The television entries of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been, to date, mostly pretty good. While not 100% successful, they have each tried new genres and expanded the universe in interesting ways. While they have performed well with most audiences, there are some that have been dissatisfied with them. Aside from claiming they suffer from pacing and structural issues, their lighter tone has left them wanting a return to the darker, more adult style of the shows previously created for Netflix. Echo, Marvel’s latest series, represents an attempt to recapture that audience, which it does but with mixed results.
Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) was first introduced in the 2021 series Hawkeye as an enforcer for Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio). After confronting her father’s killer, Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) in his Ronin era mid-blip, Maya learned that she had been used by Kingpin and proceeded to shoot him in the head, leaving her on the run. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. The other big complaint from MCU naysayers is how much you need to have seen previously in order to understand the movie or show you’re currently watching. Echo represents an attempt to solve that problem too but, again, with mixed results.
The new “Marvel Spotlight” banner promises a stand-alone series, but the way it achieves this is by recapping all of the title characters’ activity to date in the first half of the first episode, mixing scenes from Hawkeye with newly shot footage to flesh out the story. It’s not a bad idea to play catch up with those who haven’t seen the previous series, but it ends up being emblematic of the MCU’s problems; it’s frantically paced and shallow, like a “last time on” pre-credits sequence that lasts for over 20 minutes.
Once the story gets going, it does get more interesting. Maya is set on taking down Kingpin’s empire, leading her back to her hometown in Oklahoma, a waypoint for the Kingpin’s smuggling operation. Naturally, she’ll be forced to interact with her estranged extended family while also taking down said operation. There’s a lot to like in this set-up, first and foremost being the fantastic Alaqua Cox. Maya is a character with rage, which Cox portrays in a way that never feels one-note. She is also a superb physical performer; while the action never gets as brutal as certain aforementioned viewers may desire, an early four minute fight with fan-favorite Daredevil (Charlie Cox) is a highlight of the series.
The supporting cast around her is also great, with veteran actors Graham Greene and Tantoo Cardinal playing her grandparents. Greene brings a playfulness to his performance that fans will immediately recognise, while Cardinal plays with a duality of emotions using tone and body language in one of the more nuanced performances in the entire series. Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs and Zahn McClaren are both on hand as Maya’s cousin and father, respectively, but neither has much screen time in the episodes supplied for review. Despite the heavy promotion of both Daredevil and Kingpin, neither play too large a part in the drama, keeping the series refreshingly focussed on Maya and not previously established characters.
The series goes to great lengths to highlight the Choctaw people and their history and it does so with great respect. The representation doesn’t feel forced; it’s a natural extension of who Maya is, where she’s coming from, and will inform where she’s going. However, this is also where certain issues begin. Each episode starts with a vignette highlighting a strong Choctaw woman, each of whom taps into their ancestry as they fight for their family, implying Maya will make this connection as well. It’s a noble idea, but Maya isn’t fighting for her family – she’s fighting for revenge and she says so early in the first episode. It’s a little incongruent, to say the least.
The series also still suffers from the same structural and pacing issues for which Marvel television series have been repeatedly criticised. It’s difficult to assess the series’ story with only three of the five episodes being supplied for review. However, with Episode 3 concluding on a cliffhanger that will likely lead to the story’s third act, it’s difficult to tell what the series is trying to say or who Maya is. Her arc is flat to this point and the most important things happening to her don’t gel with how she’s acting.
Echo is a noble effort, but it fails to address the issues that so many Marvel shows suffer from. It also fails to recapture the darker tone of Marvel’s Netflix offshoot. There’s a lot of violence and very little humour, but it’s all very safe and bloodless, like every other series fashioned for Disney+. It’s entirely possible they’ll stick the landing and the series will be something great, but in its first episodes, Echo proves to be just another drop in the bucket for this franchise, which will leaves viewers disappointed.
All episodes of Echo are now streaming on Disney+.