The Marvel Cinematic Universe has built its brand on planning years ahead and dividing its narrative into “Phases” and “Sagas.” But when that plan gets derailed, it can put the entire universe in jeopardy.
Right in the middle of Phase 5, the second phase of the “Multiverse Saga,” all signs are pointing towards steering away from the multiverse altogether. But maybe Echo, Marvel’s latest release, has a theme that could salvage the direction of Phase 5 — and even the entire Multiverse Saga itself.
Echo is the story of Maya Lopez, the badass fighter we met in Hawkeye, as she returns to her Choctaw community in Oklahoma and attempts to unseat Kingpin, the man who helped raise her. But while reconnecting with her Indigenous roots, she unearths latent superpowers she inherited from her late mother, powers that have “echoed through generations,” from mother to daughter, tracing back to the very first Choctaw people.
Much of Echo’s conflict centers around her rejecting her past, feeling like she can’t go back to her community after leaving as a child. After a fatal car crash took her mother away, Maya felt like her grandmother Chula blamed her, but Chula assures her the opposite was true: she couldn’t be around Maya because of how similar she is to her mother.
In a later confrontation with an apparition of her mother Taloa, Maya finally accepts that she comes from a long line of fierce women. These were the women that viewers saw in flashbacks throughout the series. Finally, she’s able to access her powers and we see all these women surround her, flowing through Maya. Through their influence, she’s able to defeat Kingpin.
All this underlines a theme that ripples throughout Phases 4 and 5: legacy. The idea of not leaving a legacy was addressed thoroughly through Tony, Natasha, and Steve’s stories in Avengers: Endgame. Instead, this new saga addresses assuming a legacy.
Look at Sam Wilson’s hesitancy to take on the mantle of Captain America, Yelena grappling with the death of her sister, Wakanda coping with the loss of T’Challa, or even Loki realizing how he can repair the multiverse by sacrificing himself. So many stories in this new era of Marvel surround characters realizing they are destined to be something so much bigger than themselves and fighting against the fear around that.
Everything surrounding the Multiverse Saga is pointing towards change: Jonathan Majors, the actor portraying the next Thanos-level threat to the MCU, is no longer working with Marvel after being found guilty of assault. The more multiversal movies like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania have underperformed at the box office. Even the in-universe circumstances signal a sea change: in the Loki Season 2 finale, the foundation of Yggdrasil the Temporal Tree seems to resolve any multiverse issues going forward.
With no firm direction going forward, maybe the legacy theme addressed in Echo will form the central theme of this era. It would tie in the past, allow for cultural portraits like Echo’s exploration of Choctaw history, and even set up future “next-gen” projects like the Young Avengers adaptation The Marvels seemingly set up.
Even though we’re halfway through the Multiverse Saga, it’s not too late to shift direction. Echo provides the perfect exit ramp for the MCU to shift its focus. By focusing on its characters’ legacies, the MCU may just be able to rewrite its own.