When Hawkeye debuted in the fall of 2021, all the colorful lights and Christmas trees crowding the sets were regarded as nothing more than that: decorations. The Jeremy Renner- and Hailee Steinfeld-starrer was a Marvel show that just so happened to be set during the holidays. But, in truth, Hawkeye is a Christmas story that just so happens to be a Marvel show – and it should absolutely be added into your annual Yuletide rotation.
Let’s start with the most obvious arrow in the quiver: Christmas is its own character in Hawkeye, arguably the fourth lead after Clint Barton, Kate Bishop, and Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox). Almost every scene carries some reminder of the season, be it a lone string of lights in Maya’s apartment or B-roll of a snowy December in New York City. Even the abandoned K·B Toys holds special significance for anyone who grew up in the 1980s, waiting for the store’s vaunted Christmas catalog to arrive.
Unlike, say, Iron Man 3, though, Hawkeye doesn’t work if Christmas is removed – and quite literally so in some instances. Clint would be dead after falling out of that window if the famous Rockefeller tree wasn’t there to save him, for one thing. But, more importantly, Christmas is the driving force of the series, the inciting incident and the final goal. The holiday is what brings both Clint and Kate to New York. The main story starts and ends at an elaborate holiday party. The ticking clock behind everything is Clint’s need to get home in time for Christmas morning.
Beyond that, Hawkeye hits the bullseyes (probably by splitting an arrow with another arrow) of a trio of classic Christmas themes: family, friendship, and redemption. Look no further than Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life or any and all adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for prerequisite.
Like George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) in the former film, Clint is emotionally ruined at the start of Hawkeye, lost in grief and questioning his purpose. (Both characters are also hard of hearing, for whatever that’s worth.) Kate, while not whisking Clint away to another branch of the multiverse, nonetheless serves as a living reminder of his needing to be in the world. At the same time, Clint is, like Ebenezer Scrooge, forced to overcome both a self-imposed isolation and the ghosts of his past.
But the most specific holiday hallmarks of Hawkeye are from, well, Hallmark movies. Hawkeye is practically a greatest hits compilation of basic-cable rom-com Christmas tropes, the kind of beats you know by heart even if you’ve never watched a single Countdown to Christmas.
The barest bones of Hawkeye’s plot are as follows: girl meets boy, girl and boy become unexpected partners, have a fight, break up, and then get a happily ever after, just in time for Christmas dinner. That’s also the plot of Hallmark favorites Christmas Town and Christmas at Graceland, as well as enough others that it’s become the go-to structure for parodies like Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer’s A Clüsterfünke Christmas.
Let It Snow, starring Hallmark stalwart Candace Cameron Bure, gives us another of the genre’s more popular contrivances: the big-shot city mouse going to a rural, Christmas-obsessed town and rediscovering their priorities amidst all the ice-skating and cocoa-drinking. That’s tweaked slightly in Hawkeye, with the farm-residing Clint trapped in New York and the ice skating more of an explosive brawl than a romantic interlude, but the same boxes are still checked.
In these movies, right when things are starting to look up for our central pair, an ex will inevitably arrive, or the boss will call, driving a wedge between them – or, as is the case in Hawkeye, a vengeful Black Widow showing up and hurling one of them off a building. A literal reminder of the past that Clint (or whoever Lacey Chabert is playing) can’t ignore.
And that’s just actual Hallmark movies. With each streamer trying its hand at similarly-styled movies, there are now almost countless examples of Hawkeye’s Christmas movie credentials. Opposites are brought together and forced to crash in the same apartment, a la Lindsay Lohan’s recent Falling for Christmas. The final act finds the estranged Bishop family driven to finally reconcile and reveal their secrets, similar to Clea Duvall’s Happiest Season.
There’s party planning, impromptu dancing, and the superheroic equivalent of an awkward first meeting with the in-laws. Clint and Kate decorate a tree together. The series ends with them having Christmas dinner with Clint’s family, his heart having grown three sizes. Heck, there’s even a crafting montage (trick arrows count as crafts, right?) to show Clint and Kate becoming closer as partners.
Despite being “packed to the brim with Christmas spirit,” the vast majority of the Hawkeye conversation centered around Kingpin, Yelena, and how the series fit into the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. Once that post-credits number from Rogers: the Musical was over, we were ready to move on, to Ms. Marvel and Echo and discussing what that Hawaiian shirt meant for Charlie Cox’s return as Daredevil.
The downside of the mighty Marvel machine is that there’s always something new, something else coming down the pike. We rarely look back (unless it’s to complain about continuity). But Hawkeye deserves a second chance. Coming in at a brisk six episodes, the Disney+ series deserves to be treated as the perennial Christmas tale it really is.
Less concerned with saving the world than saving a grumpy archer’s soul, Hawkeye is filled with enough friendship, goodwill, and holiday cheer to make even the Ghost of Christmas Future smile. So go ahead, slip into your ugly sweaters, grab a couple gingerbread cookies, and slot in a rewatch somewhere between Home Alone and A Royal Christmas this year. And if you happen to hear prancing and pawing on the rooftop … maybe lock your doors and get a couple bags of frozen peas ready.