It’s fair to say that, over the last year, Marvel’s now 15-year-old domination of pop culture has begun showing its age.
With box office disappointments like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and The Marvels and a critical drubbing of their Secret Invasion series, Marvel has taken blows this year from fans. But, maybe, just maybe, the ship is beginning to right itself, especially on the streaming side. After the recent successes of second seasons of Loki and What If…?, the MCU seems to have begun to find its footing once again with stronger writing and deeper character explorations.
And they’ve taken another leap forward with Echo.
In Echo, Marvel spotlights Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) after she escapes the grip of Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio). After shooting her ‘mentor’ in the face at the close of Hawkeye, Lopez has begun to wage her own war against what’s left of Fisk’s criminal empire. Returning home to a life she had long since abandoned, Maya attempts to stay under the radar in order to keep her plans in motion. But as much as she tries to leave New York, New York just can’t leave Maya behind. Suddenly, she finds herself in the crosshairs of Fisk’s regime and is forced to unleash the warrior within.
Built on spirit and fury, Echo manages to balance the Marvel style with a tone gritty enough to have people checking to see if they’re watching Netflix. With the return of Kingpin and Daredevil (albeit briefly), Marvel does away with Hawaiian shirts and yellow suits to return to the darker, more grounded style that made the original iterations so beloved. Beautifully choreographed fight work is reminiscent of iconic set-pieces in Daredevil. Blood splatters and broken limbs may not quite tap into the R-rating that they espouse but they definitely are more brutal than other Marvel fare.
And then, of course, there’s Maya herself. In Cox, Marvel may have found its next break-out star as she steps into the role with purpose and conviction. After her scene-stealing turn in the Hawkeye series, she absolutely burns in the spotlight. Even though we know she has a softer side, Echo allows Maya to lean into her more brutal inclinations. In doing so, Cox is truly allowed to shine. She is focused, fiery and always ready for a fight.
Interestingly, while supernatural powers do play a role within the series, they aren’t used as a crutch for storytelling like in other MCU stories. In Echo, the use of ‘magic’ seems to tap into a sense of history as opposed to any over-the-top set pieces. From the opening scene, Echo clearly intends to stem from the traditions of Indigenous storytelling and spirituality. Although rooted in the present day, Maya’s journey is directly connected to that of her ancestors and Marvel allows those links to affect her character arc.
In this way, Echo becomes a story about rediscovering who you are. Still filled with rage from the events in New York, Maya’s return home is anything but friendly. This isn’t an attempt to heal but, rather, the beginning of a war that she wants to wage against Fisk’s industry. To her, this stop is only a means to an end. Her old life is dead to her and she is fueled by revenge.
But, by stepping back into the world she once knew, Maya also begins to reconnect with her heritage. As she begins her fight with Fisk’s goons, the spirit of warriors long past revive within her. Suddenly, the war she that fights today becomes reminiscent of strong female warriors within her family history.
And, the more she steps into that history, the stronger she becomes.
Admittedly, what’s most head-scratching about Echo is the way they’ve decided to handle its release. By putting the entire series out at once (in early January, no less), they seem be dumping the show into the streaming world. This strategy appears to suggest that they don’t trust the material and want to grab the quick hits. But frankly, Echo deserves better. Everything about this show clicks from the outset and one cannot help but hope that audiences binge the series with glee. After all, with Echo, it’s entirely possible that Marvel may have finally gotten their groove back.
Echo is available on Disney+ on Tuesday, January 9th, 2024.