Hawkeye episode 1 recap: an origin story that really hits the mark

About this episode

– Episode 1 (of 6), ‘Never Meet Your Heroes’
– Written by Jonathan Igla
– Directed by Rhys Thomas
★★★★

Spoilers for the first episode of Hawkeye follow. You have been warned.

Origin stories have always been tricky things to pull off. The path to superhero status is riven with clichés, while spending too long on explanations can be a distraction from the story you really want to tell. As an introduction to rookie archer Kate Bishop, however, this debut episode of Hawkeye gets almost everything right – in fact, within the first 20 minutes you know almost everything you need to.

Anyone casually flipping through Disney Plus, expecting to see Clint Barton: The TV Series, will possibly be surprised to see the focus is more on Bishop than the original Hawkeye. If you’ve read our interview with the show’s director and producer, you’ll know this already. Still, as bold a move as it is, it pays off spectacularly.

The pre-credits sequence shows how the young Kate lost her father in the Chitauri assault of the first Avengers movie – nearly a decade on, the Battle of New York continues to be a pivotal event in the MCU – and is subsequently inspired by Hawkeye’s archery antics on the battlefield. “I need a bow and arrow,” she says at her dad’s funeral, vowing to protect her mother against anything that comes their way.

A brilliantly animated credits sequence – delivered in the trademark purple hue of Bishop’s comic-book look – picks up the story, showing how she became a champion archer, gymnast and fencer. As well as being a crash course in Superhero Skills 101, it’s a wonderfully efficient piece of storytelling. The first time we see Kate in action is also revealing, as she uses her unique talents to shoot – and accidentally smash up – a vintage belltower as part of a bet. It’s a good job her mom’s rich enough to pay the repair bill…

Barton himself hasn’t been forgotten, and the episode skilfully switches between its two protagonists throughout. He’s the last of the original Avengers to get title billing, and on paper it’s easy to see why – next to supersoldiers, Norse gods, billionaire tech geniuses and super-spies, a guy who’s simply really good with a bow and arrow is very much a supporting player. Even so, ‘Never Meet Your Heroes’ quickly shows why he’s the perfect anchor for a TV show.

In a nutshell, Hawkeye is a hero with baggage. When Thanos delivered the most famous finger snap in history, Clint Barton lost everything. So, with his wife and three kids turned to dust, he transformed himself into the vigilante Ronin, unafraid to push the limits of the PG-13 rating as he embarked on a violent mission to eliminate organised crime. Then, to make matters worse, he had to sacrifice his best friend, Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow), to recover the Soul Stone on Vormir. Even with his family restored, a backstory like that is going to leave a mark.

Jeremy Renner is brilliant here, with his gruff, unshowy performance revealing the vulnerable, human side of a hero. Though clearly devoted to his kids, there’s an underlying sadness lurking behind the eyes, most notably when an actor playing Black Widow in a production of hot new Broadway smash Rogers: The Musical brings the memories flooding back. Barton is clearly uncomfortable with his massive celebrity, the weight of the lives he took in his Ronin guise taking a considerable toll.

And yet despite that darkness, this episode is lots of fun – and not just because its “six days ’til Christmas” setting is all the excuse Marvel needs to turn the soundtrack into a festive jukebox.

From the hilarious glimpses at the Steve Rogers show – surely a real-life MCU musical can’t be too far behind? – to Kate Bishop’s inventive fight sequences, there’s a real lightness of touch here. Hailee Steinfeld instantly makes the role her own, whether she’s in the midst of a dispute with her mom, going undercover, or beating up mobsters with vintage wine bottles.

But as skilled and inventive as Kate is, it’s clear she’s far from the finished article. Indeed, as soon as she dons the Ronin suit it’s inevitable she’s about to find herself in over her head, and becomes the target of the so-called Tracksuit Mafia – aka the bad guys – whose leader has made it his business to pursue with extreme prejudice.

Lucky for her, running around in that outfit is a sure fire way to attract the attention of one Clint Barton, the ideal mentor for someone with her skill set. “Who the hell are you?” he asks after saving her from the angry mob. On the evidence of episode one, finding out the answer is going to be a blast.

Our verdict

The latest MCU TV show hits the ground running, and serves as a near-perfect set-up for the new series. As well as deftly introducing Kate Bishop and revealing some of Clint Barton’s demons, it poses some intriguing questions that bode well for the show as it continues.

How did Eleanor Bishop’s fortunes turn around in the decade since the Battle of New York? What did she do that upset Armand Duquesne III so much? Why is Jack, her new fiancé, so obsessed with Ronin’s retractable sword? Why is the watch recovered from the Avengers Compound so important? And where can we get tickets for Rogers: The Musical? Hopefully the answers will come in the five remaining episodes of Hawkeye, rather than down the line in a follow-up MCU movie or TV show.

Marvel has just given us a fantastic early Christmas present – fingers crossed we haven’t just unwrapped the best gift first.

