Echo, Marvel Studio’s first 2024 television release, successfully establishes a darker and more brutal territory for the MCU, but it doesn’t seamlessly execute all of its ideas.
The five-episode TV series (the first three episodes of which were made available for review) is incredibly bingeable, a strength for the show considering all episodes will be made available on Disney+ at once. It continues the story of Maya Lopez, the deaf Native American antihero first seen in Hawkeye.
Echo is in a unique position as Marvel’s first ‘Spotlight’ TV series, a category that (according to Marvel) is more character-focused and allows audiences to enjoy the story without being swamped with MCU homework.
For the most part, that is true, but Echo’s situation is still complex, particularly for long-time Marvel fans.
Hawkeye re-introduced Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin, a character who had been plucked from the Daredevil television show that was devised under Netflix. It remains murky as to whether all the events of the Netflix Marvel shows are considered canon in the MCU, therefore making Daredevil an essential part of Echo’s continuity, or whether that all happened in a different corner of the multiverse. The inclusion of Kingpin and Daredevil in this series doesn’t really do much to clear up that question, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter.
The series exists to shine a spotlight on Maya Lopez, and despite what the marketing for Echo may hint at, the show is still very much her story.
The main plot sees Maya return to her childhood home after killing Kingpin, the man who raised and trained her following the death of her father – only for her to learn it was all a lie. She has ambitions of taking Kingpin’s place in the criminal world, but without his resources at her disposal, she has to rely on the family and friends she abandoned years before. She also finds herself drawn into a mystical conundrum relating to her Native American heritage.
These duelling narratives are compelling but don’t always gel together tonally. At times it feels like the series wants to be Black Panther, at others it wants to be a Defenders show, and some stylistic risks even lead it into WandaVision territory. Echo ends up landing somewhere in the middle of all that.
The first episode experiences a number of pacing issues, mainly serving as a speedrun of Maya’s backstory, including a shoehorned montage that recaps the events of Hawkeye, and then a handful of scenes that set up the real story, which is set five months later.
The series never quite shakes this uneven pacing, but it settles into more of a groove as the episodes continue.
This present-day story has a promising set-up. Maya’s main mission is simple enough, but her motivations are difficult to empathise with, probably due to her rushed backstory. There are a number of likeable new characters, who are charming and provide the emotional heart of the series, but they rarely get any interesting storylines of their own.
Those issues aside, there are many departments where Echo excels. Representation is one of them. Echo is a show that is very proud to be what it is. It’s a significant moment for a lot of underrepresented groups, and that in itself is a joy to watch.
Much of Echo is presented in American Sign Language, with Alaqua Cox authentically portraying Maya’s disability on screen. She successfully navigates the tricky role of grounding a silent protagonist, and her performance is elevated by every choice made in the show, particularly the ways it uses silence.
Echo also marks a milestone for Native American representation in popular culture. It manages to integrate Choctaw culture and language (both ancient and modern), into its story in a big way. Perhaps one of the surprises of Echo is how willingly it leans into its spiritual roots. This marks quite a departure from the gritty action tone that the major plot establishes, but it’s this side of the series that really helps to build Maya as a character.
Echo’s action sequences, in particular, are a standout. Similar to the Marvel Netflix series, Echo benefits from a more mature rating, allowing it to completely unleash in its fight sequences. Some of these actually feel very similar to those seen in Daredevil, which is a testament to the stunt team on the show as well as Cox, who proves herself to be a very capable action star.
On the whole, Echo offers a solid and easy viewing experience. It has excellent action sequences and charming characters, and it’s refreshing to see Marvel try something new and aim for more mature territory.
Echo Review: The verdict
Pros: Excellent action sequences, strong performances, more mature tone, a very easy binge-watch.
Cons: Uneven pacing can make things slow, tonal inconsistencies.
Watch it if you liked: Black Panther, Daredevil, Hawkeye, Sons of Anarchy
All episodes of Echo drop on Disney+ on January 10.
Lead Image Credit: Disney+
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