The latest installment in the MCU, Echo review, is a gore-filled spectacle that breathes new life into the franchise.
The distinction between being a superhero and a supervillain is subjective. Some may not see eye-to-eye with the moral principles of a wealthy individual who dons a mask to fight street crime (Batman), a survivor of the Holocaust fighting for equality (Magneto), or an extraterrestrial dedicated to “truth, justice, and the American way” (Superman). Therefore, in the case of Echo (played by Alaqua Cox) in 2021’s Hawkeye, her evolution from antagonist to protagonist is convincing, especially considering that the loss of a loved one is often the driving force behind these tales of heroism and villainy.
The show Hawkeye, centered on Jeremy Renner’s character as a bow-wielding vigilante, exceeded low expectations with an enjoyable, self-contained plot where the least popular Avenger battles Kingpin and returns home for Christmas. It was the fifth out of twelve Marvel series on Disney+, but it felt like it came from a time of greatness when WandaVision and Loki premiered with fresh ideas, before the talents of Oscar Isaac, Olivia Colman, and Tatiana Maslany were wasted. While Echo may not completely cure the current widespread exhaustion with Marvel content, it proves that there is still potential for the franchise.
The show continues with Echo, also known as Maya Lopez, following the events of Hawkeye. She faces her uncle, Kingpin (also known as Wilson Fisk), and his army after shooting him in the face. To establish her as the protagonist rather than the antagonist of the story, the first episode focuses on her background. We are introduced to Maya as a young Choctaw girl growing up in Omaha. A tragedy strikes her family, leading them to move to New York. Over time, her father rises through the ranks of the “Tracksuit Mafia” (which is not a joke and yes, they all wear tracksuits). However, he is killed by Hawkeye in an event that was orchestrated by Kingpin. Before the truth is revealed, Kingpin manipulates the young, deaf amputee into taking her father’s place as his main enforcer. Driven by revenge and aided by her ability to mimic her opponents’ fighting skills, Echo becomes a formidable adversary to anyone who stands in her way.
Echo, who was trained by her father, has the ability to access the strength of her Choctaw ancestors. Her grandfather, Skully (portrayed by Graham Greene), reveals that she is a direct descendant of the first Choctaw who saved everyone from a cave and transformed them into human beings. This origin story is shown in the beginning of the show, but its significance becomes clear when Maya uses her powers during battles. Skully warns that the ancestors are always watching and may intervene in times of need, but they can be unpredictable. In addition to the initial cave rescue, each episode features a heroic act from Maya’s female ancestors, mirroring her own struggles to protect her Choctaw community from danger and family conflicts.
The series is much more intense than previous shows on Disney+, featuring graphic violence that has not been seen on the streaming platform before. The first episode includes a particularly impressive action sequence that spans four minutes and takes place in a warehouse, resulting in a chaotic display of exploding skulls and broken necks. The lead actress, Cox, delivers a powerful performance as a character who shares her Native American heritage (specifically Menominee and Mohican), deafness, and amputated limb. She effectively conveys complex emotions even while throwing punches. The supporting cast also shines, with McClarnon delivering a heart-wrenching portrayal of a grieving father determined to protect his daughter, Greene providing dry humor as he confronts ignorant tourists at his Native American store, and Cardinal giving a stellar performance as a stubborn grandmother consumed by decades of bitterness.
However, the show is not exempt from the overall sense of unease that plagues the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which is the constant need to expand and connect its various storylines. Despite its efforts to establish its own unique identity, the show still requires viewers to have a high level of knowledge and understanding of Echo’s story. In just three years since the Disney+ Marvel TV series began with WandaVision, the format has accumulated a significant amount of complexity, making it difficult for any new show to have the same level of self-contained creativity as its earlier counterparts. While Echo may be more impressive than any other recent addition to the expanding multiverse, she unfortunately falls into the same traps as previous Marvel characters.