Hawkeye was a minor character who was introduced in Thor and then turned into one of the primary members of the Avengers. Unlike Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, and Black Widow, he didn’t get a standalone film that was released theatrically. Instead, he got to star in his very own Disney+ miniseries called, you won’t believe this, Hawkeye. That said, the miniseries wasn’t solely focused on him because it had to act as the entry point for the characters from Netflix’s Daredevil, serve as a launching pad for Kate Bishop, give a sense of closure to Yelena Belova (Natasha Romanoff’s adoptive sister), introduce Maya Lopez, and explore Maya’s connection with Wilson Fisk. It failed to do any of that, and, apart from a few fan accounts that earnestly post flashily edited montages from the show, everyone forgot about its existence. Now, in 2023, Kevin Feige and his team want you to believe that the anti-hero character who hastily debuted in 2021 deserves her very own miniseries. Hence, we have Echo.
Disclaimer: This review of Echo is based on the three episodes that were given to the press by Disney+ Hotstar.
Created by Marion Dayre, with the episodes being directed by Sydney Freeland and Catriona McKenzie, Echo opens with the first members of the Choctaw tribe emerging from the land and turning into humans. It’s unclear if the MCU is treating that version of Choctaw history as canon or if it’s just a vivid visualization of a young Maya Lopez and her cousin, Bonnie, sharing a story that has been passed down by the elders. Also present at this little meet-up are Maya’s parents, William and Talia, as well as her grandparents, Chula and Skully. All of them seem to be having a good time until Maya asks her mother to get something from the grocery store. While driving through the stormy night, their car meets with a traffic collision, which kills Maya’s mother and turns Maya into an amputee. Chula and Skully break their ties with William and Maya, which severs Maya’s bond with Bonnie too, thereby prompting the father and the daughter to leave Oklahoma. To make ends meet, William starts working for the Tracksuit Mafia, and Maya becomes Wilson Fisk’s ward. Several years later, Maya learns that Fisk is the one behind William’s death, shoots him in the head, and then returns to Oklahoma to reconnect with her roots.
Echo has two objectives: unlocking Maya Lopez’s superpowers and evolving her newly established enmity with Wilson Fisk. Over the course of three episodes (FYI, there are a total of five episodes in the miniseries), that is kind of what happens. But the issue is that none of it feels like something that the character wants to do; it just feels like something that needs to happen plot-wise to make Maya Lopez seem relevant in the grand “tapestry” of Marvel’s cinematic universe. The first episode repurposes scenes from Hawkeye and uses deleted scenes from Hawkeye to “flesh out” the dynamic between Fisk and Maya. And then the writers (there are seven of them, as far as I know) quickly come to the point that Maya wants to destroy Fisk’s empire because Fisk used Ronin to kill William Lopez. That said, she doesn’t want to do it by staying in New York; she wants to do it from Oklahoma because she has to discover her superheroic origins. Does this track at all? Is it weird to wonder why I am being told to care about a character and her feud with her uncle-turned-arch-nemesis even though its foundations are made of jelly? Is this show actually about Maya, or is it a teaser for Daredevil: Born Again?
Maya and Wilson Fisk’s dynamic does not have the emotional weight to center a whole rivalry around, and that’s the result of the Marvel machine’s prioritization of plot over character-driven storytelling. Hawkeye gives the summary of their relationship, Echo replays it, and that’s about it. What does Maya see in Wilson Fisk? What does Wilson Fisk see in Maya? Who is Maya without Wilson Fisk? Who is Wilson Fisk without Maya? I don’t know, and hence, I don’t care. And that brings us to the second objective, i.e., Maya’s Native American origins. That aspect of the miniseries plays out in a very disjointed way. You can say that it’s meant to feel like that and whatnot, but since it is so vague and so performative, it doesn’t really stick. I suppose Dayre and her team try to say something about the coexistence of white Americans and Native Americans, but that commentary is figuratively and literally shot in the head before it gets anywhere. The snippets of Maya’s ancestors (that is what they are supposed to be, right?) are well-conceived in terms of the make-up design, production design, and costume design. The fault lines begin to appear when they try to emulate the look and feel of a silent-era film. I mean, the way the camera moves and how the intertitles are used are totally inaccurate and amateurish. So, the whole thing seems like a half-baked experiment.
The action sequences are fine. Most of them are incredibly acrobatic and heavily reliant on stunt doubles. So, while it’s put together quite well, it simply lacks punch. The lighting, VFX, and CGI in some of the scenes are laughably bad. The editing is really inconsistent and oscillates between shades of competency and utter incoherency. The only good thing about Echo is Alaqua Cox. The kind of stoicism and grit that she puts on display is magnetic. Her devil-may-care attitude is evident from the mere movement of her eyebrows. Her physicality when she is being intimidated is fun to watch. Tantoo Cardinal is great in the few scenes she is in. Graham Greene is quite humorous. Cody Lightning is the comic relief, and he does a really good job of being Maya’s naive assistant. Devery Jacobs is good, and the sibling energy that she exudes along with Cox is palpable. Vincent D’Onofrio is hardly present in the first three episodes that I got to watch. Charlie Cox is there for a few seconds, and then he is gone. It’s a fine cameo and shows how his presence might feel to an unsuspecting goon, but that’s about it. To be honest, as someone who has watched all the Twilight movies, I was happier to see Chaske Spencer. By the way, if you haven’t seen Wild Indian, which features Chaske Spencer and Michael Greyeyes, you should. It’s an amazing, amazing movie.
Recently, Marvel released the second season of What If?, and one of its episodes was about Kahhori (who is voiced by Devery Jacobs), a member of the Mohawk tribe. While the whole season was awful, Kahhori’s story was the only one that truly impressed me. And, to be honest, I was looking forward to some more Native American representation in Echo. Unfortunately, Kevin Feige and the Marvel Machine can’t really decide if they should allow their latest miniseries to be a fantastical deconstruction of the history and future of Oklahoma or if they should treat it as some more homework for their next show (or movie). That’s why the final product is neither here nor there. There’s not enough plot for the miniseries to be engaging. There’s not enough character drama in the miniseries to make it interesting. The themes are too shallow to be thought-provoking. The action is too flaky to feel immersive. Overall, it’s a whole lot of nothing.
Now, it’s easy to blame every movie and show that has come after Endgame for Marvel’s ongoing downfall. However, it’s unfair to force all these relatively new storytellers to shoulder the weight of a franchise that built its roots by releasing two to three movies per year. It’s impossible to work like a robot and inject hundreds of stories with genuine emotion. It’s criminal to expect Oscar-winning movies and Emmy-nominated shows when the creators and filmmakers have little to no creative control. The sensible thing for Marvel will be to take a break, savor the hits they got in the form of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 and Loki Season 2, go back to the drawing board, and plan how they can give the artists that they are hiring the freedom and space to tell the stories they want to tell, instead of pressuring them to worry about the interconnected nature of Marvel’s multiverse.