A guy who tries to do the right thing, screws up, and just wants to get home to his family for the holidays: it’s technically the plot of Die Hard, but it’s also the plot of Disney+’s Hawkeye series, where Marvel’s titular avenging archer (Jeremy Renner) has his family vacation derailed thanks to some unfortunate ghosts from his past.
Hawkeye has Renner’s Clint Barton teaming up with Hailee Steinfeld’s young- but-determined archer (and fangirl) Kate Bishop to unravel a criminal conspiracy tied to Clint’s time as Ronin during the snap phase in Avengers: Endgame. Setting Hawkeye during the holiday season fills a unique hole in the MCU, as it marks Marvel’s first true holiday offering — that is, a movie or a show that makes the holiday season part of the narrative. (Iron Man 3 comes close, but the time of year is arguably a backdrop as opposed to a leading player.)
The choice also invokes a trope that underlines so many of the holiday films and shows we love: a deadline. That’s something Matt Fraction, who wrote the popular 2012 comic series that the show is largely drawing inspiration from, says made the Christmas setting a perfect one for the story of Marvel’s most human Avenger. “The pathos and chaos and madness around the holiday rush adds wave after wave of little human complications guys like Thor and Iron Man never have to deal with,” Fraction tells Uproxx. “The pressure of the holidays, and getting home for the holidays, exposes the most tender and sensitive part of Clint, it puts his most human vulnerability at risk for being hurt — his family. Home, his wife and kids, they’re the anchor that keeps Clint human and vulnerable. Losing them made him go nuts — letting them down would crush him.”
If you’re going to set a show at a time of year when the tension is high and the atmosphere is chaotic, there’s no better character to focus on than the one who is the most down-to-earth — not to mention the one who would actually have real-world stakes when it comes to how he spends the holidays. But holiday experiences are never exactly what they’re purported to look like in media. After all, how many of us have had the “perfect” Hallmark Channel Christmas? The best holiday movies take what we expect and deliver something completely different so that among the fantasticalness of over-the-top hijinks and perfectly tailored couples, we can find a sense of relatability. And similarly, the best Marvel offerings are the ones that subvert the norm of what you’d expect from a story, changing it in an unexpected yet successful way.
When fans picked up Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye book a few years ago, they expected to read a superhero tale. And while Hawkeye certainly had his fair share of superhero antics, most of the comic issues were dedicated to the smaller battles that everyday men like Clint Barton face such as eviction, relationship issues, and depression. But those mundane parts of Clint’s life were what let readers connect with the character in a way that they’d previously been unable to do — and that’s exactly the kind of relatability that fans and non-fans alike will find when they stream Hawkeye.
“Clint’s the guy that’s got one more errand to run, one last gift to hunt down, one last whatever to do to make it THE BEST! CHRISTMAS! EVER! Which isn’t real, and doesn’t exist, and can never be accomplished — but he’s the guy obsessing over whatever last detail remains because home, holidays, a family — those were all the things he was denied as a kid, it’s the thing he fights to keep safe and protect,” Fraction points out. “A home where all the orphans, oddballs, and misfit toys of the world are welcome and wanted, a table with seats enough for everyone, even one-eyed dogs and spunky do- gooders with more sass than common sense.” There’s something special about a show or a movie set during what many dub “the most wonderful time of the year.” As Fraction notes, “the music is the best and everybody looks great in a cozy sweater and those little lights are everywhere so everything just looks fantastic all the time, especially New York City.”
But beyond the visual aesthetics, the drama and antics that imbue the plots of these holiday-themed offerings are balanced with a sense of comfort. It’s a warm reminder, especially when everything comes full circle, that despite the presents and the lights and the food, the best holidays are ones where you feel at peace. And in the same spirit of people coming together during the holiday season, the humanity of Hawkeye’s story — a perfect superhero on the outside with an imperfect life on the inside — is something that people can come together to understand and connect with. Hawkeye is not a show about a powerful witch and her android lover, like WandaVision. It’s not a show about a Norse god who has to fix timelines and unearth the multiverse, like Loki. It’s not a show steeped in political commentary, like The Falcon And The Winter Soldier. It’s a story about a regular guy who shoots a bow and arrow, who did some bad things that are catching up with him, and who needs some help from a regular girl who also happens to have a pretty cool skillset. Maybe we can’t relate to all of that, but we can certainly relate to the guy who just wants to get home to his family. Or to the misfit girl who is trying to do the right thing and looking for a sense of purpose. In a month that can be both the most magical time of year — and also for some, the darkest — Hawkeye is a show that is providing light and a reminder that in the end, we’re all only human.