The show has its flaws, but it’s a breath of fresh air from Marvel, which has in recent years been more interested in preaching than entertaining.
Contains minor spoilers for the first two episodes of ‘Hawkeye’
In the wake of Marvel’s miraculous run of movies which began with Iron Man in 2008 and culminated with Endgame in 2019, Disney’s money-making superhero division has been searching for a creative way forward with their storytelling in both film and television.
That search has usually resulted in pathetic woke pandering and virtue signaling on social issues, or mind-time-world bending extravagancies, or an unwieldy combination of both.
For example, Black Widow boasted a shamelessly shallow girl power, patriarchy-busting narrative and Falcon and the Winter Soldier pathetically pandered on racism, both with lackluster results.
WandaVision and Loki, on the other hand, toyed with audience’s minds as they bent time and storylines; thankfully they were at least interesting.
Now with the new six-episode mini-series Hawkeye – the first two episodes of which began streaming on Disney Plus on Wednesday with new episodes released every week for the next month – Marvel is trying a somewhat different approach.
After watching the first two episodes of Hawkeye, I can report that thus far, thankfully, wokeness has not overtly reared its ugly head and no gods or time-bending wizards have showed up to mess with reality either.
In fact, Hawkeye is the most-grounded, most ‘realistic’, and most authentic piece of storytelling in recent Marvel history, which isn’t a high bar to reach, but at least they reached it.
Hawkeye tells the story of Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, the family man and badass superhero archer from The Avengers movies, and Kate Bishop, a Hawkeye wannabe who stumbles into trouble. They both end up working together after the costume of the vigilante Ronin turns up and falls into the wrong hands.
The series, or at least the first two episodes of the series, is far from perfect, but it’s unique and interesting because at its core, it’s really a droll comedy wrapped in the superhero cloak of an action-mystery.
Marvel has always had an undercurrent of comedy in their films, but that was always more a function of the impeccable comedic timing of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and the glorious obliviousness of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, than anything else.
Hawkeye, though, is legitimately and genuinely funny in the most subtle, self-aware, un-Marvel way.
For instance, the series opens with Clint/Hawkeye in New York City for the Christmas season. As a treat, one that he quickly regrets, Clint brings his kids to see the big Broadway musical hit Rogers – which is based on Captain America Steve Rogers and the Avenger’s defense of New York, of which Hawkeye was a vital part.
The scenes of the musical are hysterical, like something out of The Simpsons’ (another Disney property) famous Planet of the Apes Musical starring Troy McClure, not just because they’re so dreadful, but also because they’re so horrifyingly believable.
This heinously egregious Captain America musical is a gloriously savage but subtle dig at the vapid and vacuous culture that made the insidious and insipid awfulness of Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Hamilton a landmark achievement and rabid sensation.
Watching the theater muffin versions of the Avengers sing “Hulk…SMASH!” and “I could do this all day” literally made me laugh out loud, most especially because the corporate pimps at Disney are bound to produce either that exact same show or one frighteningly similar to it. It doesn’t take much imagination to conjure the painful image of, say, U2, who once actually wrote the score for a disastrous Broadway superhero musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, teaming with establishment darling and abysmal, talentless shill Lin Manuel-Miranda to make some corporate-friendly musical like Rogers: The Musical.
Other scenes, like the one where Clint and Kate see people dressed as superheroes and Kate opines on the superhero Hawkeye’s failure to resonate with the broader culture being a function of branding issues and poor marketing, or when Hawkeye himself goes to a LARP (live action role play) event, are Marvel making fun of Marvel to the most Marvel-ous degree.
The main reason for Hawkeye’s success though is that its stars, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and Hailee Stanfield as Kate Bishop, are terrific in their roles.
Renner’s gruff, dead-pan delivery is deliriously good, and the luminous Stanfield is absolutely masterful with her comedic timing as well, like when she says the name of the Track Suit Mafia is “a little too on the nose.”
In Hawkeye, Renner and Stanfield are like some bizarro-world, asexual, Marvel version of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn… if Grant and Hepburn had to fight and shoot arrows at bad guys.
To be sure, Hawkeye has flaws. For instance, it can be a little slow at times, and the few action sequences featured so far are not very noteworthy.
But with that said, I found myself pleased to see Marvel trying something new that didn’t involve overt woke preening and aggressive virtue signaling.
It would appear from the first two episodes that Marvel has given us a little early Christmas present this year, as the subtle, self-aware comedy on display in Hawkeye won’t work in too many other projects going forward for Marvel, but fortunately it does work well here.
We will see where the series goes from here, but thus far, I’m grateful that Hawkeye appears to be a little piece of harmless holiday fun. Let’s hope it stays that way.