Hawkeye review – Hailee Steinfeld hits the bullseye in Marvel’s festive offering

If it’s Wednesday – or Monday, or Tuesday, or Thursday, or … it must be another TV series milled by Disney+ from the apparently inexhaustible supply of grain from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This time, it is the turn of the eponymous Hawkeye. Following hard on the heels of the mindbending, genre-mashing WandaVision and the loopy Loki, the new miniseries is a quieter thing, set on a more manageable (or less ambitious) scale.

Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is hoping for a quiet life after the celluloid shenanigans with which he has exhausted himself over the past few years. He is in New York with his kids, filling them with festive cheer before sending them back to their mother and promising to rejoin them for Christmas in six days’ time. Alas! He has reckoned without the origin story of Young Avenger Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), which began in 2012 in the wake of a certain attack on NYC, during which she watched with awe the protective prowess of a certain expert marksman. She asks her mother for a bow and arrow and by the time we meet her in the present day she too is a crack arrow-shot (and proficient in all martial arts, fearless and altogether proto-superheroic. All she is missing is the suit and that problem is about to solve itself).

Kate follows Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton), her mother’s deeply creepy new fiancee (her beloved father was killed in the 2012 attack) to a black-market charity auction in a warren-like wine cellar. No sooner has a certain suit worn by a certain Avenger in his Ronin phase come up for sale than the cellar is attacked. “For reasons that are not clear to me,” I write in my notes for the first but not last time, Kate swipes the suit then plunges into the melee to rescue Jack and his equally creepy uncle Armand (a cameo from Simon Callow, who has evidently popped in for the moustachio-twirling time of his life before he goes off for a nice lunch) from the marauding horde.

Outside, however, Kate’s suit attracts Ronin’s enemies and before long Hawkeye has to rescue her. The second episode has Hawkeye – frequently imploring people to call him “Clint”, to the detriment of any UK viewer who wishes to take proceedings seriously and yet for whom the name has become unbreakably linked with Petula “Where’s my Clint?” Gordino’s inamorato in Dinnerladies – tracking down the suit and, unwillingly, establishing a rapport with his fellow archer.

Mentoring and the uncovering of a criminal conspiracy ensue. None too briskly, none too innovatively but capably enough to keep you coming back for the remaining four episodes. Especially as we still have the arrival of Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova and Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez/superhero Echo to look forward to. The chemistry – comic as much as anything – between Renner and Steinfeld is tremendous. Renner has made a career out of being the uncharismatic second fiddle on the big screen – so uncharismatically on occasion that it has sometimes felt that the bluff really should be called. The translation to small screen suits him and his low-energy presence well. When he is kidnapped by goons (and kept in a children’s abandoned play area instead of a warehouse – they have all been converted into apartments, his captors explain), he asks whether he can speak to their manager. “It’s like talking to furniture,” he explains wearily, and in the unheightened atmosphere, entirely believably.

But it is Steinfeld who dominates. She sells the frustrated teen aspects of Kate – always pushing at her would-be mentor’s boundaries – and scenes as a horrified and powerless bystander to her mother’s (an as-ever underused Vera Farmiga) relationship with Jack as well as she does the blockbuster action sequences. If the plot isn’t up to much – what little happens in the first two episodes is erratic and riven with holes that leave you taking a lot on trust and hoping backfill will begin soon – the characters are credible and worth a little more emotional investment than usual. Or at least MCUsual, although we are not in Wanda and Vision territory either.

Hawkeye may not be a resounding bullseye but it hits the spot well enough.