Christmas is a hell of a complicated time. There’s last minute gift-buying and ascertaining the medically safe amount of eggnog one can quaff without keeling over, sure. But then there’s all the associated pressures, chiefly around family. That Christmas sweet spot, between the mundane and the life-changing, is where Hawkeye positions Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Kate Bishop (Hailee Stenfield), both harried by complex family situations, yet finding themselves forming a makeshift family unit of their own somehow.
In an interview, I tell Renner and Stenfield that “this, frankly, is the most violent, touching, New York-centric Christmassy screen outing since… well, Home Alone 2,” and they both process it… then laugh, nodding enthusiastically.
Hawkeye takes place right in the heart of New York during the festive season, with Barton on a mini-break with his kids, determined to show them what Christmas in the Big Apple truly means. The giant tree, the decorations… and, for some reason, Rogers! The Musical, a turgid (but unnervingly on-point) parody of a) musical theatre, and b) how pop culture woefully misses the point when it comes to heroic acts.
Barton sees the actor playing Romanov and has what seems to be a bout of PTSD. A reasonable reaction to both terrible tragedy and stressful family Christmas outings.
“What,” I ask Renner and Stenfield, “is your idea of the perfect Christmas? Obviously, Hawkeye has you both dealing with really complex stuff during the holiday season, but what, for both of you, is the perfect Christmas? What are you eating, where are you, who are you with… and are there bad guys chasing you at the time?”
Renner sits up, narrowing his eyes, smiling. “Well, definitely there’s bad guys there. That sounds like the ideal relaxing family Christmas!” He and Stenfield laugh, then Renner leans forward, earnestly. “Look, for me, it’s… this sounds kind of boring, but it’s kinda like what happens in the show, you know? I’m kind of like, I’m gonna do some sledding, make some hot cocoa, take a nap by the fire and be with my family. It sounds like… well, certainly not a movie! Or a show!”
Stenfield nods. “Yeah, I think the holiday time is… I dunno, I look forward to sort of slowing down and being with the people that I love. And taking that time to sort of, you know, reflect. On the year, right? Or whatever. I mean, I think that’s it: slow down, be with the people that you love. And if you happen to be in a tropical place, that’s also cool, too. Keep it simple, though.”
Renner looks surprised at her answer. “You’d rather have a warm Christmas? Than a white Christmas?” She thinks for a moment. “I mean, not necessarily!” “But you wouldn’t turn it down, right?” he replies, playfully. “Oh, no, no. Hell no”, she responds, and they laugh.
It is, frankly, delightful to see the two of them bantering so easily. It’s a dynamic that drifts almost effortlessly off the screen whenever they’re bouncing off one another in the show – they’re both superb on their own, each navigating a legitimately compelling plot thread with the kind of ease these Disney+ Marvel series have gotten so adept at giving us.
But when they’re together? It’s a Christmas miracle.
The series opens with Stenfield’s Kate Bishop enduring her own version of a complicated family Christmas, but in hers it’s her parents that form the crux of her troubles. It would do the show a genuine disservice to blow the details for you – I’m already convinced the trailers for Hawkeye show entirely too much (welcome to the world of movie trailers, everyone), but I will say this: there’s a degree of abandonment, although not malicious or deliberate, that sets Kate out on her own.
I can say this, though. Hawkeye is clearly based on Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, an utterly iconic run of comics which put Clint Barton in a run-down New York apartment block. Taking place outside the confines of the superheroic, it instead became a warm, big-hearted, intelligent look at the life Hawkeye lived between the Earth-shattering antics, focussing on his personal issues, his burgeoning friendship with Bishop and his hearing impairment (which is, wonderfully, present in this show).
But part way through the Fraction run, Hawkeye rescues a dog. The dog has one eye and soon becomes the means by which Hawkeye hangs on to his hope, his humanity, his optimism, even as it threatens to drain away. Much hay has been made of the fact that “Pizza Dog”, as he’s known (try and guess why) is, in fact, present in this show. But here, it’s Kate that initially rescues him. By the end of the first episode of Hawkeye, we’re presented with this soon-to-be-bonded triptych of characters, ready to form a makeshift, ragtag family unit just in time for Christmas, when family is the one thing which can bring it all together (or smash it all apart).
“They say you should never work with animals or children,” I suggest. “But what was it like working with Pizza Dog… and I can’t see above your knees, but is he down there, just out of shot?”
Stenfield grins. “Yeah. Shhhh! He’s sleeping! No, working with the dog was actually… well, quite fun! The dog was unbelievably well trained… for the most part. When there aren’t any squirrels around. When we were doing a walk-and-talk through a park, very well behaved. And very easy to work with! It was quite cool to watch, though, to be honest, cos we would do walking around rehearsals, where we’d run through a scene on camera right before we’d shoot it, and they’d throw the dog in right when it was time to shoot, and… it didn’t always work like that! The dog needed a rehearsal or two! To, you know, make its marks, so it was fun to watch; it was a whole thing in and of itself.”
She glances towards her feet, as if to check on her furry friend (for a moment, I’m convinced he is there), then catches herself and looks back at me. “But Pizza Dog? Is awesome.”
This is going to sound hokey, but sometimes family is something you build up around you, as opposed to something you’re born with. The reason we resonate so much with the MCU is because it’s about those hard-fought loving relationships between disparate people which leads to team-ups that can take down even the biggest foe.
In Hawkeye, it’s a super-powerless Avenger with a hearing aid and PTSD, stuck in New York at Christmas, away from his family. It’s a brilliant rich girl with a nightmarishly complicated family, living alone, beset by bad guys. And it’s a dog with one eye, who really, really loves pizza. A pizza dog, if you will. And it’s New York, the most wonderful place in the world to spend Christmas. How could these three not band together to create some unforgettable, life-changing Christmas memories?
Hawkeye is the new Die Hard. It’s an action-packed, wisecracking Christmas adventure where bullets fly, bells jingle and life-long friendships are forged. In short: it kicks festive ass.
Hawkeye will launch in Australia on Disney+ on November 24, 2021.
Paul F. Verhoeven is an author, broadcaster and TV presenter. His books Electric Blue and Loose Units are out now through Penguin, and his podcasts, DISH! and Loose Units, are available everywhere you get your podcasts. You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram and in person, if you can find him (he’s very good at hiding).