A year is a long time in superhero franchises. It’s just over 12 months since Marvel’s first Disney+ TV series, WandaVision, was heralded as a glimmer of light at the end of a punishing season of lockdowns and Zoom quizzes. Fast forward to winter 2021, however, and a thunderous indifference precedes the arrival of the latest small-screen Avengers spin-off, Hawkeye.
Not even Hawkeye seems all that excited about Hawkeye. The six-part series stars a visibly morose Jeremy Renner, reprising his role as reluctant superhero Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, aka the one with the bow and arrow forever playing fourth or fifth fiddle to the Hulk, Captain America and Iron Man.
In this series he is teamed up with a naive young sidekick, portrayed with screwball fizz by Hailee Steinfeld. Alas, her debutante enthusiasm only goes so far and Hawkeye hits the ground as a bit of a pedestrian muddle. It isn’t a disaster and never so bland as to make you want to switch off. But, for better or worse, it lacks the Wagnerian overkill that is a Marvel hallmark
Hawkeye’s budget is alleged to be an eye-watering $25 million per episode. However, it’s difficult to see much of this cash on screen in a series that is by far the most low-key of Marvel’s Disney TV shows to date. The action scenes are perfunctory, the dialogue glum rather than glittering. And the mentor-protégée chemistry between Renner and Steinfeld might be kindly described as a work in progress.
In the trailers, Hawkeye seemed a lot more fun. The action begins in Manhattan the week before Christmas and there are copious shots of skyscrapers, done up in Christmas lights and bearing a passing resemblance to Die Hard’s Nakatomi Plaza. Were it not for Marvel’s prohibition against expletives, you’d half expect to see Barton swinging on a rope shouting “Yippee Ki Yay, motherf—–!”.
Hawkeye may indeed rise to such heights (apparently Florence Pugh turns up reprising her Russian assassin role from Black Widow). In parts one and two, though, it feels more like a honkingly average TV thriller from the late Nineties. Barton and his kids are in New York for Christmas (Linda Cardellini, as his wife, is holding the fort back home for reasons of plot convenience). Sadly, the family holiday comes unstuck when Barton catches news footage of the Ronin, a brutal ninja who disappeared after wiping out every top gangster in New York.