Everyone remembers their first time, right? Perhaps it was a rich arms dealer who realizes too late the effects of his companies’ creations. Or maybe it was the scrawny kid who just wants to do his part to keep his country safe from the evils of the world. Either way, the (arguably) most successful franchise in entertainment history doesn’t find its foundation in giant universe-destroying threats. Instead, it comes from the smaller-scale projects where characters are introduced and developed into the types of heroes that we care about. It is in these smaller-scale moments that the first season of Hawkeye (2021) shines and keeps the audience wanting more.
Before going any further, a bit of a warning: Seeing as this review is coming out a week later, there will be spoilers. So, if you are looking to avoid them, it might be best to skip to the end.
Even with the show being on a smaller scale, the events of the original Avengers movie play an important role in the development of Kate Bishop. It is during that first battle that she, for the first time, sees what an ordinary man can do in the face of great adversity. It is something that pushes her forward in all of her choices – including her obsession with becoming an expert archer.
While it is one major event that shapes Kate Bishop, it is the culmination of several events that pushes the Clint Barton narrative forward. His time as Ronin, the sacrifice of Natasha, and even his life before the Avengers are all points in his timeline that are addressed in the show. It is played as a joke throughout the series, but Hawkeye has often been considered rather dull. However, Hawkeye does a wonderful job of eliminating the narrative of the dull Clint in a way that seems natural. Throughout the show, Clint is shown to be dealing with several traumas, with the death of Natasha being at the top of the list.
Dealing with Clint’s past could have made this a very dark show. However, the interactions between Kate and Clint allow the show to remain light in the face of some heavy material. The play between the two characters has a bit of a buddy cop vibe to it at the beginning. Kate is like the new rookie cop who has heard legendary stories about her partner. Meanwhile, Clint is the hardened cop who just wants to get to retirement, while avoiding letting the new cop in. Thankfully, the way that the interactions are written and performed eliminates any chance of sexual tension in the story. Instead, the arc plays out as more of a true mentor and mentee relationship in which Clint truly has concern for his protégé.
No MCU show can exist without a villain, and Hawkeye has plenty of them. Just like any good detective story, the motivations and the true source of power are kept hidden until the final act. This does not mean that we are left waiting till the end for action, however. Maya Lopez has the most depth and the most complete arc of any of the villains. While Clint provides a sliver of hope in Kate’s life, he provides darkness in Maya’s life. It is his actions that have led to the death of her father and sent her down a path in which violence and death are all she knows. Maya’s hatred for Clint keeps her from seeing who is fully responsible for the death of her father. Although she sees the truth, it does not come without a sacrifice as she loses more family.
The other direct foil to Clint has been predicted since the after-credit scene of Black Widow. Yelena Belova has been told that Clint Barton is responsible for the death of her sister. Of course, MCU fans know that this is not true. Bringing Yelena into the show helps to tie Clint’s demons into the story even more closely. Yelena’s character is a strange combination of a menacing assassin and a wise-cracking tourist. It is a combination that contributes to the balance between dark and light throughout the series. No scene better shows that balance than the discussion between Yelena and Kate in Kate’s burned-out apartment. Yelena’s seamless back and forth between discussing what she should do while visiting New York and admitting that she is going to kill Clint Barton is both light-hearted and chilling at the same time.
While the Kingpin reveal is the biggest for fans of the MCU and the Marvel Netflix series, it does not have a huge effect on the actual storyline. It was obvious that there was going to be a big bad at some point. The fact that it is the Kingpin is only a big deal because it opens the doors for characters like Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones to all show up.
A lot is going on in a relatively short time in Hawkeye. But that is not a new pattern within the MCU. Every action within the MCU keeps the machine moving forward and provides the spark for the next action. Where Hawkeye is different is that it can move the machine forward while also creating a sense of family that is sometimes lacking in the movies. By the end of the series, Clint has been given more depth than in any of his other appearances combined. He is no longer the most boring Avenger (I’m looking at you War Machine). Meanwhile, Kate Bishop moves from a young woman full of awe and hope into the position of being a true hero; Hawkeye sets her up well for a bright future within the MCU.
Hawkeye Season 1
Growth of Clint Barton10.0/10
Kate Bishop's Development9.7/10
Handling several threads at once8.5/10
Yelena, Maya, Kingpin10.0/10
- Starring: Jeremy Renner, Hailee Steinfeld, Alaqua Cox, Florence Pugh, Vincent D'Onofrio
- Director: Bert, Bertie
- Writers: Don Heck, Jonathan Igla