Outside wistfully hoping Edward Norton would bring art-house sensibilities to the mainstream, “Hawkeye” is the first official MCU property I’ve ever been emotionally invested in. I mean, obviously, East Coast “MCU” (the Netflix series) were a thing—and “Hawkeye” reminds of them immensely—but in the straight Disney-for-teens MCU? “Hawkeye” ’s it. Go read the Matt Fraction and David Aja comic. Their new Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, is genuinely marvelous. So I really want this show to succeed.
Now, the show is very much not the comic—Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is a dad trying to bond with his kids after spending five years murdering gangsters before he got the chance at redemption in Avengers: Endgame not the dopey beefcake Hawkeye of the comics, and Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop is… entirely MCU in her origin. The episode starts with young Kate (an almost eerily well-cast as young Steinfeld Clara Stack) living through the Battle of New York from the first Avengers movie. Who saves her as she watches the destruction from her Manhattan high rise? Archer Renner, leading her to take up the bow. It’s kind of like that old Earth-3 Batman story where the parents don’t die, and Bruce becomes Batman because he helps people.
The opening titles, which are very Aja-influenced (making it very MCU they didn’t pay or even acknowledge Aja), and recount Stack’s journey from kid to archer, martial artist, and so on. They catch us up to Steinfeld in the present, a college student whose reckless behavior (she’s rich, young, and accomplished) lands her in some amusing trouble. I had been a little worried the show would emphasize Renner too much, but it’s definitely Steinfeld’s show. It’s a baton-passer. It better be.
After meeting Steinfeld, the action cuts to Renner in New York for Christmas with his kids, sometime after Endgame. There’s been enough time for the world to put together a Captain America Broadway show for Renner to cringe through, except when the Black Widow is on stage, which brings up lots of feels for Renner. While he’s not a buffoon and instead does a working-class guy stuck with celebrity (“Hawkeye” is basically Kate Bishop meets Die Hard meets Planes, Trains, and Automobiles), his kids still have to stay attuned to his moods and be his support network. Kind of inglorious because his kids are background, kind of like “guest star” Linda Cardellini as his wife. She isn’t on the trip with them but gets to make reassuring phone calls.
Renner’s part of the episode is some Endgame postscript, leaving the rising action to Steinfeld.
She’s stuck going to a charity ball with rich lady mom Vera Farmiga and her new fiancé Tony Dalton. Dalton’s a skeezy blue blood without much cash in the bank; he’s just waiting to inherit it from rich uncle Simon Callow. Callow gets to be a delight in a small part, filling Steinfeld in on what she’s missed while away at school, while Dalton and Farmiga have to play it straight and slightly mysterious. It’s the first episode, after all.
Steinfeld inserts herself into one of the mysterious situations and pretty soon has to don Renner’s Endgame Ronin costume to save the day, not realizing all the bad guys left in the world want Ronin dead. Luckily, she gets caught on camera (saving an adorable dog), so Renner and family see her on the news, contriving a reason to bring the characters together.
Steinfeld’s fantastic, Renner’s solid, the New York Christmas time thing is perfect. The “Children of the MCU”—the people growing up in this brave new world—are really working out. At least here.
“Hawkeye” isn’t exactly what I was hoping for, but everything I was hoping for it seems to be delivering.