So there it is. Hawkeye came and went with a dull thud. While the series certainly improved in its later half, its lack of focus, meandering dialogue, and unsure goals still produced the weakest Disney+ MCU show to date. And since it was sold as a miniseries, it means the end of the show as a whole.
While the previous Disney+ series all contained heavy building blocks for the future of the MCU, Hawkeye differed in its more localized approach. While generally this was a good move, the inclusion of Kingpin in the finale episode signaled that the show does have grander ambitions for future content. With his final confrontation taking place off screen, and the setting up of Echo to eventually have her own series, Hawkeye clearly has the future in mind. But instead of introducing new characters and stories, Marvel is reintegrating the old.
If any of the Marvel Netflix shows were going to make it into the Disney MCU, of course it would be Daredevil. The first season remains one of the best Marvel works to date, and fares well on rewatches as a genuinely inspired take on superhero media, led by Charlie Cox’s strong performance. But the scene stealer was always Vincent D’Onofrio as Kingpin, who brought a terrifying physicality and presence to the character. When Daredevil lost sight of what it was trying to do, it always regained its strength by returning to Kingpin.
Hawkeye’s effort to bring Kingpin into the MCU is smart in concept, his short scenes in the Hawkeye finale show D’Onofrio is ready to embody the character once again. But there is a deeper worry that taking the character into the MCU may make him into a more sanitized version of his Daredevil character. His brief appearance in the Hawkeye finale presented him more as a joke, and didn’t give a good sense that his character will continue to be built off the work done in Daredevil.
Disney is never going to be as brutal as Netflix allowed Marvel to be, which makes sense. But if Hawkeye is a preview to how the character might be transformed, it seems that they may lack the confidence of Daredevil’s vision to act on the themes that made the Netflix series so great. Hawkeye has some fun action and some cute character moments, but its lack of thematic consistency was ultimately one of its greatest failures.
Hawkeye could have been the testing ground for Disney to reckon with darker thematic content. Clint’s past as Ronin and his brief stint as a mass murderer is exactly the kind of material that could be explored through serious themes about revenge, retribution, and the impact of violence. In fact, these are all themes Daredevil wrestled with during its run. But Hawkeye was too scared to act on any of this with real substance, opting for melodramatic character confessionals instead.
If Disney really is going to embrace the characters set up in Daredevil, they need to also be brave enough to include some of what made that show so strong: the way theme and character were interwoven. Kingpin can be turned into a more cartoonish caricature in the MCU, but that would be a waste of the work D’Onofrio is capable of. The MCU doesn’t need to become hyper-dark and violent, but it should at least not subtract the strong character work of Daredevil by failing to back up the themes the show developed that are built into its soul.
You cannot separate Kingpin from his possessiveness over individuals, his insecurity, and his need for loyalty without making him flat. Everything that made Daredevil such a compelling show should come with the characters Disney brings into the MCU. This richer subject matter is the exact thing that will sustain future MCU properties and prevent them from becoming retreads of previously explored material
If Hawkeye is the testing ground for the character before he joins later MCU properties, Disney should take the lesson that Kingpin deserves to be fully realized with all the nuance Daredevil afforded him. They shouldn’t be afraid to let their characters stand for something deeper than they appear to be. And Marvel is capable of fully realizing that when they want to (Wandavision and Loki are strong examples). Even though Hawkeye could never decide what it wanted to be about, that doesn’t have to bleed into future properties.
In the end I’m glad D’Onofrio is returning, and it’s smart for Disney to integrate one of the best Marvel properties to date. I just hope they will honor what they are borrowing from without erasing the nuance that made Daredevil such a captivating and long-lasting show. I can still remember the way it wrestled with its themes, while I struggled to connect Hawkeye’s goals to its execution. But for now, even if Hawkeye’s Christmas wasn’t that merry, there can always be hope in the new year.
Leila Jordan is the TV intern for Paste Magazine. To talk about all things movies, TV, and useless trivia you can find her @galaxyleila
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