Over the past decade, Marvel fans have witnessed the Avengers’ ace archer Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) battle cosmic invaders in New York, travel through time and space, and even throw down with Thanos. What they haven’t seen is Jeremy Renner’s superhero brush his teeth or attend a Broadway show with his kids.
“When he’s out in public, he’s in costume with the Avengers and fighting aliens,” says Renner. But the new Disney+ series “Hawkeye” (first two episodes streaming Wednesday, then weekly) catches up with the title do-gooder as he goes on a leisurely holiday vacation to New York City, downplays his celebrity and takes on street-level bad guys – all part of Clint’s journey as much as the huge, galactic stuff in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “He’s always been very human and so accessible that way, but now we have to see him fumble around with patience and tolerance.”
At least he gets a new running buddy. The six-episode series finds Clint in Manhattan with his kids to see “Rogers: The Musical” (the big showstopper: “We Could Do This All Day”), a cheesy Broadway spectacular based on the Avengers’ heroic exploits.
The night before they’re due to leave, Clint sees news reports about a masked figure on the loose wearing the costume of the assassin Ronin, the mantle Clint wore tearing a bloody path through the criminal underworld after Thanos wiped his family (and half the population) out of existence for five years (see: “Avengers: Endgame”).
Clint seeks out the culprit and discovers it’sKate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) under the mask. She’s an ace with a bow and arrow who idolizes Hawkeye, accidentally happens upon the Ronin outfit and finds herself targeted by the vengeful bros of the Tracksuit Mafia. Clint sends his kids home, promising he’ll return in time for Christmas, but that leaves him only six days to keep Kate (as well as Lucky the Pizza Dog) safe and settle old scores.
Instead of dealing with MCU supervillains, Kate trained to be a protector for her family, including mom Eleanor (Vera Farmiga), after a childhood tragedy. “She sees being a hero as something that is just so wonderful and fun and exciting, and you get to jump from one building to another and you’re shooting your bow and arrow and you’re really good at it,” says Steinfeld, 24. “But the stakes are a lot higher than she could ever really imagine until Clint finally gets through to her, which takes a minute because she can’t get past the fact that it’s him and they’re on the run together.”
Just as “WandaVision” did for a pair of his fellow Avengers, “Hawkeye” makes Clint a more prominent character than ever, but he’s still the hard-luck hero whose best friend Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) sacrificed herself to save him in “Endgame.” He bristles when someone tries to buy dinner for him and his kids. “He’s very comfortable in being a superhero: It’s his job, it’s what he’s born to do, to serve, to help, to be actionable,” Renner says. “What he’s not comfortable with is the fame.”
What Steinfeld finds “so awesome and beautiful” about their relationship is that“Kate is this refreshing reminder that he is a good person and she is somebody who doesn’t define him by his past but sees him for who he is, and realizes that he, much like her, wants to help people and get home and be with his family.”
Compared to “WandaVision,” “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and “Loki,” “Hawkeye” is the most down-to-earth Marvel Disney+ project yet. But grounding the MCU has been Hawkeye’s modus operandi since Renner first cameoed as the shadowy S.H.I.E.L.D. secret agent in 2011’s “Thor.”
In 2015, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” introduced audiences to Clint’s family (including Linda Cardinelli as his wife, Linda), which brought a dose of humanity to “aliens and interplanetary travel and lightning and hammers and (Chris Hemsworth’s) long flowing hair,” Renner says. That same movie also found Hawkeye having a heart-to-heart pep talk with Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) about what it means to step up and be an Avenger.
“That’s part of what a superhero is. It requires selflessness,” Renner says. “Is he the MCU dad? Yeah, maybe he is. He’s got to do the dirty work, clean up the mess.”
Steinfeld finds Clint to be more of a friend than afather figure, “as adventurous and daring and risk-taking” as Kate. But he gets a dad moment in a car-chase sequence in which Kate shoots trick arrows out of a speeding car and Clint, while driving, has to set aside the most dangerous ones. “If there was a Hawkeye ride at Disneyland, this would be the ride,” Renner says.
It’s moments like that, and performing Renner’s old jump-off-the-building-and-shoot-up-in-the-air bit from 2012’s “Avengers,” that reminded Steinfeld of why she signed on for the show: “I would even look at him and be like, ‘How are we able to call this work?’ ”
Repeatingthat signature move several years later was “a little bit more painful” for Renner, but “I’m 50 and in tights. I make that (stuff) look good,” he jokes. “It’s a blessing, man. I take the job seriously, but never lose sight of how much fun I’m having and getting to see her reactions to a lot of things brings me a lot of joy as well.”