Hawkeye review: More of a stocking-filler than a real Christmas gift

Jeremy Renner’s Avengers archer teams up with a new sidekick for this Christmassy Disney Plus series.

Hawkeye
3.0 out of 5 star rating

While not many people were crying out for a Hawkeye solo project, the first trailer for Jeremy Renner’s new Marvel series raised the level of interest. Leaning heavily on the back-and-forth relationship between the MCU’s resident archer Clint Barton and his new protégé Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) and the unusual Christmas setting, that first-look footage piqued many viewers’ interests, including my own, giving higher hopes for what we might expect.

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So does the full series live up to that early tease, or were our first, ambivalent instincts correct? Having seen just the first two episodes of Hawkeye it’s hard to be sure. Hawkeye is fun and entertaining, but not as gripping or immediately interesting as other Marvel/Disney Plus shows like Loki and WandaVision.

If you liked the trailer, that’s pretty much what you get for these first two episodes – Clint and Kate, dodging baddies in New York around Christmas – but there’s not much more than that, with little to surprise or raise the stakes (though of course, this could change in later episodes).

The basic set-up is that Clint (Renner) is in New York treating his kids to some theatre and food, while also grappling with feelings of guilt after the events of Avengers: Endgame (which saw him become a murderous vigilante, and be forced to sacrifice Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow).

Meanwhile, rich-girl and Hawkeye fan Kate finds herself dragged into a New York socialite conspiracy as her mother (a suspiciously underused Vera Farmiga) prepares to marry into a shady family. The two worlds collide when (as revealed in one of the trailers) Kate gets her hands on Clint’s old vigilante outfit, inadvertently leading his old enemies to come after her.

The basic building blocks of this series are taken from Matt Fraction and David Aja’s acclaimed Hawkeye miniseries from 2013, with key characters, set pieces and details right down to the art design and credits of each episode clearly inspired by it – but unfortunately, the TV Hawkeye doesn’t have the same wit and style as the Fraction/Aja comic.

Jeremy Renner plays Clint Barton in Hawkeye
Marvel Entertainment/YouTube

Some of this is unavoidable. Renner’s version of the character has always been so vastly different from the one presented in the comic this is based on (who’s more like Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, personality-wise) that the slightly deadpan, absurd humour doesn’t cross over.

But also, the newer parts of the story added alongside these elements aren’t that interesting – they feel very much like TV threats of the Marvel universe, and not like an MCU story told over several weeks, which was the original pitch for these Disney Plus shows. It just feels a bit safe and low-stakes, closer to the shuttered Defenders Netflix shows (right down to all the New York drama of it all) than the bigger swings that Marvel’s made recently.

Not to say that this series doesn’t have its positives. Steinfeld is a highlight as the upbeat Kate, the idiosyncratic parts of Fraction’s comic added here and there add some texture to Clint’s world, and the Christmas setting is genuinely one of the most fun twists on the Marvel formula I’ve seen for a while. They even play Christmas songs over the credits!

The action is pretty fun, plenty of the jokes land and Lucky the Pizza Dog will be a fan-favourite. Overall Hawkeye’s not bad, or boring, it’s just… fine. It’s totally fine. Some people will like it, others might not, but it’s hard to see it arousing a great deal of passion either way.

It’s a stocking-filler, rather than your main Christmas present. But at least it came with a bow.

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Hawkeye streams episodes 1-2 on Disney Plus on Wednesday 24 November, with new episodes weekly. For more, check out our dedicated Sci-Fi page or our full TV Guide.