The distinction between superheroism and super-villainy is subjective, dependent on individual perspectives. Not everyone aligns with the moral imperatives of a masked billionaire combating street crime (Batman), a Holocaust survivor advocating for equal rights (Magneto), or an extraterrestrial being dedicated to "truth, justice, and the American way" (Superman). In the case of Echo (Alaqua Cox), her portrayal as a villain in 2021's Hawkeye is convincingly overturned as she transitions from antagonist to protagonist. This transformation is particularly compelling, given that deceased family members serve as the central motive in these narratives of hero/villain origins.
Hawkeye, centered around Jeremy Renner's archery-skilled vigilante, exceeded (albeit from a low starting point) expectations with its entertaining, self-contained narrative. The story follows everyone's less favored Avenger as he confronts Kingpin and manages to return home in time for Christmas. Despite being the fifth of the 12 Disney+ Marvel series, Hawkeye evokes a sense of a golden age when WandaVision and Loki first graced the screen, displaying genuine sparks of ingenuity. This was before the talents of Oscar Isaac, Olivia Colman, and Tatiana Maslany seemed to be underutilized. While Echo's storyline doesn't completely alleviate the prevailing Marvel fatigue worldwide, it suggests that there may still be vitality in the franchise.
The series traces Echo, alias Maya Lopez, in the aftermath of Hawkeye, as she confronts her merciless quasi-uncle Kingpin, aka Wilson Fisk's, army, having shot him point-blank in the face. However, to establish her as the protagonist rather than Hawkeye's antagonist, the narrative unfolds with an episode dedicated to her backstory. We are introduced to seven-year-old Choctaw girl Maya growing up in Omaha, where a tragedy befalls her family. This leads her and her father to relocate to New York, where, over the decades, he rises through the ranks of "the Tracksuit Mafia" (yes, that name is serious, and yes, they all wear tracksuits). Eventually, Hawkeye kills him in events orchestrated by Kingpin himself. Before the truth surfaces, the young, deaf amputee is manipulated by Kingpin into taking her father's place, becoming his chief muscle, fueled by vengeance and aided by her ability to "echo" the fighting skills of her opponents, making her a formidable adversary to anyone who crosses her path.
Beyond her training by her beloved father, Echo can tap into the strength of her Choctaw ancestors. Her grandfather Skully (Graham Greene) provides a crucial bit of exposition, revealing she is a direct descendant of "the first Choctaw, who saved everyone from the cave. When they emerged, they turned into human beings." While this Choctaw origin story is shown in the show's opening moments, its significance becomes explicit as Maya taps into forces greater than herself during intense battles. Skully explains that "Shafa and the ancestors would watch out for the family in times of need, but they are tricky. You never know when they might come calling." Each of the three episodes provided for review begins with an act of heroism from Maya's matrilineal line, mirroring the present day, where Maya must shield her fellow Choctaw from bullets, blades, and awkward family reunions.
The series diverges significantly from its Disney+ forerunners, embracing a level of brutality previously unseen on the streaming platform. Episode one boasts an extraordinary four-minute continuous shot, unfolding a chaotic deal-gone-wrong in a warehouse, replete with exploding skulls and snapping necks. Cox's portrayal, mirroring her own identity as a Native American, deaf amputee, is a tour de force, skillfully conveying complex emotions amidst physical confrontations.
The supporting cast shines as well. McClarnon's portrayal of a grief-stricken yet devoted father is heart-wrenching, Greene injects deadpan humor into the narrative, and Cardinal delivers a sensational performance as a stubborn, estranged grandmother poisoned by decades of resentment.
However, the show succumbs to the overarching malaise present in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – an incessant need to construct an interconnected universe. Despite its aspirations for individuality, the series demands a profound level of viewer familiarity with Echo's backstory, reflecting the cumulative baggage accrued by the format since WandaVision's initiation on Disney+. In just three years, the MCU's TV series on Disney+ has amassed an overwhelming amount of complexity, making it challenging for any show to debut with the whimsical, self-contained narratives of its early counterparts. While Echo stands out in the recent multiverse offerings, she, unfortunately, mirrors the pitfalls of her Marvel predecessors.
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