Echo Review | Loud and Clear

by Andrew Parker

Echo is a wildly entertaining, high octane revenge saga, and a rousing diversion for a greater Marvel universe that’s been in need of some freshening up for quite some time. Blisteringly paced and presented in a pleasingly “back to basics” style, the five episode arc of Echo is all killer and no filler. Carving out a place among the crop of current unstoppable, unflappable, and utterly cool cinematic and television badasses, Alaqua Cox’s titular, righteous antihero is one for the ages, and unlike a lot of limited series these days, the show built around them never belabours the point or outstays its welcome. For both Marvel and the larger television landscape around it, Echo is a blast of fresh air delivered with the force of a thousand lightning quick punches and kicks.

Like a lot of interconnected Marvel projects, Echo comes with a bit of a suggested prerequisite, since the main character – Maya Lopez, played once again by Cox – and her surrogate father, the nefarious Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio), were a big part of the equally engaging Hawkeye series. (Kingpin also played heavily into the Daredevil series from even further back, but that’s less of an entry barrier.) Still, there’s enough of an extended recap off the top for even the completely uninitiated, Marvel averse, or Marvel curious crowds to be able to jump right in and have a fun time without knowing all the mythology or references. Echo is part of a grander picture, but it’s also more than willing to kick a lot of butt and get the heck out of dodge in a timely manner.

Or, more accurately, get out of Tamaha, Oklahoma, hometown of the hearing impaired, amputee henchwoman. Not long after the events at the end of Hawkeye, an injured and fleeing Maya goes back to her childhood hometown on native Choctaw land to regroup in her fight against Kingpin’s team of killers, all of whom want to collect the hefty bounty on her head. Knowing she won’t be welcomed with open arms by her estranged grandmother (Tantoo Cardinal) and concerned with keeping her first responder sister (Devery Jacobs) out of the line of fire, Maya attempts to sustain a low profile as she gears up for an ever advancing war. With the help of her criminally connected, roller rink owning uncle (Chaske Spencer), put-upon, simpleton cousin (Cody Lightning), and now divorced grandfather (Graham Greene), Maya fights not only for her life and freedom, but her own hard earned piece of Kingpin’s far reaching criminal empire.

The most culturally significant Marvel project since the original Black Panther film, Echo strikes a perfect balance between a sense of inclusive history and sheer entertainment value. In addition to the casting of established performers like Cardinal, Greene, Lightning, and Jacobs in front of the camera, series directors Sydney Freeland and Catriona McKenzie and producer Jason Gavin all come from indigenous backgrounds (Navajo, Gunaikurnai, and Blackfoot, respectively). At every step of the story, Choctaw traditions, practices, and beliefs help to enhance the narrative and pay respect to the characters, their lands, and their struggles. Heritage, ability, language, and gender identity are never used as shorthand or a crutch for the story, with the creative team and cast working hard to make sure that reverence, thanks, and nuance are always brought to the forefront.

Naturally, a huge part of the series success comes from the highly kinetic, inventive, and sometimes shockingly brutal action sequences. (Some parents might want to take note of the show’s rating and numerous “viewer discretion” messages, with this skewing closer to Punisher and Jessica Jones territory than Loki, Ms. Marvel, or She-Hulk.) But Echo’s greatest asset is its star. Cox, who is just like her character in that she’s indigenous, hearing impaired, and an amputee, displays a preternatural amount of charisma, dramatic chops, and physical capability. Whether having a heart to heart talk with someone close to her, battling scores of gun toting assassins, or just connecting to the ancestral visions she experiences, Cox crafts a well rounded and thoroughly captivating performance, no matter how heightened the character’s setting at any given moment. Her work is effortless, and the creators give her plenty to work with, by making everything that makes her performance – and more importantly, her person – so special into an integral asset and not a gimmick.

Echo showcases everything one wants from an action hero in a popcorn blockbuster. They’re on a righteous mission, haunted by the past, ready to go to war, and still have a noticeable soft spot for those closest to them. It’s an unpretentious story told from a unique, refreshing perspective, and an entry into an otherwise lumbering franchise behemoth that knows precisely how long it will take to get from point A to point B without being overly indulgent or referential. If Marvel kept making series and movies as succinct, engaging, and edgy as Echo, I certainly wouldn’t be mad about it if they were all as good as this. I know they can’t make things like this all the time as it would require the sort of shift in business models that major companies like this are loath to try, but it’s nice to dream.

All five episodes of Echo are now available to stream on Disney+ in Canada.

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