening group of MCU villains yet. What were the writers thinking? How are we supposed to feel any tension whatsoever when Barton and Bishop are being held captive by a bunch of amateur fools who spend time seeking advice about Imagine Dragons tickets?
Their leader Echo, on the other hand, was a useful addition. Alaqua Cox expertly played the role of a deaf and mute gangster seeking revenge for her father’s death, and appeared likely to be our heroes’ most tricky adversary. However, poor writing led to her becoming another example of Marvel’s new problem – very few of their villains actually turn out to be villains.
Echo is the latest installment to start out as an antagonist before being granted some form of repreival so they can begin to seek an easier life away from crime. It always feels lazy if it isn’t earned, and this didn’t feel it. Why have her as Hawkeye’s prime enemy for five episodes and then have her give way to another, bigger adversary?
Speaking of that bigger adversary – Hawkeye’s use of Kingpin was downright awful. He was built up and built up throughout the final few episodes, and his first appearance was promising. However, he appeared to be killed off with relative ease after what was amongst the most repetitive fight scenes in history; cut after cut showed him throwing Bishop around a shop with very little resistance.
We didn’t have any real reason to hate Kingpin, and his death therefore felt incredibly underwhelming. Why bring in such a big character just to have them killed off after around five minutes of screen time?
His opponent in that repetitive fight scene, however, was a welcome addition to the MCU. Kate Bishop will no doubt be here for years to come, and her debut series acted as a springboard to propel her into the spotlight.
Steinfeld’s performance was admirable, and she switched seamlessly between comical naivety and fierce loyalty. She had some very fun moments, and her trick arrow team-ups with Renner were exciting to watch – aside from the purple plasticine stick, which resulted in the worst CGI the MCU has offered to date.
The main issue with Bishop was just how rushed her backstory was. Aside from an opening credits scene which depicted her learning about archery in cartoon form, we know very little about how she became so good with a bow and arrow. All of a sudden, she’s holding her own with an Avenger and never seems to miss a shot.
This isn’t a problem in itself; if Bishop is among the best archers in the world (as she says she is), then so be it. But we aren’t shown anything to tell us how she got to that stage. Witnessing Hawkeye jump from a building in 2012 doesn’t automatically make you a natural.
Her relationship with Barton also feels a little rushed and he accepts her with very little thought – they did only spend a few days together, after all, and all of a sudden she’s invited to his house for Christmas. Aside from that aspect, however, their relationship is very fun and is a welcome addition to Barton’s development as a character.
When it comes to side characters, however, Hawkeye struggled. Florence Pugh returned as Yelena Belova (sister of Natasha Romanoff), and her very repetitive humour slowed down a number of scenes. Her forced conflict with Barton derives from the Black Widow standalone movie, and never really feels real throughout this series.
She is a deadly and emotional assassin who has been tasked with killing her sister’s apparent murderer. Why she believes that accusation to begin with is anyone’s guess, but when she finally gets Barton alone she has plenty of chances to kill him. In fact, while he battles faceless goons on an open ice rink, she could even shoot him from distance. Instead, she embroils in a fist fight which ultimately gives him around 20 chances to prove his innocence. It doesn’t fit with her act first, think later attitude.
Belova’s blip scene, though, is incredibly interesting; it’s the first time we’ve seen the whole ordeal happen so quickly, giving us insight into just how confusing and terrifying it must have been for the half of humanity that went through it.
Jack Duquesne unfortunately fell victim to lazy screenwriting. He was set up as one of the series’ villains and we weren’t offered a single shred of evidence to suggest he was innocent of the murder Bishop accused him of, and yet, as it transpired, he was indeed innocent.
As if that wasn’t enough, despite being accused of a number of crimes which he didn’t commit, Duquesne was still willing to fight on Bishop’s side come the final conflict. How does that make sense?
He was a very fun character, though, and I enjoyed watching him. It’s just a shame his arc made no sense whatsoever – but it was in some way fitting, as his fiancee Eleanor Bishop (mother of Kate) was the same despite turning out to be behind much of the show’s antics.
Yet again I ask: where was the evidence that she was behind this? We had absolutely nothing to go on, and when she was revealed as one of those pulling strings behind the scenes we felt ripped off. Clues need to be littered throughout earlier episodes if reveals like these are to work, and they weren’t.
Overall, Hawkeye was a strong end to the year for Marvel. It’s lack of a proper villain does it harm, with comically bad gang members doing nothing to help. The murder mystery-style elements in early episodes were fun to follow, and the relationships between our two main characters certainly boost the show’s credentials.
The live action role-play segments are downright awful and could (or should) have been left out altogether, while the final battle scene made little sense. Do criminal gangs of New York normally send a seemingly infinite number of their members out into public areas to cause conflict until a separate fight draws to a conclusion?
It was a pretty enjoyable show, though, and it provided some easy watching over Christmas. Hopefully this year, Marvel get back to hitting the bullseye more regularly.