T’Challa vs. Killmonger in Black Panther. The bus ride from hell in Shang-Chi. That elevator brawl in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And, of course, the final battle in Avengers: Endgame, as our heroes take down Thanos. We have seen several brilliant action scenes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) over the years as our favorite heroes have taken out those menacing villains in style. Of course, we have also seen these champions turn on each other too in spectacular fashion. Who could forget the intense clash between Captain America and Iron Man in Civil War, a powerful final confrontation the whole film had been building up to?!
However, whilst these fight scenes are all awesome, it must be remembered that these are only a handful of moments across over 50 MCU titles. It’s also worth noting that given this is a superhero franchise we are talking about too, action scenes feature heavily in every installment, with these being stand-outs. In fact, on the whole, fight sequences in the MCU aren’t anything to write home about, mainly due to bland choreography and an overreliance on CGI. Just look at that final battle scene in Shang-Chi – what could have been something really special given the focus on martial arts was ruined by messy visual effects, with our hero fighting against a poorly designed dragon. Meanwhile WandaVision ended with the Scarlet Witch and Agatha Harkness throwing generic glowing balls at each other, a lackluster, boring finale to what was an imaginative show.
Enter Echo, the newest Marvel TV show that decided it’s time to once again shake up the franchise’s fight sequences – and let’s be honest, it was desperately needed. In fact, the first action set piece is easily the highlight of the whole show – something which got people (rightfully) cheering from their seats at the UK premiere (including me). Trust me, it’s been a while since we had something this good.
Of course, here I am talking about the Maya Lopez vs. Daredevil brawl that happens in episode one, kicking off the new series in spectacular style. In fact, Marvel played their cards perfectly here. Knowing fans were hyped for Charlie Cox’s return as Matt Murdock in the series, rather than tease his appearance, leaving it for a cameo towards the end, they surprised us all by including it in the opener, immediately hooking us in. Alaqua Cox’s Maya runs into Hornhead whilst on her first mission for Kingpin (a returning Vincent D’Onofrio who as ever is on fine form) – therefore it’s a natural place for him to be, rather than an arrival that is shoved in purely for fan-service purposes. It helps build the world Maya is entering now that she works for Wilson Fisk – a dangerous criminal underworld where rival gangs are continually at war and masked vigilantes are trying to take the kingpins down. The groundwork is laid not just for Echo, but for future MCU installments that will follow on too – mostly, the upcoming show Daredevil: Born Again.
The scene’s organic nature alone does set it up for success, but the way it is delivered too is pitch-perfect. At six minutes long it’s the right length, with the boredom never setting in, while the one-shot style works beautifully, helping to capture every kick and punch with easy fluidity. The choreography in terms of the stunts themselves and the camera movements are working here in perfect harmony, placing us at the very center of this brutal brawl. And it really is brutal, with Echo fully living up to the R-rated, grounded, gritty reputation we were promised. Bones crack and bodies are left sprawled on the floor, with one moment that sees Maya break the back of a gangster being particularly shocking. This isn’t the violence we are used to seeing in the MCU, and it stuns.
And breaking new ground
Furthermore, in addition to avoiding the MCU’s CGI problem, Echo sidesteps another major trope. For the climatic conflicts, our heroes often end up facing off against an evil version of themselves – a trend that started at the very beginning with Iron Man, as Tony Stark took on the villainous Obadiah Stane who was wearing his own take on the suit. It was a dull choice that set the tone for many that followed in its footsteps, from Ant-Man to The Incredible Hulk.
But not only that, sometimes it’s just simply not a fair fight. Often it’s clear that one side (usually the hero) is easily more powerful than the other, significantly lowering the stakes, drawing away from any tension that was created in the build-up. Just look at Thor vs Loki – whilst the God of Mischief does indeed have his strengths, he was out of his league during the fight with his big brother in the 2011 movie. Meanwhile, in The First Avenger, Cap easily disposes of The Red Skull, then in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Michael Keaton’s Vulture barely punches Peter Parker in yet another underwhelming MCU action scene.
Instead of leaning into this, Echo does something different, as we see our protagonist transformed in this fight scene. The violence and brutality isn’t just there for shock value, it serves a purpose to the story, telling us who Maya is. And really, whilst it’s great to see Daredevil of course do what he does best here, kicking some serious ass – throwing back to the style of his hit Netflix show – at the end of the day, this scene is all about Maya. It’s a turning point for the young Echo as she realizes exactly what becoming part of Kingpin’s world entails. As we see Maya thrown into the ruthless situation our sympathies are played with. We ask ourselves, who should we be rooting for here – hero Daredevil or the naive Lopez? The situation is far from being black-and-white which is exciting. Rather than giving us easy answers, instead we are challenged. And isn’t that what audiences want nowadays?
The scene certainly changes our perspective on Maya as we see her confront these harsh realities – and things shift for her too. As director Sydney Freeland told us in an interview, Maya walks away as a changed woman, leaving the scene as a “cold-blooded killer”, setting her on a destructive path that we are now excited to follow. The lesson to be learnt here isn’t that violence sells, but to make an action scene truly sing, it needs to mean something for its characters and story. So, Marvel, get listening!
All episodes of Echo are available to stream now on Hulu and Disney Plus. For more from the MCU, check out our guide to all the upcoming Marvel movies and shows that will soon be coming your way.