Updated: Jan 25
SPOILER WARNING - This review does spoil some events and reveals that take place in Marvel’s Hawkeye series on Disney+.
Let’s be honest, Hawkeye has always been the back-seat Avenger. He is almost always the least favorite and always sticks out as a sore thumb as the one dude who literally just has a bow and some arrows on the same team as a super soldier and an actual god of thunder. He is frequently the butt of many jokes and even Marvel themselves acknowledges this every once in a while, most recently by having Hawkeye be the only member of the original Avengers to not receive a single solo film but instead be relegated to a Disney+ show for his time in the spotlight. It’s even more pathetically poetic then that he doesn’t even get that spotlight to himself, co-hosting his own show with his new apprentice character, Kate Bishop. Now admittedly, Hawkeye isn’t a bad character. He actually has a pretty decent arc that we’ve seen unfold throughout the Infinity saga and even had a surprisingly larger role in Avengers: Endgame than a lot of you may remember (I recently rewatched it and he really does get a lot of screen time and development for all that is going on in that film.) Here, Clint Barton’s Hawkeye reprises his role as the disenfranchised family man but this time with the angle of trying to erase the last traces of his emo phase as the vigilante Ronin. Since Hawkeye has already had a good share of character development, it makes sense that a lot of this show is devoted to establishing his aforementioned Hawkeye-in-training, Kate Bishop. The show is a proverbial passing of the torch as we get to meet Kate and learn about her past and relationship to Hawkeye.
Kate Bishop is a fun character, one whom I’m admittedly interested to see where she’ll show up next in MCU. The show’s few and far-between moments of genuine charm were thanks in most part to her character, most typically in the way her confident-bordering-on-arrogant enthusiasm clashes with some of the more jaded characters of the show, most specifically Clint Barton himself. It was nice getting to see her character develop and become more responsible in dangerous situations as the show progressed. She isn’t the best character we’ve seen in the MCU, she isn’t even the best of phase four, but she’s definitely not one I’d hate to see become a frequent character in Marvel movies. If Marvel is doing what a lot of fans think they are by setting up a “second generation” of characters to fill in the gaps as spiritual successors to all of the beloved classic MCU actors as their contracts expire then I wouldn’t mind having Kate Bishop be a headliner on that roster. This show is functionally her origin story and it does an okay job at that but I hope if she does become a mainstay in the upcoming Marvel era that she’s given more opportunities to show off and really explore her character.
Another new character who we’ve been promised more of in the future is Maya Lopez, the leader of the Tracksuit Mafia and the primary antagonistic force throughout the series. You can sort of tell that Marvel had hoped we’d become a lot more invested with this character because they confirmed she’d be getting her own solo Disney+ series before she even stepped foot onto the screen for the first time. But unfortunately, she’s never really that engaging or fun to watch. They go the route of the “villain who isn’t actually a villain,” wherein she’s introduced as a hot shot that’s gonna give our heroes a whole lot of trouble but before she can do anything really kickass they throw us into this character arc where they try to play her off as misguided instead of evil. The show treats her with an undeserved sympathy before giving us any real reason to care for this character. She isn’t a terrible character but her arc is very rushed inside the limited parameters of the show and they obviously hoped we’d care more about her by the end of the show than she’s really worth caring about. This is pretty obvious in the way that her final showdown is between her and her brother, Kazi, who she ultimately kills in the final episode of the show. The way these characters’ arcs end between these two characters whom we have very little emotional attachment to makes this conclusion feel like a tangent that sort of fizzles out without an impactful ending. Sure, both the characters have established motives and I guess if we’re gonna get a whole standalone series for this character this kind of groundwork is marginally appreciated but we’re never given many reasons to feel any strong sort of empathy for these two. Maya Lopez is a fine if not forgettable character, hopefully her solo show gives her more time to shine and proves herself a character worth caring about. Her brother Kazi on the other hand is just flat forgettable. I’d honestly really rather have had this show not waste time on setting up Maya for her own show and instead had Kingpin take her place and given him a lot more build-up since he is effectively the big bad of the show.
This series made a big deal about bringing back Vincent D'onofrio for the role of Wilson Fisk the Kingpin. He first played the role back in the Daredevil Marvel Netflix series, a show which was for a while considered non-canon but now that he and Charlie Cox’s titular Daredevil are back in the modern MCU the legitimacy of that handful of Netflix Marvel shows in the larger MCU canon are debatable at the moment. While I think the Kingpin character has a lot of potential, especially in the MCU, his appearance in this show was very lackluster and disappointing. There was little to no build-up to his big appearance and when they did bring him in it was at the very end of episode five, the penultimate episode, and that was just for the reveal, meaning everything he actually does in this show happens entirely in the final episode. We’re never really shown why he’s menacing or a threat, only ever told “Oh, this guy’s bad news!” His role here is uninspired and interchangeable with any generic mob-boss bigwig character. He shows up, has about two brief conversations, gets into a mediocre fight scene with Kate Bishop, and then gets shot in the head and dies. Okay, dies with big quotation marks on the account of the show commits the cardinal sin of the shitty “off-screen gunshot” trope, meaning he is almost definitely coming back later. It’s like the show is writing us an IOU note that says “This character is gonna come back and we don’t know how they’re still gonna be alive but we can tell you now that the reason isn’t gonna be very good.” It’s frankly a lazy “end” to one of the laziest adaptations to a Marvel character we’ve seen in the MCU. On top of that, I never got farther than the first few episodes of the Daredevil show when it was a big deal so the appeal of him returning to the role is lost on me but I just don’t really think Vincent D’onofrio plays the role very well. His portrayal of the character doesn’t feel very imposing or powerful and the way D’onofrio speaks while playing this character is with a gravelly voice that sounds very garbled and wasn’t really what I was expecting. The only enjoyable scene with this character is when Kate Bishop first comes face to face with him and fires an arrow into his torso which he promptly snaps out of his abdomen completely unfazed. That was it, the one moment of Kingpin I can say I enjoyed, the one second where we’re shown that he’s actually a force to be reckoned with. Sadly, for the rest of the fight scene he doesn’t do anything special that any heavy thug grunt couldn’t do. It was unfortunately a vastly underwhelming performance and I can only hope that when he does show his face again for the sake of a completely transparent plot-twist that we can already predict that his character is a bit more interesting.
