Hawkeye review: Kate Bishop takes center stage in latest marvel series

(L-R): Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) in Marvel Studios' HAWKEYE, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Mary Cybulski. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
(L-R): Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) in Marvel Studios' HAWKEYE, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Mary Cybulski. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved. /

Kate Bishop takes center stage in the first two episodes of Marvel’s Hawkeye, a premiere that hints at promise but plays it safe.

With the original Avengers all but phased out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s only one member of the core six without a solo project: but with the release of Marvel’s Hawkeye on Disney+, Jeremy Renner’s ace archer finally gets his moment in the sun. Though the series is frustratingly light on Clint Barton and instead heavily features the scrappy young Kate Bishop, there’s still enough promise in the premiere to stick around for the rest of the series, even if the first two episodes play things frustratingly safe.

After the dust has settled from the events of Avengers: Endgame and with just a week left to go before Christmas, Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) is looking forward to spending a wholesome, cliche-filled Christmas with his wife Laura (guest star Linda Cardellini) and three children. But when he crosses paths by chance with aspiring superhero/Hawkeye superfan Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) his holiday season devolves into a race against time to get her out of trouble and make it home in time for Christmas.

As the show frequently acknowledges, Hawkeye has always been somewhat of an outlier when it comes to the original core Avengers – often on the receiving end of mockery and unceremoniously labeled as the ‘worst avenger’. In fairness, when stacked up alongside super soldiers and gods, an archer doesn’t seem like much to write home about, so heading into Hawkeye, we were excited to see Clint Barton finally be taken seriously as a character, and get some crucial screen time to become a true hero in his own right as opposed to a sidekick or a laughing stock.

Frustratingly, though, even though it’s his name on the marquee, Hawkeye (at least in its first two episodes) isn’t truly a show about Clint Barton – it’s a show about Kate Bishop, with Clint playing a sort of reluctant jaded mentor figure revolving in her atmosphere. On the one hand, it’s understandable that Marvel would want to use Hawkeye to introduce Kate Bishop: she’ll be effectively taking his place in MCU films going forward, and a limited series is a perfect way to introduce and dive deep into a character without having to give them their movie.

Admittedly, it’s an effective way to introduce the character: Steinfeld’s Hawkeye wannabe is suitably witty, highly skilled, and the emphasis on her backstory means audiences understand entirely where she’s coming from and why she does what she does by the time the second episode rolls around. Though her personality thus far isn’t much more than a stock quippy Marvel teenager, Steinfeld’s natural charisma propels Bishop in the writing’s weaker moments, and especially when playing opposite her mother Eleanor (Vera Farmiga) Kate is already shaping up to be a more than suitable Hawkeye replacement.

However, as understandable as it is that Marvel would want to use Hawkeye to introduce Kate Bishop, making her the point of view character in a series that’s supposed to be about Clint Barton frustratingly sidelines an original hero who we’ve been waiting for more than a decade to see finally gets is own series. Hawkeye is, after all, supposed to be Clint Barton’s time to finally shrug off all the criticism and become a beloved hero, but he’s relegated far too frequently to playing second fiddle, cleaning up Kate’s messes, and teaching her the ways of the superhero world as opposed to being the focus of the series.

It’s as if Marvel truly buys into the idea that Hawkeye is the worst Avenger, but instead of attempting to push back on that label or prove audiences wrong, it instead gives in and does its best to spice up the show instead of putting faith in Renner and the character of Hawkeye. It’s a shame, but especially because when the show does design to give Barton/Renner character moments and let him shine on his own, it’s when the series is at its best – Renner’s deadpan delivery and Barton’s exhausted, world-weary superhero persona make not just for good comedy, but also for a fascinating superhero dynamic we’ve never really seen before.

In Hawkeye, Marvel had a chance to finally deliver a street-level story that could’ve followed in the footsteps of a show like Jessica Jones or Daredevil, using Barton’s more grounded abilities and sardonic personality to create a ‘slice of life’ show set in the MCU. We get glimmers of intrigue – like when Clint begrudgingly sits through the production of Rogers: The Musical! and struggles with the loss of his best friend Natasha, or when he explains why he wears his hearing aid to Kate in a montage that makes for one of the funniest moments in the MCU, full stop.

These little flickers of letting Clint Barton truly shine as a character are the best moments Hawkeye has to offer, and to his credit, whenever the writing gives him moments to shine Renner more than makes the most of them. But the show has so little faith in our interest in Clint Barton as a character that it buries his best moments under a sea of Kate Bishop screentime and backstory, hoping the shiny new hero will appease audiences more than Renner’s veteran, who Marvel seems to have little to no faith in.

We have a feeling that at some point down the line things will begin to shake up and kick into high gear – Florence Pugh’s Yelena is still conspicuously absent, and Tony Dalton’s Swordsman is so cartoonishly suspicious his costume may as well read ‘red herring’. But until Hawkeye either takes the time to dive deep on Clint Barton and letter Renner shine or veers the story into a far less predictable direction, it remains lackluster and far too focused on the wrong characters.

The first two episodes of Hawkeye hardly reinvent the wheel – if anything, it’s the tamest, by-the-numbers start a Marvel/Disney+ series has turned out, and that’s thanks almost entirely to the show’s refusal to put faith in Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton, even when he’s already put in a decade’s worth of work for the character. Though Kate Bishop makes for a serviceable series lead, Hawkeye is only truly on target when it lets Clint Barton shine, and those moments are far and few between.

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