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10th January 2024

Echo review: Marvel’s slump drags on

Good thing Echo has been handed Marvel’s new label for a standalone series. It means you can ignore it and move on with your life.

Akhil Arora, a member of the Film Critics Guild and a Rotten Tomatoes-certified film critic with over eight years of experience

Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Echo
Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Echo // Photo: Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

In 2023, the overlords of Marvel (finally) realised they had overdone it. After seven movies and seven series in a two-year period—most of which have been utterly forgettable, severely bloated, or downright terrible—he hadn’t overseen, returning Disney CEO Bob Iger decided to slow things down at the superhero giant, worried that Marvel itself may be the biggest contributor to the much-touted phenomenon: superhero fatigue. Under Iger, finished shows have been put on the back burner, scripts have been thrown out and creative teams redrawn, and the 2024 calendar is all but empty. It’s set to be one of the leanest Marvel years, with just one confirmed live-action show (Echo) and film (Deadpool 3) so far. (Though some of that is also thanks to the dual Hollywood strikes of 2023.)

That’s also why Echo—released in full on the same day, a new strategy for Marvel on Disney+—is the first show under the Marvel Spotlight banner. This new label is meant to signify projects that need no prior homework and stand apart from the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s the most explicit admission you’ll get from Marvel that there’s too much going on in the MCU. Funnily enough, then, despite the fact Echo is meant to be a standalone series of sorts, the best parts of its opening episode involve characters from a Marvel show off an adjacent universe. The rest of the series is drab and dreadfully boring, with none of its characters interesting in the least—they don’t have defined arcs, no clear motivations, and seem to hang around sans meaning.

Echo has been through the wringer

Some of that, no doubt, has to do with the fact that Echo has been through the wringer. It was originally developed and shot as an eight-episode miniseries, but Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige reportedly deemed it “unreleasable”. At first, they figured they could salvage a four-episode series out of the rubble, but it was “so bad” that they ended up reshooting much of it. We’re left with five episodes—like all critics, I’ve seen three—which have five screenwriters and eight story scribes at least. (The second episode alone has seven credits across those categories.) It’s a sign of how often Echo has been rewritten, over and over. It’s also been reedited multiple times—each episode has three editors, and only two of them are constant. This is committee filmmaking to the nth degree.

On top of that, Echo is also guilty of one of Marvel’s worst practices: dragging characters back from the grave. Worse, it’s done in a manner that breaks all suspension of disbelief and essentially plants the MCU in impossible-to-explain magical territory. While Marvel is busy touting the series’ commitment to Native American authenticity and mature age rating—blood gushes out of a mouth in one episode—it’s not really a first but rather harkens back to the gritty Netflix era of Marvel series when Daredevil and The Punisher were around. Disappointingly, the quality is on the level of those shows, too, at their worst.

The plot: from Oklahoma to New York and back

The opening half-hour of Echo is a hodgepodge of flashbacks, Indigenous mysticism, and stuff we’ve already seen. Through a mix of those three, the new Marvel series tells the story of Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox)—whom we met in the 2021 miniseries Hawkeye—from how she lost her right leg in 2007 to working for Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) in New York City. Echo fills in the blanks a bit and picks up where we left off in Hawkeye as Maya packs up and leaves after shooting Kingpin point blank in the face. Or rather, five months later—around May 2025, given Hawkeye was set during Christmas 2024—as Maya arrives back home in Tamaha, Oklahoma, where the show is primarily set. (Though everyone keeps saying she’s been gone for 20 years, it’s 18 by my math.)

For the most part, then, Echo is a spin-off sequel to Hawkeye, though it operates as a spin-off prequel in the early running. But more importantly, the new Marvel series is strangely stagnant. While Echo throws a fair bit at you and moves you around in the first episode—thanks to its structure, a need for continuity, and a desire to establish superhero credentials—it has nothing going for it the moment it finds itself in just one place. Maya keeps saying she wants nothing to do with the people of Oklahoma, which she left behind as a kid, and how she’s only in town for business, but that lands like a thud as her professional confrontations are simply milquetoast. (For three episodes, anyway.)

Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk / Kingpin and Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Echo
Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk / Kingpin and Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Echo // Photo: Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

Echo lacks imagination and characterisation

To that end, Maya does her best to avoid her family, be it her uncle Henry (Chaske Spencer), her grandmother Chula (Tantoo Cardinal), or her cousin and childhood best friend Bonnie (Devery Jacobs). But you can’t feel anyone’s rage or pain because the treatment has been so perfunctory. Most of these characters merely hang around the periphery of the show as they have nothing to do—only one of them gets a scene that isn’t about Maya—which reiterates the problems for Echo. Cox then ends up occupying most of the screen time, finds herself limited by the unimaginative writing, and is stuck with a permanent scowl on her face.

The only bit of imagination is found at the start of each episode that showcases the superpowers in the lineage of the Choctaw—the Native American tribe that Maya is part of—tracing them through the generations. One of the cold opens has gorgeous cinematography and seems to have been shot with large-format cameras, while another takes us into a pre-talkies age with a 4:3 sepia-styled look filled with intertitles. That said, I’m not sure it adds enough value to the bigger picture and comes dangerously close to playing into stereotypes. The work of directors Sydney Freeland and Catriona McKenzie—the two divide up the first three Echo episodes between themselves—is nothing memorable. Though I’d argue that’s more an issue of writing and editing and not a reflection of what they might be capable of.

Say thanks to Marvel Spotlight

If you’re here for the set pieces, the first real action scene in Echo indicates a desire to continue the legacy of Daredevil with long takes. The only addition to that recipe is Maya’s disability—her deafness accentuates the difference between the quiet (as she perceives) and the loud (as abled folks do), with the latter further amped up by the needle drops. But while the action choreography is impressive, the spatial direction isn’t always on par. As such, you’re left picking apart the foolish underpinnings of the larger set-up, wondering why the people behind Echo felt it made sense to structure events in that fashion.

Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Echo
Alaqua Cox (right) as Maya Lopez in Echo // Photo: Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

But let’s face it, maybe they weren’t thinking. Maybe they weren’t given time to think. Or maybe things are just too haphazard at the new absurd Marvel, where quality control went out the door post-Avengers: Endgame thanks to the glut of Disney+. Maybe it’s a good thing that Echo is Marvel’s first project under that new Spotlight label. Apart from being easier to follow (theoretically), that means it doesn’t affect the larger MCU narrative. It also means you can safely ignore Echo and move on without worrying you will need to catch up before the next MCU thing rolls into town. Unless you’re planning to watch that Daredevil reboot, in which case, sorry. For everyone else, it’s good riddance.

All five episodes of Echo released on Tuesday, January 9 on Disney+ and Hulu and on Wednesday, January 10 on Disney+ Hotstar.

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