Hawkeye episode 1 Spider-Man: No Way Home: an origin story that really hits the mark

Origin stories have always been tricky Spider-Man: No Way Home things to pull off. The path to superhero status is riven with clichés, while spending too long on explanations can be a distraction from the story you really want to tell. As an introduction to rookie archer Kate Bishop, however, this debut episode of Hawkeye gets almost everything right – in fact, within the first 20 minutes you know almost everything you need to.

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Anyone casually flipping through Disney Plus, expecting to see Clint Barton: The TV Series, will possibly be surprised to see the focus is more on Bishop than the original Hawkeye. If you’ve read our interview with the show’s director and producer, you’ll know this already. Still, as bold a move as it is, it pays off spectacularly.

The pre-credits sequence shows how the young Kate lost her father in the Chitauri assault of the first Avengers movie – nearly a decade on, the Battle of New York continues to be a pivotal event in the MCU – and is subsequently inspired by Hawkeye’s archery antics on the battlefield. “I need a bow and arrow,” she says at her dad’s funeral, vowing to protect her mother against anything that comes their way.

A brilliantly animated credits sequence – delivered in the trademark purple hue of Bishop’s comic-book look – picks up the story, showing how she became a champion archer, gymnast and fencer. As well as being a crash course in Superhero Skills 101, it’s a wonderfully efficient piece of storytelling. The first time we see Kate in action is also revealing, as she uses her unique talents to shoot – and accidentally smash up – a vintage belltower as part of a bet. It’s a good job her mom’s rich enough to pay the repair bill…

Barton himself hasn’t been forgotten, and the episode skilfully switches between its two protagonists throughout. He’s the last of the original Avengers to get title billing, and on paper it’s easy to see why – next to supersoldiers, Norse gods, billionaire tech geniuses and super-spies, a guy who’s simply really good with a bow and arrow is very much a supporting player. Even so, ‘Never Meet Your Heroes’ quickly shows why he’s the perfect anchor for a TV show.

In a nutshell, Hawkeye is a hero with baggage. When Thanos delivered the most famous finger snap in history, Clint Barton lost everything. So, with his wife and three kids turned to dust, he transformed himself into the vigilante Ronin, unafraid to push the limits of the PG-13 rating as he embarked on a violent mission to eliminate organised crime. Then, to make matters worse, he had to sacrifice his best friend, Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow), to recover the Soul Stone on Vormir. Even with his family restored, a backstory like that is going to leave a mark.