It’s been a rocky road for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s forays into television. ABC series like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have been largely erased from canon despite their initially lofty ambitions. Later, a deal with Netflix resulted in series like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and the much-maligned Iron Fist, all of which have tenuous relationships with the larger MCU.
It finally appeared the franchise had found the perfect streaming home when a slate of Marvel Originals were announced for Disney+. However, not even all of those hit the mark. Many criticized WandaVision for missing Marvel’s trademark action until its last episodes, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier felt like a six-hour movie in less-than-positive ways.
But in its first two episodes, Hawkeye — premiering on Disney+ November 24 — learns from the mistakes of its small-screen predecessors.
Hawkeye was initially developed as a feature, and that’s obvious from its opening minutes. The series features a Christmas setting, family-friendly tone, and plenty of post-Endgame fallout, all of which makes it feel like a major event in the MCU, designed to be watched by the whole family in a theater over Thanksgiving rather than released to streaming.
But Hawkeye flourishes on television, finally giving Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton the showcase he deserves while introducing his promising protege in the form of Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld).
Two 40-minute episodes are launching simultaneously during its premiere, meaning fans have a Marvel feature’s worth of material to enjoy in the series’ first week. These two episodes do everything a pilot needs to do — even if they feel a little stretched to accommodate a surplus of narrative.
And yet, at the center of Hawkeye in its early hours is the dynamic push-and-pull of Clint’s relationship with Kate, the two master archers balancing the emotional pathos and irreverent humor that has pervaded Marvel’s releases since Endgame. Loki escaped such tonal responsibilities by being set pre-Endgame (at least, in Loki’s timeline), but WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier both dealt with heavy topics like post-traumatic stress disorder, grief, identity, and denial.
Such storylines, while important, can grow old through repetition. Enter Kate Bishop. Much like Marvel fans, she’s grown up with the Avengers. She saw the Battle of Manhattan as it raged, and the heroics of the Avengers that day inspired her. She learned how to shoot and fight at championship levels in response to what she saw as an age of heroes.
Unlike the Avengers, Kate wasn’t terribly impacted by the Snap. Now 22, she’s just looking to start her adult life and get out under her security-maven mother’s shadow. She’s not dealing with grief or PTSD, just the late stages of teen angst. It’s this young perspective that has been lacking in Marvel’s TV universe.
Paired with Clint Barton, neither personality takes up the entire screen. Clint’s flip-phone and constant complaining counteracts Kate’s Gen-Z antics, and her sunny (if panicked) disposition balances out his grief over losing his best friend (Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow) and the hope he feels that it’ll be possible to reunite with his family in time for Christmas.
Hawkeye represents the MCU finally getting comfortable with its television side. These series don’t have experiment with format like WandaVision, but they also don’t have to feel like feature films chopped up into pieces. At least in its first two episodes, Hawkeye gives itself breathing room and seems content to develop characters at its own pace. The main villain isn’t even introduced until the last few seconds of the second episode. The series’ overarching plot can take its time to get going, just as it did in Matt Fraction’s original comic-book source material.
Hopefully, Hawkeye can set the tone for more Marvel television series to come as the MCU grows through its biggest creative conundrums yet. With the multiverse on the brink of its own crisis point, this series may be the last human-sized conflict we’ll see from Marvel for a while. As such, Hawkeye is smart to take the time it needs to aim true and hit a bullseye.
Hawkeye premieres on November 24, 2021.