This review is based on the first three episodes of Marvel's Echo.
In the midst of Marvel fatigue, the franchise desperately needed to do something different.
Is Echo the perfect solution? No, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.
The new Disney Plus series follows Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox), who was last seen in Hawkeye, seeking bloody revenge on Kingpin (Vincent D'Onofrio) for his involvement in the death of her biological father. Echo goes back to fill us in on Maya's back story, including her family, a tragic accident, and how she grew up, before showing the brutal consequences of her life in New York catching up with her.
Based on three episodes available for review, the best decision Marvel could have possibly made was raising the age rating for the series. It's the franchise's first TV-MA series (generally not recommended for audiences under 17 years old) and the story just wouldn't have worked any other way.
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As is clearly intended, the show as a whole feels a little more comparable to Netflix's Daredevil, with plenty of action and fight scenes being gloriously brutal. Of course, a series can't be judged alone by its action, but for a character like Maya, this approach definitely works.
There were plenty of doubts about a Hawkeye spin-off but, thankfully, Maya as a character is more than compelling enough to justify it, with Cox giving a stellar performance. As director Sydney Freeland recently pointed out to RadioTimes.com, Maya's a villain and, mercifully, that won't change. She's reckless, selfish, and blinded by her quest for revenge – and she's much more interesting to base a series on than some of Marvel's latest attempts.
It's not a spoiler to say that we see D'Onofrio's Kingpin back in business and it's a treat to see him return, even if his storyline is just a tad unbelievable. With an actor like D'Onofrio and a character like Kingpin, we're willing to suspend the disbelief a little. Not to spoil too much, but other returning characters' appearances feel rushed, something I'm hoping is put right in the final episodes.
As we surely could have predicted, Marvel gets in its own way, positioning Echo as the first series under its 'Marvel Spotlight' banner. Supposedly, knowledge of the wider MCU won't be a requirement to enjoy Echo. By the end of the first episode, it becomes clear that this is nonsense, and that a newcomer would have endless questions about how we got here. The show tries to remedy this by re-treading old ground (including literally just replaying a scene from Hawkeye), but it's a jarring attempt.
Action replays aside, the quick pace of the show is a relief. While Marvel can have a habit of starting its series too slow and jam-packing everything into those final episodes, episode 1 of Echo quickly gets us into the rhythm of the show. It might be a lot of exposition all at once, but it's cleverly done. Something else that's cleverly done is how Freeland (who, crucially, is a Navajo filmmaker) decided to show Maya's connection to her Native American heritage and, hopefully, we'll see more of this in the final episodes.
Of course, Echo is also breaking new ground in being the first Marvel series to feature a Deaf leading character. Maya's disabilities (she's also an amputee) aren't glossed over in any way but, at the same time, her identity isn't limited at all by their inclusion. They feel like a nuanced and necessary part of the story.
Even without the arbitrary new banner of 'Marvel Spotlight', Echo still feels like something fresh – from the soundtrack to the action sequences, to the cast – and it's sure to prove those who underestimated it wrong. Rather than Marvel showing a lack of confidence in the series, the fact that it's shorter than usual (with five episodes) will hopefully help it to cut to the chase.
Of course, the final episodes will need to nail the landing, something the franchise doesn't have a brilliant track record with as of late.
Am I a fool to have hope? Please, Marvel, don't let me down again.
Echo will land on Disney Plus on Wednesday 10th January. You can sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 a month or £79.90 a year now.