(Hawkeye premieres on Disney+ Wednesday November 24th. First two episodes screened for review.)
Hawkeye doesn’t make for an easy review. Only two episodes out of six were screened in advance, and out of those the second one meanders so drastically you’d think this was a much longer series.
When the show pushes ahead with full steam, it’s great fun. But, like other Marvel properties on the smaller format, it falls prey to spinning plates so it doesn’t risk doing something that would take away from the cinematic offerings elsewhere.
Which is a shame, because there are moments of pure joy here that easily rival any of the bigger outings. An early street level view of the Battle for New York is nightmarish and riveting, exactly the kind of thing that Marvel has shown a knack for in recent years. The origin story for Kate Bishop (a terrific Hailee Steinfeld) is equally one of their better efforts. She’s a Hawkeye fangirl to the bone, and Steinfeld plays the reckless protege to perfection. I want her and Florence Pugh in the same movie right away.
The returning Jeremy Renner is equally good value. He’s always been one of the better parts of the galactic adventure. The rare straight arrow who grounds the insanity alongside Black Widow. Now, alone and no longer an active Avenger, Hawkeye finds himself working hard to cope with everything he’s seen. That everything is more than any one human should ever face, and it’s taking its toll.
These are easily the better parts of the show, and they’re familiar for comic book fans from the Matt Fraction run of Hawkeye comics. The hilariously goofy Tracksuit Mafia makes an appearance as well. They’re easy to spot even for non-fans. Look for the guys who say “bro” a lot. But it’s Lucky the Pizza Dog who steals hearts and the show. Because he’s a good boy.
The plot itself is charming in its low-key stakes. Hawkeye is spending the windup to Christmas in New York with his kids, when a figure from his past comes to haunt him. In the middle of this is Bishop, home for the holidays after causing trouble at school, who goes out looking for trouble in an attempt to live up to her idol. Mistaken identities abound and the duo soon find themselves on a run through the winding buroughs of the city.
It’s a delightful mix of Christmas movie, buddy comedy, and action adventure. Most of the beats work really well based on the opening hours, but the action feels hit and miss. Certain scenes are terrific, like a ill-fated attempt at burning down Bishop’s home. But both leads feel awkward in their fights, and it’s a little too clear when the stunt team takes over.
Maybe it’s just early episode sluggishness, since the teased rest of the season looks far more limber. It wouldn’t be the first time a Marvel property took its time to get going.
At worst, Hawkeye will only be fun. That’s where Marvel is at by now. Their worst will still be hugely enjoyable and entertaining. But based on early promise and the easygoing scruffy charm of its leads, Hawkeye has all the potential for a (I’m so sorry for this) bullseye.