By Ben Konuch
Minor spoilers for “Echo” ahead.
“They’re in my blood, in my heart. I’m a part of them, and they’re a part of me. I’m their legacy. Not yours.”
In the midst of 2021, as many were experiencing what is now called “Marvel fatigue,” I found myself more intrigued and invested in Marvel than I ever was before. It wasn’t because of any recent releases, however, it was because when I got sick over Thanksgiving break, I finally got around to binging the first season of Netflix’s “Daredevil” with my dad. I had heard nothing but praise for the series, and when my dad and I started the first episode, I quickly saw why.
Intricately crafted characters fought against one of the most compelling and well-written villains I have ever seen in a superhero show with gritty and tense fight scene choreography. All was painted with a layer of realism and groundedness that fit in with the MCU, but felt like it belonged at the bottom of a dirty New York street while the Avengers found themselves above its skyline. In an era where almost every Marvel project felt like it was constrained to fit a specific age rating and genre, it was so refreshing to see a more intense and more serious side of crime and heroes that reminded me what it was like to root for the good guy against all odds.
Unfortunately, even when the rights for the Netflix Marvel shows reverted to Disney, a refusal to allow more mature projects into the MCU kept “Daredevil” and its sister shows separated from the MCU, forever teased with cameos of Kingpin in “Hawkeye” or Matt Murdock in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” without ever being allowed back into the full continuity. With this banishment came the likewise exile of “Daredevil’s” unique genre and maturity, allowing the last few years of Marvel to dabble with more mature themes in examples like “Moon Knight or “Werewolf by Night” without ever reaching the level of grittiness or intricate storytelling and hard-hitting action that Netflix dared to explore.
Then, along came a spinoff from “Hawkeye” that promised to be an echo of “Daredevil” – both in its themes and its story.
So, for the first time in MCU history, a new project was released under the TV-MA rating, as “Echo” debuted on Disney+ and Hulu with the promise of exploring the character of Maya Lopez, who appeared as an antagonist in “Hawkeye,” with both a commitment to character-based storytelling and bone-crunching violence. With every trailer and teaser that Marvel released, the promise of mature storytelling and content returning to the MCU, along with Daredevil and Kingpin officially welcomed back into canon, my excitement was raised to a level I haven’t felt since “Moon Knight.” The question is, did it deliver?
Unfortunately, not really. Make no mistake, “Echo” is a solid new entry to the world of the MCU, and the shorter five-episode miniseries format makes it an easily accessible watch to anyone curious. It features a solid premise and an intriguing story, but ultimately, its promise of gritty, action and mature storytelling just fell short. It is TV-MA, but while “Daredevil” showed its rating in almost every episode, “Echo” only has two scenes that were more visceral than the average MCU project. That’s not necessarily a problem, as I don’t believe that Marvel needs to be overly intense for the sake of seeming “grown-up”, but after every aspect of its marketing pushed the buzzwords of “mature” and “gritty,” I can see plenty of viewers walking away unsatisfied with its general tone failing its own promise of gritty storytelling and action.
This doesn’t make “Echo” a failure by any means, however. Its story grapples with revenge and families, especially with reconciliation and forgiveness, and explores its themes with care and respect. Episodes contain great pacing and the lower-stakes, small-town crime story propels the excitement and the plot forward. While the introduction of actual superpowers to Maya is the weakest aspect of the series by far, especially with a fairly anti-climactic finale, I still found myself invested in Maya’s story and the intrigue of its plot.
“Echo’s” greatest strength is in its central character Maya, a unique and interesting protagonist and a great example of the best of representation in Marvel. Maya is a celebration of her Native American heritage and her womanhood in the face of a disability which makes her strength and determination all the more admirable. In a world where angry fans criticize almost every “strong female character” as pandering or woke, “Echo” effortlessly reintroduces us to a survivor willing to do whatever it takes to get her revenge, who loves her family and who represents many who haven’t seen themselves on screen in an organic and commendable way.
The actors’ performances work with strong character writing to anchor “Echo” and greaten its impact. Alaqua Cox demonstrates versatility as Maya, showing both strength and determination as well as a softer side towards the ones she loves. As an actress who is both deaf and an amputee, Alaqua brings authenticity and respect to the on-screen portrayal of Maya with a mastery of acting with facial expressions.
Opposite her, Vincent D’Onofrio is once again outstanding as Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. His appearance in “Echo” redeems a rather rushed and botched appearance in “Hawkeye.” Here, Fisk is imposing, menacing and unsettling in all the right ways, and sets him up as a threat for the greater MCU in future projects.
Overall, “Echo” is good for what it is. It’s short, it develops its characters well, and though it may not perfectly deliver on the promise of bringing back mature television into the MCU, it stands a solid first try and opens the door for many more future projects in the grounded, gritty underbelly of the MCU.
I give “Echo” a 7.5/10
“Echo” is now streaming on Disney+ and Hulu
Ben Konuch is a junior Strategic Communication student and the A&E assistant editor for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and swing dancing in the rain.
Images courtesy of Marvel Studios