Marvel's 'Hawkeye' Is a Delightful Adaptation of a Fantastic Comic Series
It's two Hawkeyes for the price of one!
From 2012 to 2015, beginning just a few months after The Avengers opened in theaters over that summer, Marvel Comics published Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye, a dryly funny, exciting, critically acclaimed series that offered a look into what the MCU's favorite sharpshooter Clint Barton did during his off-hours, often with a reluctant assist from the planet's other Hawkeye, Kate Bishop. The series was hugely popular, making a character that could have been relegated to a punchline ("Who is Hawk Guy?" "Why is there a dude who shoots arrows in a group of people with superpowers?") into a household name and a vital member of the MCU's cast of characters. Marvel's Hawkeye series, dropping weekly on Disney+ for the next six weeks and starring Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop, takes liberal inspiration from the 2012–15 comic arc, from Aja's vibrant, flat colors to the antagonistic Tracksuit Draculas and beloved Pizza Dog, and folds a vital new character into the MCU.
Where Fraction and Aja's series didn't have to actually introduce Kate Bishop, who had been around in the comics universe since 2005, the show is her origin story, quickly bringing us up to speed on how she got into this whole bow-and-arrow business in the first place. The daughter of a wealthy Manhattanite couple, young Kate witnesses the catastrophe of the Avengers' 2012 battle against Loki, and is particularly taken with the spontaneous acrobatics and arrow-shooting skills of one of the guys on our side, proceeding to spend the rest of her teen years training in all kinds of martial arts and archery. When we catch back up, she's an adult disillusioned with her family's connections to New York's elites, and ends up in big trouble after sticking her nose where it doesn't belong—unwittingly, into Hawkeye's past.
Clint Barton, on the other hand, is recovering from the events of Avengers: Endgame, determined to spend more time with his family (remember Hawkeye's family???) and still torn up by his grief from Black Widow's death. After promising his wife (Linda Cardellini) and kids that he'll make it home for Christmas, he gets sucked into the aforementioned big trouble and finally meets his biggest fan, a privileged youngster who ends up being really good at shooting a bow.
While the show takes plenty of story beats from the 2012 comic series, it manages to translate the feel of that arc into the wider narrative playing out in the MCU. Renner, who has always played his Clint Barton as a no-nonsense everyman prone to wry gallows humor in the face of all this weird shit from outer space he suddenly finds himself having to deal with, plays up these aspects even further here, becoming the gruff foil to Steinfeld's plucky, energetic Kate. Steinfeld particularly shines, and, at least in the two episodes that were made available to critics, Hawkeye is firmly her show.
The writing is also the strongest of the Marvel shows since WandaVision, economically laying the foundation for a complex narrative in less than an hour in the premiere, and keeping the humor light and fresh (no endlessly clichéd "Well, THAT happened" dialogue to be found). And there's plenty of humor to be found in the character of Hawkeye himself, trying his best not to be bothered about the fact that, to the world at large, he's definitely the least interesting of all of the Avengers. The only places the show really suffers, oddly an issue that has plagued the Marvel movies and shows for years, is the fight scenes and stuntwork, which are filmed and edited so slowly you might as well leave the room and go do something else until they're over.
It's only when the show moves from grudging buddy comedy to actual superhero plot that you can't ignore the creeping sense that all of this—Hawkeye, WandaVision, Loki, even this year's Marvel movies Black Widow and Shang-Chi—is just content, existing mainly to get us to the next thing, and then the next thing after that, and the next thing after that (while demanding we keep subscribing to Disney+). The second episode of Hawkeye introduces a major character from the comics whose spinoff series has already been greenlit. Hawkeye's impetus to get Kate Bishop into the MCU is because many believe the MCU is gathering together the Young Avengers, a youth-oriented alternative to the actual Avengers, which also includes Wiccan and Speed (the twin boys introduced in WandaVision), Kid Loki (who appeared in Loki), Eli Bradley a.k.a. Patriot (who appeared briefly in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), and Cassie Lang a.k.a. Stature (who has appeared in the Ant-Man movies), among others who are sure to join the MCU at some point.
I hesitate to deem Hawkeye the long-awaited return to greatness for the Marvel shows only because of how strongly both The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki began and how weakly they ended, both seeming like the first chapter or even just the prologue to a narrative of greater importance, a teaser trailer for something that's yet to come. Nowhere is this feeling more apparent than when Hawkeye nods to its 2012 source material, trying to cram a superhero's solo run, which was great because it was a solo run (technically duo run) with little connection to the wider arcs going on around it, into the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which demands every aspect to connect seamlessly together with everything else. Hopefully Hawkeye can set itself apart from all of that for long enough to tell its own story.