Hawkeye review: Marvel's Jeremy Renner, Hailey Steinfeld show is a Christmas movie in weekly instalments
Hawkeye proves itself to be a lively, polyphonic addition to the Christmas canon, with strong performances by Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld leading the way.
Marvel released a total of five streaming shows this year, beginning with the meta-TV genre-bender WandaVision in January, and ending with the Christmas-themed action-comedy Hawkeye, which concluded its six-episode run on Wednesday.
To varying degrees, these five shows (Loki, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and What If? being the others) offered their creators wiggle room from Marvel’s 'house style,' the familiar beats of which are difficult to escape in a 100-minute movie. As a result, there is an all-sorts, composite quality to these shows, as they go through different genre outfits in successive episodes.
Hawkeye announces its genre loud and clear from the first episode, with the framing, the screenplay, and the music. It stays true to this choice throughout, including the finale mid-credits scene, in fact. It is a Christmas movie released in weekly instalments. On more than one occasion, it echoes one of its primary inspirations: Home Alone, the perfect Christmas movie with perfectly-sized chunks of action, comedy, and family drama, where even the characters’ grief and trauma are ultimately subsumed within a kind of Jimmy Stewart redemption idiom.
Ultimately, Hawkeye proves itself to be a lively, polyphonic addition to the Christmas canon, with strong performances by Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld leading the way.
Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop, in fact, is the best thing about Hawkeye, and a great new addition to the younger line-up of superheroes (Peter Parker, Kamala Khan, Monica Rambeau) Marvel is putting together. Hawkeye begins in peak Marvel mode, when young Kate witnesses Clint Barton (Renner) fighting aliens during the ‘battle of New York’ (during The Avengers from 2012). She loses her father in the crossfire but is inspired by her new hero: Hawkeye, the man who was fighting monsters with just a bow and an arrow (plenty of trick arrows, but we will come to that presently).
Cut to the present, when the now-22-year-old Kate, an expert archer, stumbles upon Barton’s infamous “Ronin” costume at a secret auction — we know that Barton killed scores of gangsters while donning the costume during the Blip. Fighting bad guys as Ronin, however, puts her in the crosshairs of the Tracksuit gang, an appropriately oafish bunch of villains in a Christmas movie. Their leader Maya (Alaqua Cox), however, is sleek, lethal, and determined to find Ronin, the man who killed her father. Maya, like Cox herself, is deaf, and you can see several characters using ASL (American Sign Language) to talk to her.
Meanwhile, Kate’s mother Eleanor (Vera Farmiga) is suddenly engaged to the mysterious, too-sweet Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton), who also seems to have a thing for swords. Caught up in all of this, of course, is old man Barton himself: 20-plus years fighting an unending war have left him with shattered joints and partial hearing loss (he needs a hearing aid now). His guilt about Natasha Romanoff’s death remains a festering wound.
Like all good Christmas heroes, then, Barton has to fight his own demons. He also has to help Kate deal with the Tracksuits and her family intrigues, and he has to do all of this and be back home in time for Christmas with his family. We have seen this movie, I admit, but Hawkeye manages to be consistently charming, and retains a sense of adventure and bonhomie across its six episodes.
In particular, the passing-of-the-mantle arc between Barton and Kate is handled with maturity and humour. There is a Karate Kid-like vibe to some of their early exchanges, with Renner leaning into Barton’s ‘gruff daddy’ mannerisms. This develops into an easygoing chemistry by the time we are in the finale, where Barton is side-mouthing things like “weird flex” to her.
The character of Maya Lopez starts off as a bit of a single-note, vengeance-driven story, but again blossoms into a complex narrative. Barton losing his hearing in drips and drops is juxtaposed nicely with the way Maya has adapted to her deafness since childhood, the two even sharing a moment midway through the series where Maya points out this difference.
Kate even acquires herself a new sister act with the returning Yelena Romanoff (Florence Pugh), the new Black Widow herself. As we had seen towards the end of the Black Widow movie, she had set off to find and kill Barton, who she believed was responsible for her sister Natasha’s death. Kate, obviously, does not want her new father figure to be assassinated but despite this, Yelena and Kate strike up a whirlwind friendship — it is like a Jane Austen setup, almost. With Kate, Yelena becomes funnier, and a bit less intense while Yelena’s skills push Kate to become the best version of herself; it just works, y’know?
Early on in the show, Eleanor Bishop tells her daughter, "Young people feel they’re invincible and rich people feel they’re invincible, and you’ve always been both." And in many ways, Hawkeye is an origin story about a privileged young woman learning to escape her bubble, and put herself on the line for other people. Oh, and it also brings back one of the most memorable characters of Marvel’s ‘Netflix era’ (2015-19, featuring shows like Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Iron Fist): Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin, the ruthless, physically imposing mob boss who has fingers across several pies in New York. D’Onofrio is in smashing form too. He is empathetic and silky-ominous with Maya, and impressively brutal in his climactic battle with Kate.
There is a lot to love about Hawkeye, but perhaps the only complaint one can have is the prologue-like feeling the latter episodes have. Like Loki earlier this year, the story feels like the beginning of something bigger, rather than a well-rounded, self-contained unit. With future seasons (by which, presumably, these characters will have their stories moved forward in Marvel movies too) these issues can be ironed out, one feels.
Hawkeye is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
Aditya Mani Jha is a Delhi-based independent writer and journalist, currently working on a book of essays on Indian comics and graphic novels.
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