Having tied itself in knots with multiverse convolutions that—as demonstrated by the underwhelming box-office performances of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and The Marvels—audiences don’t like or want, Marvel tries to untangle itself with Echo, a five-episode TV series, premiering Jan. 9.
It’s the studio’s first release under a “Marvel Spotlight” banner which indicates that it’s less wrapped up in (or requires knowledge of) the larger MCU narrative. Such intentions, however, aren’t aligned with this small-screen affair’s execution, as it spends the first 28 minutes of its premiere melding original material with pre-existing Hawkeye snippets and a touch of Daredevil fan service to create a hodgepodge that underscores its inherent dependence on previous works. That notion, alas, is only reinforced by the tepid stand-alone story it subsequently tells—a third-rate snoozer that further waters down the once-mighty Marvel brand.
All five of its episodes debuting simultaneously on both Disney+ and Hulu, Echo concerns its title character (Alaqua Cox), aka Maya Lopez, a deaf Native American assassin who, at the end of Hawkeye, seemingly killed New York City baddie Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) with a bullet to the face. Thanks to inexplicable good fortune, he’s not dead, although Echo thinks he is as she leaves Manhattan on her trusty motorcycle for her native Oklahoma, where she grew up until her mom was killed in a car accident that cost Echo her lower right leg.
Her grandma Chula (Tantoo Cardinal) blamed this calamity on Echo’s criminal dad (Zahn McClarnon), who in Hawkeye was slain by the Avenger, thus nominally pitting Echo against him. Yet now, she’s mostly concerned with finishing off Kingpin’s empire and becoming the new underworld “queen.” Or, at least, that appears to be her plan, since the show barely provides her with a lucid motivation for returning to her old stomping grounds or for continuing to pick a fight with her former boss’ cronies.
To establish its heroine as a notable badass, Echo’s first episode depicts her learning martial arts at a young age, beating up a guy in the boxing ring as an adult, and squaring off against Daredevil (Charlie Cox) while in the service of Kingpin—the last of which prompts the villain to praise her formidable skills, and which is shot by director Sydney Freeland in a prolonged single-take that, no matter its technical proficiency, plays like countless prior MCU showstoppers.
Despite placing her in the company of these two Marvel A-leaguers, Echo is a peripheral C-teamer whose distinguishing characteristics are her disabilities and her Native American heritage. Both are routinely highlighted during the course of the initial three installments (which were all that were provided to press), but they could easily be eliminated from the proceedings without any deleterious impact to the plot; they are, at heart, mere embellishments for what turns out to be a routine drama in which triumphing over enemies, righting wrongs and becoming powerful are all accomplished via reconnecting with family and ancestral roots.
Echo begins with a flashback to the “first Choctaw,” who was apparently some sort of subterranean superbeing whose cave dwelling collapsed, forcing her and her comrades to rise to the surface and shed their hard shells to become human. Ever since, certain brave Choctaw women (a lacrosse player in 1200, a lawwoman in 1800) have been blessed with this ancient figure’s powers of, well, it’s not clear what they are; these individuals’ palms and forearms glow with energy that grants them heightened abilities of a deliberately vague sort.
Echo is another of these chosen people, but that’s also irrelevant most of the time, since the main focus is on her chatting with people she hasn’t seen in a while, like her comic-relief cousin Biscuits (Cody Lightning), roller rink owner Henry (Chaske Spencer), and grandfather Skully (Graham Greene), who owns a store where he rolls his eyes at corny white customers and conveniently stocks the precise gear necessary for Echo’s big mission.
That undertaking involves rappelling onto, and breaking into, a cargo train bound for New York City in order to further stick it to Kingpin’s operations. However, considering that Echo thinks Kingpin is dead, this line of attack seems totally pointless. Speaking of which, there are lingering tensions between Echo and both Chulo and her cousin Bonnie (Devery Jacobs), whom she deliberately cut out of her life. These dynamics are crafted with all the subtlety of a Kingpin roundhouse punch, if prove far less impactful. As for the show’s big action-oriented sequences, there aren’t many, and they’re almost unbelievably sketchy, lowlighted by a distended scene in which Echo and her friends are kidnapped by, and fight to free themselves from the clutches of, a Kingpin lackey who, at the moment he’s about to execute them, gets a phone call, shrugs, and up and departs the premises without explanation.
Echo was reportedly wracked by production headaches and, whether that’s true or not, the end result feels strikingly slapdash, full of various elements that are painfully superficial and never thrilling. Worse, though, is that the series feels so minor and disconnected from the primary MCU that it barely qualifies as an addendum. Be it with regards to issues of representation or basic character and story development, glibness is the order of the day, and the intermittent participation of more important and popular franchise faces isn’t enough to prop up this insubstantial adventure. Cox mostly scowls and grimaces intensely as Echo, and she adeptly handles her more acrobatics-oriented responsibilities. Yet there’s nothing compelling about the protagonist’s quest or her familial frictions, all of which have been conceived in threadbare and clichéd fashion.
Another footnote that’s neither interesting on its own nor must-watch necessary in order to keep apprised of the grander MCU saga, Echo continues Marvel’s “Phase Five” floundering. Lacking any clear direction—or even a Big Bad to pivot around, now that Jonathan Majors has been dropped by the studio following his convictions for assault and harassment—the franchise appears to be on the verge of outright disaster that might only be averted by a superheroic turn of events.