“Echo is a solid, mid-grade addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that won't blow you away or leave you frustrated and angry.”
- A more focused narrative than fans have come to expect from the MCU
- An impressive cast of capable, expressive performers
- Several memorable action sequences
- Tonally uneven moments throughout
- Visual effects that leave a lot to be desired
- An overambitious blend of supernatural and gritty crime elements
The past few years haven’t been easy for Marvel Studios. In the wake of Avengers: Endgame’s box-office-smashing success in 2019, Marvel has increasingly struggled to maintain the level of quality control that once made it a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. The studio’s rampant Disney+ expansion produced more TV shows and films in 2021, 2022, and 2023 than it could handle. That led to it releasing a shocking number of titles with visual effects that looked unfinished and which seemed to hang together by the thinnest of narrative threads. On top of all of that, Jonathan Majors’ recent legal troubles have forced Marvel to part ways with the actor who was supposed to be at the center of their so-called “Multiverse Saga.”
Coming into 2024, Marvel seems more wounded than it ever has before. Enter: Echo. The new Hawkeye spin-off is one of only a few titles that Marvel intends to unveil this year, and it’s set to be the first released under the studio’s new “Marvel Spotlight” banner, which will encompass all the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows and movies that don’t require a comprehensive knowledge of the franchise to be enjoyed. It doesn’t take long for Echo to deliver on that particular promise, either. The series immediately feels as standalone as anything that Marvel Studios has made in recent memory, and that imbues it with the kind of narrative focus lacking from so many recent MCU efforts.
Echo is set primarily after the events of Hawkeye, the forgettable 2021 Disney+ series that famously ends with Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) seemingly shooting her mentor and surrogate father, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio, reprising his Daredevil role) in the face. Despite that fact, Echo’s premiere spends around half of its runtime both recycling footage from Hawkeye and offering more glimpses into Maya’s past that weren’t provided by her supporting role in that series. The new drama’s first chapter is essentially a traditional comic book origin story. It follows Maya as she loses her mother and the lower half of one of her legs in a traumatic car accident as a child, and it only ends when it has both fully caught up with her in her post-Hawkeye life and set up her future.
For some, Echo’s premiere may feel like a tedious retreading of material that was already established two years ago. However, there’s something satisfying about watching Marvel actually slow down and take the time necessary to explore the life of one of its characters again. Echo spends its premiere bouncing effectively between moments that audiences have seen before and new scenes from its protagonist’s life — cohesively blending new and old pieces of footage together until it has emerged with an origin story for Cox’s Maya that feels rich and fully fleshed out. Along the way, the series finds clever, narratively organic ways to establish its own TV-MA adult tone, including one sequence that follows Maya as she’s forced to kill a man for the first time while working on an assignment for D’Onofrio’s Kingpin.
The series embraces the bloody, violent aesthetic and darker tone of Daredevil and Marvel’s other long-dead Netflix shows far more fully than Hawkeye. That’s not to say that it ever quite reaches the same gruesome heights as Daredevil did throughout its three-season Netflix run, nor does it ever successfully match the bare-knuckled, well-choreographed grace of that series’ action sequences. Echo directors Sydney Freeland and Catriona McKenzie do nonetheless deliver moments of violence and hard-hitting action that feel unique within the typically family-friendly world of the MCU. Unlike Daredevil and The Punisher, which occasionally ramped their violence up to gratuitous levels, Echo’s brutality also never seems out-of-place or incongruous with its heroine’s personal story.
As Maya, Alaqua Cox seems more comfortable in the role than she did in Hawkeye. She brings an expressive physicality to the character that constantly pulls you in and invites you to read further into her actions. Echo creator Marion Dayre, meanwhile, fills out the show with enough compelling supporting characters and performers to make the thought of spending more time in its world seem genuinely appealing, which is more than can be said for, say, Secret Invasion or She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. Heavyweights like D’Onofrio, Tantoo Cardinal, Graham Greene, and Zahn McClarnon (reprising his Hawkeye role as Maya’s departed father, William) imbue Maya’s most turbulent relationships with real emotional weight, and Chaske Spencer, Devery Jacobs, and Cody Lightning all similarly shine in roles that seem well-suited to their respective strengths.
For all of the things that Echo gets right, though, the series isn’t immune to many of the flaws that have plagued Marvel in recent years. The show’s VFX, for instance, never look as polished as they should. As admirable as Echo’s attempts are to explore its Native American characters’ collective cultural history, too, the series struggles to combine its more supernatural, mystical elements with its otherwise gritty, street-level aesthetic. Like so many Marvel films and TV shows that have come before it, Echo ultimately has a hard time balancing its various ideas and sometimes contradictory ingredients. The result is a series that works more often than it doesn’t but which never reaches the same emotional or narrative heights as WandaVision, Loki Season 1, or several of its other MCU predecessors.
Echo isn’t, in other words, the franchise-saving vehicle that some MCU fans may have hoped for, nor is it the unwatchable disaster that Marvel’s uncharacteristically binge-friendly release schedule for it might have made you think. The best thing that can be said about it is that it does have its own distinct identity, which prevents it from ever feeling like just another retread of the same MCU formula viewers have been fed repeatedly over the past 15 years. Is that enough to make Echo a must-see TV event? Not really. But for all the comic-book readers out there who have been left hungry as of late for an entertaining live-action MCU adventure, Echo should leave them satisfied — if only just.
All five episodes of Echo premiere Wednesday, January 10,on Disney+ and Hulu.
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