You'd be hard pressed to find a more popular or well known comic book run for Hawkeye than the series created by Matt Fraction and David Aja from 2012. The book single handedly informed modern fandom's understanding of Clint Barton and became one of Marvel's greatest selling and most beloved stories of all time. Unfortunately, the character in Fraction and Aja's stories was a far cry from the Ultimates universe inspired version of the character seen in the MCU who had been introduced just one year earlier in the first Thor film. It was a bad time for brand synergy--and rather than immediately move to course correct, MCU Clint only deviated further away from the Fraction/Aja vision as his appearances in the films progressed.
Now, a full decade after his live-action introduction, Marvel and Disney have finally made the call to bring Clint Barton back around, giving him his very own Disney+ streaming TV show that very overtly wants to reformat the MCU's archer into the version seen in the comics. Unfortunately, it's all too little, too late, and, after the two episodes provided for review, we remain unconvinced that the MCU's take on Hawkeye has anything meaningful left to salvage after all this time left sitting on the shelf.
Still played by Jeremy Renner, Hawkeye the show opens with a reminder that Clint is a family man in the MCU. Though his kids have been little more than background ornaments since their introduction back in Ultron, they're yet another thing this show would love to retroactively have a do-over with. Set at Christmas, Clint is trying to bond with his family (and struggling thanks to some PTSD and trauma which has left him now wearing hearing aids, a Fraction/Aja touch that we've never seen in the MCU prior to this exact moment). Meanwhile, we have a new character in the mix--Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) who we learn has spent her life idolizing Hawkeye and training in everything from archery to fencing to gymnastics. She's a wealthy college kid with a chip on her shoulder who, thanks to some convoluted events with her mother's new boyfriend (and her soon-to-be stepdad), ends up in some trouble.
These two stories collide soon enough when Kate finds herself in possession of the Ronin costume--you know, the ninja get-up Hawkeye did a whole bunch of murders in back during Avengers: Endgame--and that's where the show really wants to take off. "Wants," being the operative word, here.
Everything from the opening credits to the promotional material has been given the David Aja design treatment--which is concerning, because the artist's name is never listed in the show's credits. Meanwhile, Renner's Hawkeye is as much a cardboard cutout as he ever was, an extremely far cry from the lovable screw-up that Fraction and Aja made him out to be. If there's one saving grace, the first two episodes don't try to give Clint too many punchlines--though the ones he does have fall immediately flat. Kate, instead, is the more lighthearted of the two, though her gags aren't much more endearing. Steinfeld does an admirable job with what she's given, to be sure, but there isn't a drop of chemistry to be found--especially since the show is not subtle at all about wanting viewers to buy that Clint is destined to be Kate's surrogate father-figure. (Seriously, the first episode includes an extended flashback of young Kate crying for her dad while watching Hawkeye in action, you know, just to set the tone.)
On top of everything, the show seems to have completely neglected to think about why the Fraction/Aja story worked so well--in the comics, Clint has an almost Lebowski-flavored charisma. He's constantly getting beat up, but he rolls with the (literal) punches as best he can. He's regularly making disastrous mistakes and bouncing back after a put-upon "aw, (noun)" to briefly mourn the loss of whatever it is blowing up in his face. These qualities are charming, and hilarious, in the context of the comic because the biggest and only real victim of Clint's mistakes is Clint himself--he's not a father in the comics, or a husband (anymore), his actions aren't going to tangentially make him an absentee dad. Kate, meanwhile, is the more put together of the two, acting as Clint's foil. Together, the two wind up telling a poignant story about the cost of superheroes without superpowers, and the real dangers of being a "street level" Avenger.
Here in the MCU, none of that holds. Clint's motivations--to get home to his family in time for the holidays--have a sort of weight to them that bogs the jovial attempt to reinvent him down. Kate, much younger and now a strangely sudden surrogate daughter, isn't his foil, she's his direct junior. The overall effect is awkward and uncomfortable.
That said, as is Disney's tradition with its Marvel shows, only the first two episodes of the six episode series were provided for review, so there is plenty of potential for things to turn around on the shoulders of the inevitable cameos that have yet to be revealed. After all, the Black Widow post-credits scene tee'd up an appearance by Florence Pugh's Yelena that has yet to pay off, so who can say there aren't good things coming our way. And, really, if this show is what it takes to finally free us from having to suffer through Jeremy Renner's humorless, dour take on Clint Barton, maybe it'll all be worth it in the end. There's certainly potential to be found in Steinfeld's Kate, assuming she gets the chance to make an impression away from Clint's shadow.