The archer and his “protege” have great comedic chemistry but time is working against them.
What if they made an MCU show with almost no stakes? Would that be inviting or off-putting?
After watching the first two episodes of the newest Disney+ Marvel offering Hawkeye, that’s the first question that comes to mind. After all, the MCU as a whole has reached the point that nearly every film literally involves saving the world. What passes for low-stakes these days is Black Widow in her titular film having to stop a power-mad misogynistic from seizing control of the world’s governments with his army of mind-controlled super spies.
Then Hawkeye arrives on the scene. As befitting the one Avenger with a skill, not a super power or suit of impossible armor, the world-weary archer isn’t out to save the world from destruction or dominance. Instead, he’s trying to save a naïve fan working on turning hero in her own right, Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), from paying for his sins.
As you may recall, Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), broken by grief after The Snapture, became Ronin and did some even more violent than usual things to several criminal organizations. After Natasha’s intervention, he ditched the murdering. Alas, Bishop has accidentally led the criminals that survived that Ronin has returned. They’re very anxious to even the score and not that worried that she’s not the real Ronin. Every life matters, but it’s small potato stakes when you consider the giant hand sticking out of the ocean that nearly ripped Earth in half earlier this month.
The tone and pacing further the sense that, perhaps, this isn’t all that big a deal. There are action sequences. They unfold with a nice bounce and verve—when not too obscured by weather factors. However, the sense of “God, again?!” that Renner instills in Clint proliferates the show’s entire emotional valence.
For many, this writer included, the tone and shrinking of stakes is a welcome arrival. The MCU is a massive thing. To continue to grow and delight, it should explore all the speeds and threats possible within those boundaries. A mismatched buddy comedy that feels like it’s operating at more the level of The Rockford Files than, say, Falcon and The Winter Soldier feels like a step in the right direction.
For many, this writer included, the tone and shrinking of stakes is a welcome arrival.
While the first two episodes don’t go deep, the show has already erected the scaffolding for some interesting emotional exploration. One is a man who spent five years wanting nothing more than to be a family man again who has to stay away from them until he can settle his sins. The other is a young woman who watched her dad murdered by aliens and would’ve ended up the same if not for her new partner. While the MCU series have sometimes struggled to deliver their action-packed climaxes, they’ve done better hitting the emotional notes. With the setup, it’ll be hard to miss.
During the wait for the possible deeper emotions, Renner and Steinfeld provide plenty of entertainment just being funny. They have great dry comedic chemistry that helps enhance the sense of this as the MCU’s hang-out series. Even if things don’t grow more complex, this is the kind of witty fun that rarely wears out its welcome.
While the show’s format sidelines the Bartons, including, sadly, Laura (Linda Cardellini), it offers some fun to make up for it. Eleanor Bishop (Vera Farmiga) proves a quality foil for her daughter and her daughter’s new “partner”. It’s a difficult role to play, the serious person while everyone else gets to joke. Nonetheless, the withering looks she cast her Hawkeye & Hawkeye are delightful.
LARP and Broadway setpieces give the show a further comedic jolt. The LARP piece, in particular, hits that sweet spot of heroes having to humiliate themselves ruefully for the greater good. As for the musical, well, we got an hour-long clip of Zemo dancing for an hour because fans got such a kick out of it. One feels fairly certain fans will get to hear a full version of that Rogers! tune before the season’s over.
All of this said, Hawkeye has to get a move on if it’s going to end up more than disposable entertainment. The season has six episodes to tell its story. The episodes screened put us a third of the way there. If you’ll accept this tortured metaphor, the series has a quiver full of potential, but they’re going to have to start nocking arrows if they want to score points.
Hawkeye hits the bullseye with two episodes November 24th on Disney+.