Superhero stories by their very nature often dwell in the big and the expansive, their appeal often lying in the epically macro, not the intimately micro.
They are the very epitome of escapist massiveness, good fighting back against evil on canvases so large and all encompassing, that we can lose ourselves in their sprawling narratives, reality obscured by stories that block out anything that feels even remotely banal and day-to-day.
While they very much have their place, especially in a world where pandemic, climate change and a lack of anything approaching real justice, there’s something inherently soul affirming about superhero stories that remember that real people sit at the heart of these big and bold tales, that remember that once all the dust has settled, both real and figurative, that there are actual people left to deal with the consequences.
Marvel doesn’t always get that balance between the intimate and the public right but when it is does, it is marvellously affecting and intensely poignant, as in the six-part series Hawkeye, which never once forgets there are real people sitting, battered and bruised and emotionally scarred at the heart of its story.
Set at Christmas, which it uses effectively well in creating an atmospheric sense of time and place, Hawkeye does go as big as you’d expect with some intensely big action set pieces including one set at Rockefeller Center on Christmas Eve which involves some murderously battling between Hawkeye/Clint Barton) (Jeremy Renner) and his unexpected new partner, Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) and the almost-hilariously named Tracksuit Mafia.
Arrows are flying everywhere, justice is meted out and those who need to pay are made to atone for their crimes as our superhero twosome work their proverbials off to see the world put right just before Christmas Day dawns.
In amongst all these moments of great import and stylised but impactful violence, Hawkeye never loses sight of the smaller but no less important stories taking place inside the mesmerising bigness of the wider narrative.
Hawkeye, for instance, is desperate to get back to his family out in the snowy surrounds of rural America in time for Christmas Day, having already missed all kinds of seasonal activities such as gingerbready house making, tree decorating, ugly sweater wearing and Christmas movie marathoning.
He is, above all, a family man, and would want this even without any other influences having an effect on his motivations, but having lost his family during the Thanos-induced “Snap” (Avengers: Infinity War) and only just having got wife Laura (Linda Cardellini) and kids Cooper, Lila, and Nathaniel (Ben Sakamoto, Ava Russo, and Cade Woodward respectively) back, these special family times mean more than they ever did.
As you might imagine, all Clint wants is a normal Christmas with his kids in New York City where is where he is at the start of the series, shepherding them to the fictional Rogers: The Musical (watch out at the end of episode six for a fun musical number), which is wonderfully self-deprecatory of Marvel, as well as being a playfully incisive piece of commentary on the way the events of the Chitauri invasion of 2012 affected the city (The Avengers), and going out to a dinner in an urban environment which is well and truly wearing Christmas on its light-strewn sleeve.
It’s everything he wants but when his past comes back to haunt him and he comes into contact with Kate Bishop, who at that point is an accomplished archer and rich girl who idolises Hawkeye after he saved her during the invasion when her penthouse invasion was badly damaged, he realises he has no choice but to stay in New York until the unravelling events of the story come to their natural conclusion.
He feels not only a duty to do the right thing and fix up the mess he made during his grief-inspired activities following the Snap, but to guide Kate who is dealing with some significant issues of her own.
Without giving anything away, Kate is battling with lingering grief from her father’s death many years early, a nagging lack of purpose, and her mother Eleanor’s (Vera Farmiga) with the preening buffoon that is Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton), all of which come together this Christmas in such a way that she and Hawkeye really come to need each other.
Cling doesn’t think so of course, and simply wants to get his issues resolved – which include the appearance of a killer who blames him for her sister’s death – and get home, but it soon becomes clear he’s too good a man to simply walk away and leave Kate in the lurch and so Hawkeye, for all its big, epic moments, ends up becoming a story of two people dealing with their pasts and their messed-up presents and hopefully emerging somewhere out the other side intact, happy-ever-after in hand.
That’s not guaranteed, of course, even at Christmas and there are plenty of moments in this finely tuned story where you wonder if either of them will get their festive happy ending.
It’s all deadly serious and intensely, affectingly human, but it is not without some well-judged humour too, thanks to both Kate, who is allowed to be capably resilient and out-of-her-depth vulnerable too – Steinfeld absolutely nails the balance between skilled and humourously all-at-sea, flinging about quips and oneliners as easily she looses arrows from her bow – and the LARPers who go from roleplaying to helping out with an appealing mix of overeagerness and true friendship, the kind Hawkeye and Kate need in spades as their enemies multiply.
These moments of humour-laden humanity expose the fact that superheroes like Hawkeye are all about being a capable person and less about magical superpowers they don’t possess – Kate observes at one point that “You showed me that being a hero isn’t just for people who can fly or shoot lasers out of their hands, it’s for anyone, who’s brave enough to do what’s right, no matter the cost.” – and rather wisely Hawkeye focuses on the innate realness of people who simply want to do the right thing.
Hawkeye‘s engaging intensity is also leavened by its seasonal setting, which is used to great affect with various songs and pieces of music like The Nutcracker employed to create superb mood and effect, and action scenes taking place in Christmas tree lots which somehow remain magically diverting (maybe it’s the giant inflatable Santa at the front?) even as dark and violent events take place in them.
If it’s possible for a show to be both festively gorgeous and troublingly bleak, Hawkeye manages it with aplomb, going enormously large with a story that builds and builds and BUILDS upon itself while always remembering, apart from the fact that “we need to walk the dog!” (trust us, it’ll make sense when you watch the series), that it’s the intimate stories that really make these tales compelling and that sometimes, it’s enough to simply want to get home for Christmas and hope you can clear up the sprawling mess before you do.