The two greatest Avengers have always been Black Widow and Hawkeye.
As the only two members of the team who don’t have superhuman or supernatural powers, magic weapons, impenetrable robo-suits, or some combination of all of the above, Natasha and Clint have kept pace with literal gods and titans through 26 films, saving the world again and again and again. They bring a human element to the team - a down-to-earth sensibility that allows the audience to feel a little bit closer to the action from a perspective other than “terrified victim hiding from monsters.”
When Black Widow got her own movie, we were able to shine a spotlight on Natasha, see behind the curtain a little bit and learn who she is and what guides her. Now, with Hawkeye, we get that same look into Clint Barton, the person, and it’s glorious.
Based on the smash hit comic series of the same name, Hawkeye (the show) brings all the humanizing elements of Hawkeye (the comic) into the spotlight, and gives fans a reason to truly love and appreciate Hawkeye (the person) while simultaneously introducing a whole new Hawkeye (another person).
Brilliantly written by Matt Fraction (who, I was very pleased to see, is a consulting producer on the show) and stunningly illustrated by David Aja, the comic series upon which the show is based ran from 2012 to 2015 and is still regarded as some of the best (if not the best) stories of Hawkeye ever written. It was Matt and David who deafened Clint, which led to one of the greatest comics ever created and kicked open the door on inclusiveness in superhero books and further showed the humanity of heroes.
And all of this translates beautifully to the screen.
The first two episodes, released the day before Thanksgiving, are a wonderful welcome to the world of Hawkeye. This is a Hawkeye divorced from the Avengers - still known, but outside of that world now, and trying to have what he imagines is a normal life. Devoted father and family man, he’s very clearly done with the whole superhero gig...but it’s not done with him.
Meanwhile we’re also introduced to Kate Bishop - a young woman who has dedicated her life to becoming just like her favorite Avenger, and is already well on her way to achieving that goal...for better or worse (hint: it’s worse. It’s so much worse than she thinks).
I’ll tell you all the good stuff first:
All of the performances are spot-on. The acting, the directing, the producing, the art department, the sets, the props, the locations -- everything is just right. It captures the spirit of New York (and New York at the holidays), and it makes it feel both familiar and comfortable. Additionally, as a tremendous fan of the comics, it also captures the feel of the comic almost exactly (I sincerely hope Matt Fraction’s involvement was real, and not just on paper).
It’s fun. It’s not heavy-handed or overly dramatic - the more serious moments are heartfelt but not played for drama, so they’re genuine and they allow the audience to make the connection with the characters. It’s also fun in that it’s my favorite genre; the ordinary-person-gets-thrown-in-way-over-their-head-and-hilariously-screws-up-but-keeps-trying-and-does-the-right-thing-and-ultimately-wins kind of trope that has fueled some of the greatest stories ever told.
Plus it has a dog. An adorable, soft, pettable dog. With one eye. It’s almost criminal (but it’s comics-accurate, so they had to include it).
The not so good stuff…
As someone with a history of fighting and martial arts training, one thing that always stands out to me is bad fighting and/or bad choreography (it’s the whole reason why watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer causes me actual pain), and it’s regrettable that for as much time and energy that goes into MCU projects, they didn’t bring Hailee Steinfeld up to par. She’s not bad, please don’t misunderstand me - she does a fine job and, to the untrained eye, she’s amazing, but her first real fight scene felt stilted and staccato - like they broke it up into very digestible chunks, then broke those down into their individual bites, and then filmed it that way. As a fight choreographer, you do all of that - it’s how the actors learn - but then you shoot it in a way that blends it all together so that it flows and looks natural. Somewhere between rehearsals, training, and shooting, they forgot that, and her fight scenes suffer for it. It wouldn’t be as noticeable if they didn’t make Jeremy Renner’s fights flow like water, or even if they didn’t make Tony Dalton look so effortless, but they did, and now we have to watch it.
To be fair, it does have to be said that they seem to be trying to show how fresh and unproven Kate is -- after all, Hawkeye has been a secret agent for as long as Kate’s been alive, and Tony Dalton’s character (who hasn’t been revealed in the show yet, so I won’t spoil it here) has been fighting even longer, so I’m willing to suspend disbelief just a little bit for the sake of the narrative, but that only goes so far, and as we all learned from Iron Fist, you can’t shoot around or edit a bad fight into a good one.
Otherwise...honestly, that’s it. That’s my only complaint about the whole show. It’s wonderful. I’m glad I read the comics before the show, because they’re amazing, but I’m also not disappointed in the least at how they’ve adapted the comics to fit into the overall universe of the MCU. It’s brilliant, plain and simple, and it’s giving the fans something wholly unique: a faithful adaptation of a classic comic, that’s also something new and fresh.
Watch it. If you’re a fan of the MCU at all, just watch it. You won’t be disappointed.