Marvel-ous facts

  • Created by Stan Lee and Don Heck, Clint Barton/Hawkeye first appeared in Tales of Suspense #57 in 1964. Barton has also taken on the mantles of Goliath (inheriting Hank ‘Ant-Man’ Pym’s size-altering technology), Golden Archer and, of course, Ronin.
  • Clint Barton’s hearing loss is inspired by a storyline in a 1983 Marvel miniseries.
  • Kate Bishop made her first appearance in Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung’s Young Avengers #1 in 2005. She later inherited the Hawkeye moniker from Barton.
  • In the comics, Bishop was a member of the Young Avengers, alongside three other MCU TV show characters – Speed and Wiccan were Wanda and Vision’s kids in WandaVision, and Kid Loki appeared in Loki.
  • Hawkeye plays around with Kate’s family history slightly. In the comics, Kate was raised by her father, Derek, after her mother was presumed dead. Eleanor later went onto work with one of Kate’s enemies, Madame Masque. Kate also has an older sister, Susan, though she doesn’t appear to exist in the MCU.
  • Shady businessman Armand Duquesne also has comic-book history, where he was a government official in the fictional Asian country of Sin-Cong. His son, Jacques, goes on to become Swordsman, inspired by tales of World War I criminal-turned-hero the Crimson Cavalier (aka René Duquesne). 
  • Eleanor Bishop’s new fiancée Jack Duquesne’s obsession with Ronin’s retractable sword may offer some clues to the character’s path in the rest of the series.
  • This has been the busiest year in the MCU’s history – by the time 2021 is done, we’ll have had four movies (Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals and Spider-Man: No Way Home) and five TV shows (WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, What If…?, Loki and Hawkeye).
  • According to Bloomberg, Disney originally planned to make a Hawkeye movie. When Disney Plus became a reality, however, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige shifted the project to TV.
  • Director Rhys Thomas recently told GamesRadar+ that Hawkeye is set two years after the events of Avengers: Endgame. That places it after both The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Eternals in the MCU timeline.
  • Hawkeye isn’t the MCU’s first Christmas-based adventure. In the tradition of most of director Shane Black’s movies, Iron Man 3 also takes place over the festive season.
  • The “Thanos was right” graffiti in the men’s bathroom continues The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s themes about widespread dissatisfaction in the post-Blip world.
  • The Lunt-Fontane theater that hosts Rogers: The Musical is a real-life Broadway auditorium. The cast also features real-life Broadway stars.
  • Rogers: The Musical isn’t Marvel’s first trip to Broadway. Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark was one of the most expensive theater productions in history, and featured music by U2’s Bono and the Edge.
  • The ‘display-only’ skull up for auction appears to belong to a Chitauri dragon (or Leviathan), used in the Battle of New York.
  • Jeremy Renner’s breakout role came in 2008 Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker. He’s rather familiar with the worlds of action and espionage, having appeared in a couple of Mission: Impossible movies and The Bourne Legacy.
  • Renner hails from Modesto, California, the home town of one George Lucas.
  • Since her own breakout role in the Coen brothers’ True Grit, Hailee Steinfeld (Kate Bishop) has starred in a Ender’s Game, Bumblebee and a couple of Pitch Perfect movies. She also stars in Apple TV Plus series Dickinson, and recently voiced Vi in Netflix’s League of Legends show, aka Arcane.
  • Vera Farmiga (Eleanor Bishop) plays ghost hunter Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring series, and also played Norma Bates in Bates Motel.
  • A veteran star of British stage and screen, Simon Callow (Armand Duquesne III) most famously appeared as Gareth in Four Weddings and a Funeral – the unfortunate subject of the eponymous funeral.
  • Although this is Hawkeye’s first outing as the title star, he’s previously appeared in Thor, The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Endgame. Jeremy Renner also voiced the character in several episodes of Marvel’s What If…?
  • Steinfeld also has Marvel history – she voiced Gwen Stacy/Spider-Gwen in the non-MCU movie Into the Spider-Verse, which was made by Sony Pictures Animation.
  • All three of the show’s leads have been nominated for Academy Awards – Renner for The Hurt Locker and The Town, Steinfeld for True Grit and Farmiga for Up in the Air.
  • Clint’s family are still played by the same actors from Avengers: Endgame – Linda Cardellini (Laura), Ava Russo (Lila), Ben Sakamoto (Cooper) and Cade Woodward (Nathaniel) from the movies. Ava Russo is the daughter of Captain America/Avengers co-director Joe Russo.
  • The episode’s writer, Jonathan Igla, is also the head writer and showrunner on Hawkeye. He’s also worked on Mad Men, Masters of Sex and Bridgerton.
  • Composer Christophe Beck has also worked on Ant-Man and WandaVision in the MCU, as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the two Frozen movies.

New episodes of Hawkeye stream on Disney Plus every Wednesday.

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