This review contains spoilers for episode 1 of Hawkeye.
Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues with yet another story about a legacy Avenger passing on their mantle to a new hero. This phase has already set up Sam as the new Cap, Yelena as the new Black Widow, and next year’s Thor: Love and Thunder will set up Jane Foster as the new Thor. Hawkeye, whose first two episodes are now streaming on Disney+, sets up Kate Bishop as Clint Barton’s successor as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ resident archer.
Despite following the now-familiar Phase Four formula, Hawkeye manages to feel surprisingly fresh. It’s not about honoring a legacy, like Spider-Man: Far From Home or The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which used Tony Stark and Steve Rogers as an idea as opposed to a physical presence, and it’s not about another student from the Hawkeye school taking over, like Black Widow did with Nat’s fellow Red Room recruit. This is the first true passing-of-the-torch narrative in Phase Four, as a grizzled older Clint teams up with a Hawkeye superfan who hopes to take his place.
The premiere episode, “Never Meet Your Heroes,” establishes that this is Kate’s story, first and foremost. It focuses on her from the beginning, with a prologue giving a unique ground-level (or penthouse-level) perspective of the Battle of New York. Not only does this sequence fill in Kate’s backstory; it makes Hawkeye look cool. It’s easy to see why a young Kate idolizes Clint after watching him effortlessly decimate legions of the alien invaders that destroyed her living room.
Rogers: The Musical Doesn’t Disappoint
Like Pickle Rick from Rick and Morty, Rogers: The Musical – a lavish Broadway production about Captain America – was the Hawkeye trailer moment that everybody focused on. Much like the “Pickle Rick” episode, this talked-about moment doesn’t disappoint in the actual series. There’s a catchy number about the Battle of New York called “I Can Do This All Day” in which Iron Man is lifted up on wires with smoke machines and the Hulk is just an actor painted green wearing a green hoodie.
This is a great gag, but it also serves as post-Endgame worldbuilding and an economic way to remind audiences of the traumas Clint is dealing with. Usually, Marvel movies and TV shows will illustrate traumas by bluntly flashing back to the traumatic events. Hawkeye is a lot subtler than that, showing Clint’s emotions through Jeremy Renner’s nuanced performance and his kids noticing that he’s acting slightly different.
Hailee Steinfeld Steals The Show
While Renner gives a fantastic performance, Hailee Steinfeld steals the show in the role of Kate. With all the heart, humor, and heroism that Marvel’s superhumans are defined by, Steinfeld makes Kate instantly likable. She’s a rich kid, but she’s also relatable and endearing as a troublemaker who ultimately wants to do the right thing. Steinfeld’s performance combines the coming-of-age naivety of The Edge of Seventeen with the badass determination of True Grit.
One of the most notable things in Hawkeye’s trailer was its Christmas setting evoking seasonal action thrillers like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. The premiere episode gets into the Christmas spirit as soon as the end of the prologue plunges viewers into snowy present-day New York. The score by regular Marvel composer Christophe Beck deftly blends traditional superhero music with familiar yuletide melodies. And the Christmas season isn’t just a stylistic backdrop – it establishes the story’s ticking clock: it’s six days until Christmas.
The series’ antagonists, the Tracksuit Mafia, are street-level villains like in Marvel’s canceled Netflix shows. This is a radical change of pace after WandaVision warped reality with ancient witches, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier introduced a global terrorist network, and Loki threatened the fabric of the entire space-time continuum. It’s nice to have a smaller-scale conflict where the world or the multiverse or the “Sacred Timeline” don’t need to be at stake. Clint and Kate’s lives are at stake – that’s enough to get the audience on board.
The Fight Scenes Have Clarity And Intensity
A lot of the MCU’s fight scenes, but especially in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, have been dull and generic. Two stunt performers punch each other while the camera operator points and shoots and the editor cuts all over the place. Hawkeye’s first major fight scene is more in line with the clarity and intensity of Shang-Chi’s game-changing hand-to-hand combat sequences.
The wine cellar setting isn’t just a backdrop for the violence; it’s incorporated into the action as Kate beats up gangsters with flying wine bottles. This fight scene has cool moves like swinging from a pipe in the ceiling to kick a guy, as well as unforeseen obstacles like the pipe breaking mid-kick. The choreography is spot-on, showing off Kate’s martial arts proficiency but also her lack of hands-on experience – she takes as many punches as she delivers. Clint’s brief but memorable action toward the end of the episode suggests that this series will make him John Wick with a bow and arrow, more than worthy of his Avenger status (after a decade of derision).
Marvel Fans Could Be In For The Best Disney+ Show Yet
Like Marvel’s previous team-up series with Sam and Bucky, Hawkeye’s premiere episode introduces its central duo individually. But these individual introductions are riveting because neither character is more interesting than the other. The episode’s back-and-forth storytelling establishes both Clint and Kate’s worlds – catching up with Clint after he got his wife and kids back and immersing viewers in the high-society bubble where Kate feels out of place – before bringing them together.
Overall, the premiere episode of Hawkeye, “Never Meet Your Heroes,” gets the series off to a terrific start. It doesn’t have any of the usual problems with Marvel’s Disney+ output: there’s no filler, the story is focused, and the action feels cinematic. Hawkeye’s intense fight scenes are refreshing after the lo-fi CG set-pieces in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki screamed “TV action,” despite their movie-sized budgets.
By the end of the pilot, the characters’ goals are clearly defined: solve a murder mystery, defeat the Tracksuit Mafia, and get home in time for Christmas. Jonathan Igla’s sharp script concurrently sets up an Avenger origin story for Kate and a bittersweet end-of-the-road swansong for Clint. Marvel fans could be in for the MCU’s most exciting Disney+ series yet.
The weakest Avenger can find redemption, adventure, and success on Disney+