If you think of the Avengers as an NFL team, Hawkeye is the equivalent of the field goal kicker. He’s the small guy who has a particular and valuable set of skills that can be implemented at crucial times — but let’s be real, he’s no Thor or Hulk or Cap when it comes to getting in the trenches and throwing down with mega-villains from far-flung galaxies.
The Avenging humans who remain human, e.g., Tony Stark and Spidey without their suits, Black Widow, et al., are of course the most vulnerable superheroes. (Rest in power, Tony Stark and Natasha Romanoff.) So it is with Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton/Hawkeye, the reluctant antihero who wants nothing more than to retire the bow and arrow and live out his days as a husband and father to his loving family — but we all know that ain’t happening.
This is the refreshingly low-stakes, earthbound (at least in the episodes I’ve seen) setup to the new Disney+ adventure series “Hawkeye,” which favors a relatively light and even comedic touch between the occasional burst of violence, with Renner doing a superb job of adding colors to the titular character’s personality palette. Especially in the scenes with his accidental protégé Kate Bishop (a wonderful Hailee Steinfeld), Clint/Hawkeye proves to be a classic father figure mentor: all gruff and “Leave me alone, kid” on the outside, but instinctively protective and caring. It’s a terrific formula, and thanks to the crisp writing and the easy chemistry between Renner and Steinfeld, “Hawkeye” could have the wings to fly for a long time.
“Hawkeye” kicks off with a prologue set in the Manhattan of 2012, where young Kate Bishop is living with her parents in a spacious penthouse when all hell breaks loose outside. Let’s check the Marvel timeline and, yep, that’s the Battle of New York, with the Avengers taking on Loki and the Chitauri Army. Kate gets a glimpse of the heroic Hawkeye doing his thing in the midst of the chaos, and from that pivotal moment forward, she wants to be the next Hawkeye. (“I need a bow and arrow,” she announces at the funeral for her pops.)
Cut to present day, and the teenage Kate (Hailee Steinfeld) is an archery star with a black belt and a penchant for getting into trouble, even as her well-meaning but preoccupied mother, Eleanor (Vera Farmiga), is planning to marry the obviously sketchy Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton), who is definitely not who he pretends to be. Come on, Eleanor! Wake up and smell the opportunist!
Meanwhile, it’s Christmas in New York (cue “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”), and Clint Barton has taken his children Lila (Ava Russo), Cooper (Ben Sakamoto) and Nathaniel (Cade Woodward) to Manhattan while Laura (Linda Cardellini) stays home in the country, preparing the Christmas feast. Clint and the kid even take in a certain Broadway show about a uniquely American hero, and let’s just say there’s a full-fledged production number and it’s hilariously catchy while also winking at the notoriously troubled, real-life Broadway musical titled “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”
It’s not as if Clint can forget the past anyway; he’s constantly recognized, and he can’t pay for a meal in this town. (Even when he visits the men’s room, there’s a sticker on a urinal proclaiming, “Thanos Was Right.”) Still, Clint is clearly at peace these days and happy to leave the quiver in the locker room — and that’s when he sees news footage of someone dressed as the mercenary hunter known as Ronin, and this makes no sense because CLINT was Ronin during a particularly dark period. What in the name of plot points is happening?
Suffice to say this is the portal to Clint meeting Kate and getting tangled up in her issues, which soon become his issues, and there’s a terrific albeit small moment when Clint takes a pause, exhales and lightly taps his head against a door, because he knows just by going through that door, he’ll be back in the game. Steinfeld is funny and endearing as the skilled but inexperienced Kate, who fangirls out about spending time with Clint (“Will you sign my bow and arrow?”) but is pretty quick with the quips, e.g., when Clint tells her the thugs in tracksuits hunting them down are known as “The Tracksuit Mafia,” she replies, “That’s a little on the nose, don’t you think?”
The Marvel Cinematic/Streaming Universe will never stop expanding, and this latest chapter holds the promise of becoming a solid and entertaining addition to the canon.