Echo Brings Back the Original Promise of Marvel’s Disney+ Shows
Marvel’s latest TV offering is a refreshingly bold addition to the MCU.
Echo is far from perfect. The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s newest TV series falls victim to the same third-act issues as so many other MCU films and shows. There are also moments throughout its five episodes where it feels like a lot was left on the cutting room floor. And yet despite all that, Echo feels like one of Marvel’s most confident and focused TV offerings to date.
Through the flashbacks that reveal more about the ancestral history of its lead, Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox), Echo also experiments visually and stylistically in ways rare for the MCU, a franchise that’s often been criticized for sticking too closely to its own formula. In fact, it’s hard not to watch Echo and be reminded of the promise that Marvel’s Disney+ plans initially seemed to carry with them.
When WandaVision premiered in 2021, it was unlike anything Marvel Studios had made before. The show’s old-fashioned sitcom gimmick allowed it to be more stylistically experimental. While the series inevitably ended with the same CGI-laden showdown that Marvel’s proven incapable of getting away from, its creative spirit led fans to believe Marvel wouldn’t use its Disney+ shows to tell more of the same superhero stories. What if more artistically bold efforts like WandaVision lay in store?
But that future never emerged. Outside of WandaVision and Werewolf by Night, Marvel’s Disney+ offerings have all felt like smaller, longer versions of the studio’s blockbuster movies. Practically none of them have had distinct visual or structural identities, and most have fallen disappointingly flat. That’s not the case with Echo, though. The series follows the same general narrative formula as so many other MCU titles, but also uses its Oklahoma setting and generations-spanning story to build its own look and world.
In the flashbacks that open Episodes 2 and 3, Echo even experiments in ways no MCU TV show since WandaVision has. Its second installment opens with a scene set in 1200 AD that follows one of Maya’s ancestors, Lowak (Morningstar Angeline), as she participates in a high-stakes game of stickball. It’s shot with wide lenses and cameras that roam throughout the sequence’s Alabama fortress, emphasizing the cultural details of its Indigenous inhabitants and the expansiveness of the blue sky above them. It looks ripped from a Terrence Malick movie, and visually separates Lowak’s time from Echo’s present-day setting.
Episode 3 opens with an early 20th-century sequence that tells the story of another of Maya’s ancestors, Tuklo (Dannie McCallum), as she fights to protect her father and fellow Choctaw people. In a fun creative flourish, the flashback is edited and shot like a black-and-white silent film, subverting the way Native Americans have been typically portrayed in Hollywood-produced Westerns since the earliest days of cinema. Like Echo’s Lowak-centric flashback, the segment is both an exciting bit of stylistic experimentation and a pointed attempt at highlighting an important chapter of Choctaw history.
Echo’s flashbacks not only reinforce the story, but also reveal what’s been missing from so many of Marvel’s Disney+ titles. The series embraces a level of formal experimentation the MCU is in desperate need of, and while it’s unlikely Marvel will ever include something like a silent, black-and-white sequence in one of its $300 million features, its less expensive shows need not be so one-note. Television has become an increasingly experimental, diverse medium over the past 20 years, and there’s no reason for Marvel to ignore that fact.
If it does, its Disney+ titles will only grow even more stales, and its viewers will be left to continue reminiscing about the brief period in 2021 when it felt like the MCU’s TV side was going to be unique. Echo proves that it still can be, but only if Marvel is willing to step away from its increasingly generic brand of storytelling.
Echo is streaming on Disney+.
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