Hawkeye Is Self-Aware Fan Service Done (Mostly) Right

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the first two episodes of Hawkeye, now streaming on Disney+.

Of all the Marvel Studios series that were announced and bound for Disney+, fans seemed the least invested in Hawkeye. The actual show has a lot of fun at Clint Barton's expense about the fact that Hawkeye is rarely cited as anyone's favorite Avenger. Once the trailer dropped, audiences had a clearer idea of what Hawkeye would be. The six-part series is based on the well-regarded comic run of the same name and is (for the MCU) a relatively low-stakes action piece set during the holidays in the vein of Die Hard. It's also the perfect opportunity for the franchise to show it has a sense of humor about itself, its dominance in popular culture and its relationship to its fans.

Hawkeye might be a slight story compared to Loki or Eternals, but its chock-full of references (some more clever than others) that not only make for sly in-jokes but help ground the series in something that better resembles our reality. Marvel has had to contend with the real world in two distinct ways that pose more and more of a challenge as the MCU chugs along. First, it's had to worldbuild beyond Wakanda and Asgard and address how not-so-secret superheroes and their exploits would be received and processed by the public at large. Second, in the age of social media, especially as the MCU migrated to a weekly TV format, it's had to deal with if not quite respond to various levels and types of fandoms and their expectations. Hawkeye meets both of these challenges head-on and with a wry smile.

RELATED: The MCU Is Flailing, But It's Not (All) Marvel's Fault

The trailer advertised Hawkeye's biggest and best gag, and Rogers: The Musical is ridiculously brilliant on so many levels. It's a send-up of the entertainment industry's ability to turn anything into intellectual property (remember Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark?), it's a parody of Captain America's cartoonishly wholesome image, and it really clearly contrasts the stage adaptation's idealized heroes with the one suffering from PTSD and hearing loss in the crowd.

We also get subpar Marvel costumes in the form of off-brand Times Square mascots. One is obviously intended to be Ant-Man. Clint quips that another is actually Katniss Everdeen. If you recognize this bit, it might be from Netflix's The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, in which unauthorized Times Square character meet and greets were a major plotline. Even their appearance here is a reference within a reference. Rhys Thomas directed the first two episodes of Hawkeye; his previous credits include SNL and Kimmy Schmidt, and he brings some of that irreverent and unexpected tone to this latest Marvel series.

RELATED: Hawkeye Producer Explains THAT Major Avengers Connection

One of the funniest moments of the series so far occurs when Clint tracks his Ronin suit to a LARPing (live-action role-playing) session in Central Park. LARPing and Marvel probably share a healthy percentage of fans, so it's completely believable that a LARPer would've made off with the distinctive outfit. That participant, named Grills, insists upon a trial by combat with fake swords, and Clint has no choice but to let him win. Grills will only give up the suit in exchange for an awesome story he can share with friends for the rest of time.

Part of the plot revolves around a black market auction that gets disrupted by the Tracksuit Mafia. Both the super-rich, ethically compromised bidders and the vaguely Russian goons seem obsessed with Marvel paraphernalia. Armond and Jack have their eyes on Ronan's retractable sword, and the Tracksuit Mafia is after a watch recovered at the site of Stark Tower. Even though these items will almost certainly become MacGuffins that set Clint and Kate on further misadventures, this still suggests that, in-world, the Avengers have achieved the kind of caché that's usually reserved for long-dead pharaohs and impressionist artists. It's also a subtle allusion to the way theorizing fans zero in on characters and items that show up from the comics.

RELATED: Hawkeye: Kate Bishop’s Backstory Bucks an Overused MCU Trope

There are several lower key instances of the way Hawkeye's notoriety intrudes on his regular life. Clint notices graffiti that reads, "Thanos was right," as he's using a urinal. At the same time. the guy one urinal over notices him and asks for a selfie. The owner of a dim sum restaurant insists on comping his family's overindulgent meal when they recognize him as one of the people who saved their city. Even Kate asks him to autograph her bow. He's her favorite Avenger, she confesses, which leads us to Hawkeye's most fourth-wall-breaking display of fan service.

As Clint teaches Kate how to lose a tail, they have a conversation about his "brand". It serves as meta-commentary about the MCU itself. She says Hawkeye should be cool because he's not trying too hard to sell anything, but since what people want after all the trauma they've suffered in the past decade is righteous, earnest, feel-good fun, maybe that's why he's struggling to appeal to the masses the way Steve Rogers did. Clint reiterates that he's really not trying to sell anything. The whole exchange is all a little too on-the-nose, and it's also the only scene in Hawkeye that doesn't ring true, especially in the meta sense. Clint might be unconcerned with his image, but Disney's a multi-billion dollar business enterprise. Of course, Hawkeye's selling us something (Disney+ subscriptions), but luckily the show engages with fans in such a way that they'll keep buying.

To see Hawkeye poke fun at itself and the MCU, the first two episodes are streaming now on Disney+. 

KEEP READING: Hawkeye Director Teases 'Something Big' Happening in the Season 1 Finale

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Rita Dorsch (303 Articles Published)

Rita is a film and TV writer for CBR, and freelance writer and author. She teaches writing and theatre for Penn State and Kent State Universities. She studied writing and theatre at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She lives and works out of the Greater Pittsburgh area.

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