The return of Yelena Belova after her debut in Black Widow earlier this year was a nice inclusion to the story. She once again steals the show as the most enjoyable character in an otherwise mostly average production. The way her character arc collided with Clint’s was one of the most interesting aspects of the series. Yelena was the one character who was consistently fun to have on-screen and had a playful attitude that accompanied a deadpan drive to complete her mission and kill Clint Barton. However, I can’t help but feel that the way the show chose to introduce her was ultimately ham-fisted. Eleanor Bishop, Kate’s mother, at one point directly asks Clint to keep Kate out of the risky business they’ve been dealing with because she obviously doesn’t want her daughter to get hurt. To which Clint responds by ensuring her that he’ll try his best to keep her out of it. Okay, good. Cool. Great. But then, just for the sake of making Eleanor a shitty person, she calls in an assassin to kill Clint Barton, a certified Avenger. There are so many infringing implications that make this action extremely absurd and stupid and feel like a half-assed segue to bring Yelena into the story. I’d have a much harder time forgiving it if Yelena’s return wasn’t one of the few consistent highlights of the show. Her resolution in the show culminates with a one-on-one with Clint. She brandishes a fury towards Clint because she mistakenly believes he was the one who killed Natasha Romanoff, her older sister. Clint is shown more than once throughout the series struggling with the emotional turmoil of having watched Natasha, someone who was very dear to him, die, and coming face to face with Yelena was an organic way of reopening this wound for both of them. They both discuss how much Natasha meant to both of them individually as Yelena has to come to terms with her sister’s death. It was an effective common ground to have these characters clash on and was a poignant step in both of their arcs as they process that trauma. It’s by far the most impactful and resonant scene of the series but the one critical drawback is that this is a high point in two character arcs that have both happened almost entirely outside of this series. You could cut out the five preceding episodes barring maybe two scenes of Clint mourning Natasha and this moment would still carry almost the same weight. The best part of this show has the least amount of relevance to the active plot taking place in these episodes.
It’s also worth mentioning how underpowered Clint is during all the action scenes. It’s not necessarily the most glaring issue, especially not in the context of this show, but Hawkeye isn’t given a lot of opportunities to flex the kind of skill that makes him worthy of being an Avenger. It would have been nice to see him kick ass without breaking a sweat once or twice. It’s understandable that this would flatten the stakes a bit but seeing the same guy who’s held his own against not one but two alien invasions with just his bow and arrow get thrashed around by Kazi of all characters felt like a bit of a letdown. Had they given Hawkeye the respect he deserved, maybe the writers would’ve taken the time to also make some of the antagonists like Maya more powerful in ways that the protagonists would have to learn how to work around and make the whole show a bit more interesting. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case and everything feels a bit weaker because of it. The action is okay, there were definitely fight scenes that felt flat and lame but there were also scenes where you could tell the writers were stretching their creative muscles. That’s when Hawkeye’s action scenes are at their best, when they get a little more high-concept and fantastical, and this mostly happens whenever they experiment with all their different trick arrows. Sadly, this happens only twice in the entire series, leaving most of the other fight scenes feeling lacking in comparison with those few morsels of creativity we only saw a small amount of.
I know this review has been shorter than most but that’s honestly due in large part to how incredibly unremarkable this show is. It’s not terrible on every single account but there are some glaring flaws and a lot of lackluster writing that make this a strong contender for the worst Disney+ Marvel series so far. If you have nothing better to watch then the action is very occasionally fun and the Barton-Bishop dynamic is mildly charming enough to make this show not a total waste of time. It will most likely go down as nothing more than an interjection in the changing gears of the Marvel continuity, serving as not much more than a launchpad for Kate Bishop to pick up the Hawkeye mantle and other characters like Maya Lopez and Wilson Fisk to make their first appearances for hopefully more interesting comeback appearances in later Marvel outings. But if you have someone special to sit down and watch it with then it will always serve as a nice time-waster to spend some quality holiday time with loved ones. And with that, I’ve written my last article of 2021. We have a little break from Marvel content after a pretty densely packed year with the next release being Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in May, a film that holds a lot of promise as it’s been teased as being a much more horror-centric Marvel experience and with a title like that you know they’ll be diving even deeper into the Multiverse rabbit hole that has already given us some of Marvel’s best content ever during this phase. During that break, I’ll be focusing on some non-Marvel products for my reviews, specifically Halo Infinite and Metroid Dread, two games you can expect to see reviews from me about in the near future. In the meantime, I hope everyone has a happy holiday season and I’ll see you all in the new year!