Review: A Tale of Two Hawkeyes

Of all the good actors who’ve accepted a job in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jeremy Renner was the most misused. He called his chara...


Of all the good actors who’ve accepted a job in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jeremy Renner was the most misused. He called his character, the gifted archer Hawkeye, a “utility guy.” But what he really was was a punching bag.

In the MCU movies in which Hawkeye (real name Clint Barton) appeared as part of the superhero set – working in the shadows of Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America – his luck hasn’t been good. He was magically forced to auction a villain and had to be knocked out to break the spell. When the Avengers needed a crash pad, they took over his farm. When caught in the crosshairs, a promising young hero died protecting him.

And that was before his family disappeared, with half their life in the universe, in “Avengers: Infinity War.” It sent him into a spin in which he became a vigilante – and really, who could blame him? – a fall from which he only emerged to have another hero, Black Widow, sacrifices himself for him.

After all that guilt, heartache, and humiliation, it was nice to hear that Barton, and by extension Renner, was finally getting a title role, even though it was the MCU’s second level: a six-episode series. on Disney +. But wait : “Hawk Eye,” which begins with two episodes Wednesday, has two Hawkeyes. And Clint Barton, even after helping save the world multiple times, isn’t the first Hawkeye. He plays the role of second violin in the series that bears his name.

It wouldn’t matter much, except that Renner proved, in things like “Bourne’s legacy” and several “Mission: Impossible” films, that when not limited to playing stern or bewildered, he can be a superior action star, of subtle, self-sufficient variety. He deserves better than what Marvel and Disney, with their industrial approach to casting, have given him.

There is one piece of good news, however, based on the usual few Disney + episodes for review (two). “Hawkeye” gives Renner a bit more reach, and while a passionate dad and a crisp mentor aren’t necessarily what we’re looking for, they’ll have to, at least until the action picks up, like this will probably be the case in later episodes. In the meantime, he graciously and skillfully assumes the role of straight man for the show’s true protagonist, Hailee Steinfeld. She plays a Gen Z Hawkeye who has learned archery and martial arts on her own, but needs some advice on crime-fighting and general superhero behavior.

In the kind of narrative spackling that keeps the MCU together, we learn that Steinfeld’s character, Kate Bishop, was a young girl when the Battle of New York (long ago in “The Avengers”) took place right in front of the luxurious apartment of his family in Manhattan. This is where his Hawkeye fixation begins; now she’s a student playing pranks with rigged arrows and following her widowed mother’s (Vera Farmiga) suspicious new boyfriend (Tony Dalton from “Better Call Saul”).

There is also a certain infill to Barton’s story: During his self-defense phase, he assumed the character of Ronin and fought a brutal battle with New York’s criminal gangs. Now that his family is back (restored with everyone in “Avengers: Endgame”), he’s trying to get on with life and enjoy Christmas in town. But as fate and the script would have wanted, he finds himself embroiled in his biggest fan and angry gangsters.

As developed by Jonathan Igla, a writer and producer whose credits include “Mad Men” and “Bridgerton,” “Hawkeye” in these early episodes is a light and pleasant watch, which seems less preoccupied with Marvel piety or tall games. level than with a simple comedy between friends. Steinfeld and Renner are good jewels for each other, as Bishop pushes Barton to relax and he deals with her like a difficult aunt. His initial puppy enthusiasm (“Do you rate threats? Is that what you do?”) Is quickly tempered by superhero reality, such as when refueling means hitting CVS for Neosporin and rubbing alcohol.

Igla, and Renner, also play well with the inflated seriousness and overheated commercialism that can characterize the Marvel brand. The Barton family on vacation watch in horror a frenzied Broadway cast in “Rogers: The Musical”. (The familiar looking saboteur singing the praises of Captain America is “Rent” star Adam Pascal.) Searching for a lead, Barton finds himself in the middle of a group of broadsword role players. ; to get what he wants he must not only participate, but also agree to fall so that one of the larps can say he has defeated an avenger.

It’s a modest but promising start, and it seems quite likely that the series can carry its low-key comedic energy through four more episodes. It is less clear whether this will be enough time to conclude a satisfactory story. Two presumably prominent cast members – Florence Pugh, as Yelena Belova (the surviving Black Widow) and Alaqua Cox, as the deaf hero Echo – are barely present and they will need to be drawn into the action. Hoping there is still room for Renner to have fun.

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