When the two-part pilot for Hawkeye dropped, I was pretty lukewarm on it. As I wrote at the time, I thought the show was doing everything right – Hailee Steinfeld was well cast both as Bishop and alongside Jeremy Renner, the action was grounded, the stakes were personal, and it felt as disconnected as an MCU project could conceivably be. Despite all this, it just wasn’t very good. Thankfully, as the show passes the halfway point, it seems to be turning that around.
Hawkeye was always going to be up against it. I mean, it’s Hawkeye. Having said that though, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, buoyed by the Captain America moniker, had the star power to be a winner, and instead was probably Marvel’s weakest television offering this year. What If…? had literally any character it wanted, and it was even worse. Wanda had a middling popularity in the MCU ahead of WandaVision too, having joined the party late and never had a starring role to shine. Now, she’s one of the MCU’s aces. Starting point has meant very little in the television series we’ve seen so far.
Related: Spider-Verse Is Here To Show The MCU How To Do Multiverses RightHawkeye has not been as successful for Kate Bishop as WandaVision was for Wanda, but she’s faring significantly better than Falcon, despite likely being set for a supporting role for the next couple of years. It has, however, proven that a Hawkeye can make it in the MCU, a decade after the first one failed to get out of first gear.
Though Hawkeye had enjoyed some minor cameos ahead of Avengers Assemble, that was the first real role for him in the MCU. Unfortunately, he spends around half of the film hypnotised by Loki, missing out on the character development the rest of the cast get to enjoy, and even as his family are brought into focus, or the Ronin arc plays out, it feels as if he never got the chance to catch up.
What he did get to do, however, is shoot a load of cool arrows. Avengers Assemble makes great use of his quiver to give him an arrow for every situation possible, and even has the realism of him running out of arrows to fire. This is what makes Hawkeye interesting – he has the archery equivalent of Batman’s utility belt on him at all times. It doesn’t need to get as silly as the gadgets Adam West’s Caped Crusader had, but it’s a shame that this side of what Barton brings to the table is never really featured again – even when he has a fancy arrow, it isn’t celebrated or creative enough to warrant remembering.
This changes in Hawkeye. No longer the butt of the joke against Thor’s lightning or Iron Man’s blasters, Hawkeye’s technically proficient skill does not need to be played for comedy. We see Barton and Bishop working together with explosive arrows, arrows that blind enemies with foam, suction cup arrows that help them cling to a train, and even arrows that combine into one super arrow missile while in the air. Regular arrows, too, are given more respect, with Barton using them to free Bishop from her shackles during one episode.
The TV show is also highlighting Hawkeye’s deafness in the comics, as well as bringing in Deaf actor Alaqua Cox to play Echo, with the show offering powerful representation from a character who has too often been dismissed. Also, while the conversation between Black Window and Barton in the Soul Stone was heartbreaking, it feels like we’ve been told how close Clint and Natasha are rather than being shown it throughout the MCU so far. Already, his bond with Bishop seems much more meaningful.
The show has also seen Hailee Steinfeld make a late dash as the queen of 2021. While her Apple TV show Dickinson wrapped earlier this year, that show is a) on Apple TV and b) not Ted Lasso, meaning no one saw it. However, it probably did prepare her for Arcane, where she again played a charismatic lesbian unconcerned with the male gaze. She followed that up with Hawkeye, where she finally made archery seem cool years after Clint, Katniss Everdeen, and Lara Croft had failed, and is set to return to steal the show once more as Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse next year.
It’s not just Steinfeld though. While I don’t have the revulsion some of you hold for Renner – although what he was thinking with the jazz album and Renner App I’ll never know – I’ve found him to be boring and under utilised in the MCU thus far. It’s a shame that as he’s bowing out, he’s offering his most interesting take on the character so far, with a nuanced depiction of family life, a well explored disability, and a scene partner who plays perfectly against his dry, understated delivery. It’s still time for him to move on, with Steinfeld and Florence Pugh replacing Renner and Scarlett Johansson as the MCU’s not-actually-super superheroes, but at least he went out on top.
Hawkeye won’t get as much attention as the other Marvel projects. Hawkeye remains a hard sell, and after Falcon stumbled, Loki largely acted as set up, and What If…? fizzled, Marvel’s TV shows haven’t proved they’re much-watch just yet, although the events of WandaVision likely will shape Phase 4. Also, with Spidey out soon, Hawkeye feels like a distraction. It probably won’t make too much of an impression on the MCU as a whole, but it has been a crucial course correction for one of the series’ most underused characters, and a perfect finale before his well earned retirement.
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