Hawkeye’s been missing the target. At last it’s taking off

TV: The least interesting Avenger has finally perked up in Disney+’s small-screen spin-off

Hawkeye: Hailee Steinfeld and Jeremy Renner. Photograph: Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

Hawkeye: Hailee Steinfeld and Jeremy Renner. Photograph: Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

 

Armed with nothing but bow, arrow and prickly disposition, Hawkeye has long reigned supreme as the least interesting of Marvel’s Avengers. He isn’t green and angry (insert your own cyclist joke). Nor does he zoom about encased in metal while spreading chaos (insert SUV-driver-on-school-run joke).

Marvel seemed to have doubled down on his gloomy streak in parts one and two of Hawkeye’s new small-screen spin-off, which missed the target and quickly settled into plodding mediocrity. If this start to Hawkeye (Disney+, streaming from Wednesday) resembled anything it was one of Netflix’s thumpingly mediocre Marvel shows.

Things have, however, perked up agreeably in episode three, as Clint Barton (the original Hawkeye) and understudy Kate Bishop (Clint’s Gen Z protege) crack on with their pre-Christmas mission to unleash feelgood mayhem in a tinsel-bedecked Manhattan.

Hailee Steinfeld, as Bishop, remains the best reason for watching, bringing an almost slapstick brio to the role of poor-little-rich-girl Bishop. Opposite her, Jeremy Renner’s Barton remains a grump in a jumpsuit, though the character finally has an opportunity to demonstrate his archery prowess in a gripping car chase.

Hawkeye also brings to the stage its new villain, Echo, aka Maya Lopez, portrayed with bare-knuckled elan by Alaqua Cox. Echo is deaf, and we are introduced to her in 2007, when she is a young girl getting by in school through lip-reading. Later, we flash-forward to the death of her beloved father (a leader of the Tracksuit Mafia criminal gang) at the hands/sword of Ronin – aka Barton during his sociopathic-vigilante phase.

Ronin is now back. Or at least his suit is – as worn by Kate Bishop. This triggers Echo’s enmity as Barton and Bishop try to escape the Tracksuit Mafia warehouse. In the ensuing tussle, Clint’s hearing aid is damaged, and he is briefly required to negotiate the world through a fug of deafness.

Clocking in at under 40 minutes, the latest Hawkeye does not wear out its welcome. (Nearly a quarter of the run time is devoted to the car chase in which Echo and her goons give hot pursuit to Hawkeye and Bishop.) And it provides Steinfeld with a chance to flex her action chops – which she does as she pings the goons with Clint’s tricked-out arrows.

The emotional heart of the instalment is contained in a scene in which these unlikely partners in crimefighting share coffee. Kate says she has always wanted to be a superhero. Clint, in imminent danger of missing Christmas with his family, tells her the life of a caped crusader involves huge sacrifices.

Hawkeye part three ends on a cliffhanger. Seeking further information about the Tracksuit Mafia, Clint and Kate break into the house of Kate’s mother – the owner of a security surveillance company, her database contains potentially crucial information about their enemies. Who should be waiting but Kate’s soon-to-be-father-in-law, Jack Duquesne (aka Swordsman), ready to hold a blade to Clint’s throat. With that the curtain falls on an episode that suggests Hawkeye may yet achieve lift-off.

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