‘Echo’ trains Marvel’s ‘Spotlight’ on a small and dark corner of its universe

(Right): Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Marvel Studios' Echo, releasing on Hulu and Disney+. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2023. All Rights Reserved.

Alaqua Cox (right) as Maya Lopez in Marvel Studios’ “Echo.”Chuck Zlotnick/NetflixCNN — 

In “Echo,” Marvel again uses Disney+ to cater to a subsection of fans – with a hard-edged, R-rated throwback to its Netflix “street-level” series (think “Luke Cage” and “Jessica Jones”) – arguably squandering time in the alleyways of its cinematic universe when it should be focusing on getting major franchises on track. The degree of interest in such smaller exercises will likely determine how viewers respond to this limited series, which thrusts an obscure character featured in “Hawkeye” front and center.

Charitably, the introduction of a new “Marvel Spotlight” brand to tell stories that don’t have to be woven into its larger universe creates intriguing possibilities, and a chance to engage in a five-episode lark such as this. There’s also something to be said for exploring a character that challenges superhero conventions – a deaf Choctaw woman, missing part of her leg due to a childhood accident – in a dark, violent package that signals this isn’t intended for the kids (at least, not the younger ones, anyway).

All that might look better, frankly, without the broader context of Marvel’s grim box-office performance in 2023, as sequels to “Captain Marvel” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” fell short of expectations commercially as well as creatively, fostering an impression that the Disney+ dabbling has contributed to diluting the brand.

Setting those considerations aside long enough to tackle “Echo” on its merits, the series dutifully begins with the origin story of Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox), an indigenous woman taken under the wing of the ruthless crime boss the Kingpin/Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), who tells her to “take your pain, and make it something useful.”

Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin in Marvel Studios' ECHO, releasing on Hulu and Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin in “Echo.”Marvel Studios/Netflix

“Useful” means becoming his enforcer, before an encounter with a certain superhero opens Maya’s eyes to Kingpin’s role in her father’s death, leading to a trip from New York back to her family roots in Oklahoma.

Yet while “Echo” receives an early boost from its connection to “Hawkeye” and “Daredevil,” the three episodes previewed indulge too extensively in detours into tribal history and mythology, as well as Maya’s ties to the family she left behind. Even with a fair amount of action, the stakes feel small and the pacing uneven.

“Echo” does showcase indigenous talent in front of and behind the camera, and Cox receives steady support from the likes of Graham Greene (“Dances with Wolves”) and Zahn McClarnon (“Dark Winds”). The show also cleverly employs sound – or rather the absence of it – to denote what Maya isn’t hearing and the way she experiences events.

Departing from practice by https://gorenganpedas.com dropping all five “Echo” episodes at once, Marvel and Disney+ can position the series as a binge-able gateway back into an edgier vein, as well as a bit of a teaser for a Daredevil revival yet to come.

In theory, streaming is the venue to roll the dice on less familiar concepts and take creative risks. On its own, though, the latest addition to Marvel’s Disney+ portfolio feels too small boned even by those standards, creating an “Echo” that doesn’t leave much more than a ripple in its wake.

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