Marvel’s ‘Hawkeye’ Gives Jeremy Renner’s Avenger a Briskly Entertaining Series

Some franchises become so big they can fall into the routine of just aiming for the fan base. Marvel’s “Hawkeye” is the first of its Disney Plus shows that feels like its appeal rests solely with the diehard MCU crowd. The arrow-firing Avenger has the reputation of being one of the least favorite of the bunch, only because he’s not as famous as Iron Man, Hulk or Captain America. It may have something to do with the simplicity (by comic book standards) of his abilities. Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner, is dependent on skill alone, not intricate costumes or mutant powers. Now he gets his own show which like the persona has appeal but only to a point.

The series premieres in the perfect seasonal mood. It’s Christmas in New York City and Clint Barton aka Hawkeye is enjoying time with his family, who were originally lost during Thanos’s “snap” or “the Blip” in the last two Avengers films (if you don’t know, you don’t know). When we first see Clint he’s sitting inside a Broadway theatre with the kids watching a hilariously bad musical based on the Avengers’ exploits. Clint is not the actual subject of the series however, but Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), who just happens to be a master archer. She also lives in a lavish apartment with a snob for a mom, Eleanor (Vera Farmiga) and her beau, who is equally snobby, Jack (Tony Dalton). While snooping around during a late night auction involving other elites gathering to bid on rare items, Kate is caught in an attack involving a mysterious syndicate. She also finds the Ronin costume Hawkeye sported when he became a vicious vigilante wrecked by anger after the Blip. Her ensuing battle with the attackers catches Clint’s attention on the news and he diverts his holiday plans to get the costume back.

When it comes to the growing roster of MCU shows, “Hawkeye” is similar in style and tone to “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” which also felt like a mere snack between the last movies and whatever Marvel is cooking for its next big popcorn extravaganza. It is true that all the MCU shows are really just transitional follow ups for the films, but other titles like “WandaVision” and “Loki” did go for original, visually inventive work. “Hawkeye” actually has much in common with ‘90s superhero shows like “M.A.N.T.I.S.” or “Dark Angel.” It has a gritty look and quick-consumption action plot. The first two episodes don’t reveal much except that as a child Kate saw Hawkeye in action during the apocalyptic events of the first “The Avengers,” shown in a great comic book movie moment. The villains don’t have much appeal as of yet because they’re the kind of scrappy, hooded thugs Spider-Man takes down before dinner. 

It can be easily assumed that the adversaries will take on bigger dimensions by the end of the season. You can be sure Eleanor’s Jack is somehow involved. What the early episodes offer is well-produced, light entertainment. Clint and Kate develop a mentor-pupil relationship where he shows her the basics of treating her own wounds and properly beating people up. Renner and Steinfeld have friendly chemistry peppered with straight-faced humor (“you haven’t even taught me trick arrows”). There are some hilarious in-jokes as when Clint enters a LARPing community where he has to play along to get the Ronin suit back. A LARPER wearing the suit will gladly hand it over if the great Hawkeye allows himself to be pretend killed in a swordfight. “I fought Thanos” is what Clint tells himself, sighing as he agrees with the deal. There’s a scene-chewing one-eyed dog, Lucky, taken from the original comics, who inspires instant devotion. 

The material makes for engaging distraction, but “Hawkeye” is the one MCU show that truly poses the question of, what’s in it for those who are not total MCU devotees? Not much aside from watching Jeremy Renner get a whole show where he barely smiles and walks with a solemn stare. If you miss this one it’s not clear if you will have any trouble following whatever comes up next in the movies. Although it must be said this show is still more entertaining than all three hours of “Eternals.” Some moments come close to making “Hawkeye” a holiday special. He promises the family he will be home for Christmas, and has five days to do it, during which we assume he and Kate will stop some nefarious scheme. Taking all this into consideration, “Hawkeye” is not bad TV, but a show as disposable as its subject. There’s a reason why Hawkeye works best as one of the Avengers who doesn’t steal much of the spotlight. If you stream it you may have a fine time but press the skip button and there won’t be much for second thoughts.

Hawkeye” begins streaming Nov. 24 with new episodes premiering Wednesdays on Disney+.