Marvel might have reached into its quiver once too often with “Hawkeye,” at least based on the first two episodes, which offer a slow start tilted more toward the character of Kate Bishop than the titular Clint Barton. Amusing in places, this holiday-themed series makes jokes about trick arrows, but it’s going to need a few more tricks up its sleeve.
The premiere finds Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) in New York City with his kids, leaving his beyond-patient wife (Linda Cardellini) behind. But the early focus is on the young Kate (Hailee Steinfeld) and her origin story, having lost her dad and — inspired by Hawkeye’s example — committed herself to mastering combat and archery, which fairly quickly comes in handy.
Kate essentially stumbles onto a strange conspiracy, and in the process runs across an artifact that’s destined to catch Clint’s attention. He’s understandably cranky, however, about getting drawn into a mystery that will keep him in New York, threatening the family time for which he’s been hoping with Christmas only a few days away.
As with “WandaVision” and “Loki,” “Hawkeye” cleverly calls back to earlier moments in the Marvel universe and exhibits no great hurry to disgorge secrets, including what the true danger might be. Fans also get to see a bit more of Renner (pulling series double duty right now in “Mayor of Kingstown”) as the hero in family-man mode, a wrinkle seemingly made for a series format.
As initially lined up, though, the battles the pair face involve a particularly tired bunch of miscreants. Even a show that approaches its episodic run like an extra-long movie owes the audience a bit more momentum than this, especially when those installments roll out weekly.
So what’s left? One genuinely laugh-out-loud funny gag in the first episode, and the interplay between the curmudgeonly Clint and the enthusiastic Kate, with Steinfeld well-chosen for some sort of baton (or arrow) pass, but moderately fleshed out as a character in the early going.
Beyond entering the world of superheroes, Kate’s issues also include her mom (Vera Farmiga, underused at first) having entered into a new relationship with Jack (“Better Call Saul’s” Tony Dalton), who provokes Kate’s suspicions.
Marvel’s series for Disney+ have cleverly used the platform to more fully explore established characters while simultaneously planting seedlings for future offshoots — a logical strategy for all sorts of reasons, which has allowed the studio to experiment with different kinds of shows. That’s certainly cheaper than jumping directly into something like “Eternals” on the big screen.
While not employed thus far, the “Hawkeye” trailer does reveal that there will be trick arrows before it’s over. Yet unless that arsenal significantly improves the show’s payload, the guy who once said he couldn’t miss might rather ironically be associated with a Marvel series that conspicuously does.
“Hawkeye” premieres Nov. 24 on Disney+.
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