Passing the torch: ‘Hawkeye’ series on Disney+ reflects on legacy

I really wanted to write an in-depth article on the theme of legacy in Ghostbusters: Afterlife, but life got in the way and I never had a chance to finish the article (or well, even start it, if I’m being honest). Then, Disney+ launched the new Hawkeye series, which ALSO deals with legacy, and I’m going to take advantage of this second chance to write about one of my favorite themes in storytelling. 

I have to confess, when it comes to Marvel Cinematic Universe superheroes, I sometimes forget about Hawkeye. He seemed cool enough when I saw him in 2012’s The Avengers (which is about to turn a decade old, if you can believe that). But then we got Guardians of the Galaxy, heroes like Captain Marvel showed up, and now we have all kinds of multiverse madness headed our way in Phase 4. Is there still a place for a hero like Hawkeye in an MCU that now boasts cosmic superheroes like the Eternals?

The smaller scale of the Hawkeye series is actually a large part of its charm. While it’s exciting to see epic storytelling on the level of Infinity War and Endgame, not every MCU outing can contain a universe-ending threat. Sometimes it’s nice to have a simpler story, especially one without the distraction of superpowers or time travel or other fantastical elements. 

Hawkeye is actually less about Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) than I thought it was going to be, though that isn’t a criticism. The show also introduces young archer Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), whose experiences during Loki’s attack on New York City inspire her to start training so she can be like her hero, Hawkeye. 

In the first couple episodes, the old adage “You should never meet your heroes” turns out to be true for Kate. By this point in the MCU storyline, Clint is burned out, and haunted by the ghosts of his past: namely Natasha/Black Widow’s death and his violent escapades as Ronin. 

Clint (presumably) wants to put his superhero days (and especially his time as Ronin) behind him, but when you’re a superhero, it’s hard to leave that kind of life, and your enemies have a way of following you. By contrast, Kate is full of life and energy, and she has a passion for the work of saving the city, while Clint just wants to get the job done and get back to his family. 

I’m sure I’ve commented on this many times before, but I really, really like when film franchises lean into the theme of legacy. There’s a reason why the sequel trilogy is my favorite thing about Star Wars. Older characters like Han, Luke, and Leia have to grapple with the legacy they’ve left in the galaxy, and new heroes like Rey, Poe, and Finn undertake their own hero’s journey and figure out how to carry that legacy forward. 

Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Hawkeye both address the theme of legacy, and they’re better for it. Sure, I’m certain the MCU could have given us a fun series about the further adventures of Hawkeye, but to me it’s much more interesting to view Clint through the eyes of Kate, to portray him as an older hero who’s ready to pass the baton on to the next generation. 

I’ve heard a few grumblings from fans who feel Kate is a Mary Sue “because she’s good at everything.” I really, really don’t like the term Mary Sue being used in film criticism, because A) it has a lot of uncomfortably sexist baggage attached to it and B) it’s so often used unfairly.

It is true that Kate is good at a lot of things, but she also had to work pretty darn hard to get to that level of skill. Even though that training happened off-screen, the series makes it very clear that Kate suffered a traumatic event as a child – the attack on New York – and then she spent years working hard so she could learn how to protect her family.

And Kate is far from perfect – she can be impatient and brash, and she isn’t always as cautious as she should be. There’s a lot she can learn from Hawkeye, but to be fair, there’s also a lot Hawkeye can learn from her. 

While it remains to be seen how commercially successful the MCU will be as it retires more of its original heroes, I’m really thrilled to see so many legacy characters stepping up to continue the superhero tradition. Sam has inherited the suit from Captain America, Yelena will (presumably) be the new Black Widow, and now Kate will fill the role of super-archer. 

Franchises can’t (and shouldn’t even try to) sustain themselves fully on the basis of nostalgia. It can be sad and sometimes uncomfortable to watch our heroes fail or say goodbye (The Last Jedi inspired a very strong reaction from certain fans, based on its portrayal of Luke). However, showing flawed or world-weary heroes on screen reminds us that we’re all imperfect in our own ways, and that we have a choice to not let the worst parts of ourselves define us. 

If I have one criticism of Hawkeye, it’s that the show will end and they won’t have delved deeper into the fallout of Natasha’s death and how that impacted Clint mentally and emotionally. I’m still a little sore about how that scene was handled in Endgame, and even the Black Widow solo film didn’t fully give me the closure I was looking for. Hopefully the show will address this issue more in episodes to come.

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