Hawkeye review: The shot (arrow?) in the arm that Marvel needed right now
The new MCU show arrives on Disney+ this week...
Marvel must be taking stock right about now.
After the out-and-out negative response to Eternals (which it didn't really deserve), the muted response to Black Widow (which it did), and not much chat at all about What If...?, we might be reaching an important fork in the road for the future of the MCU.
While everyone seems somewhat celebratory of DC's scattershot approach to their line-up, the overly complicated connections within the Marvel projects probably feel like you need to do some homework before you can properly enjoy their next output.
So when Hawkeye kicks off in the depths of the climax of 2012's Avengers Assemble, the invading alien army appearing through a giant blue portal hanging over Manhattan, the fear returns that this might be another collection of nods and references to what has come before and what is coming next.
Thankfully, across the two episodes shown to press ahead of release, the latest Marvel show does enough to not only stand on its own two feet, but do it in magnificently entertaining style.
For example, that opening scene is shown from the point of view of a young Kate Bishop (played by Hailee Steinfeld for the rest of the show), who sees Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) do his part in saving the world while armed with little more than a bow, some arrows, and a lot of courage.
Jump forward a decade or so, and Bishop is unhappy with her mother's (Vera Farmiga) new beau, believing him to be pretty sketchy, and following him to a top secret auction where the Ronin's (Hawkeye's identity while he was revenging it up in the early part of Avengers: Endgame) sword and outfit is up for sale.
Meanwhile, Barton is spending Christmas in Manhattan with his kids, wanting to be a better family man after years of being away from them as a world-saving Avenger. But the family trip is interrupted when news that Ronin (actually just Bishop in his outfit) has returned, and he takes it upon himself to find this new would-be assassin.
However, the return of the vicious vigilante brings all sorts of shady criminal gangs out of the woodwork, forcing Barton to help Bishop go on the run while he figures out how to diffuse the situation.
All of this is set against New York at its most Christmassy, and series director Rhys Thomas delivers it all with a light touch, ably assisted by Renner at his most grumpy and Steinfeld at her most charming. Thomas' background in SNL and sitcoms helps nail the heavily sarcastic comedic tone, while the action sequences feature the gritty, sweaty realism that we loved in The Winter Soldier and we've been longing for ever since.
The main thrust of the plot hasn't kicked into gear yet, but it almost doesn't matter, because it is simply a lot of fun to be hanging out with these characters.
Sure, Marvel has been leaning on the "there are consequences for your heroic actions" storytelling device pretty hard ever since they accidentally killed most of a country while saving the world in Age Of Ultron, but it works well here, by not making it a general guilt trip applied to everyone equally (a la Civil War) but also by not keeping it kind of vague (a la Black Widow).
But mostly, aside from some window dressing, this very much feels like its own thing. We know there will be connections to the wider MCU coming up in later episodes, but as of right now, it feels more than strong and entertaining enough to exist in this lovely, Christmassy vacuum.
The first two episodes of Hawkeye will be available on Disney+ on Wednesday, 24 November, with the rest of the season arriving weekly after that.