Like the phases of the Moon and Thanos himself, the coming of a new Disney Plus MCU series is inevitable. This time it’s Moon Knight’s – created by writer Doug Moench and artist Don Perlin – time to shine, but has Marvel Studios managed to work its magic again and bring another obscure hero into the light? Well, the answer is sort of.
Our hero is Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac), an eccentric museum gift shop worker living in London. All poor Steven wants to do is get a job as a tour guide so he can share his passion for ancient Egypt with the world. Unfortunately, that dream will have to wait because Steven has a problem; he keeps forgetting things. Mostly inconsequential things, like dates, but occasionally more serious things – like how he broke his jaw and got to central Europe.
The root of Steven’s spotty memory soon becomes apparent when it’s revealed Steven isn’t the only person living in his noggin. He shares it with a mercenary named Marc Spector. Marc’s no normal gun for hire, though; he’s the violent vigilante Moon Knight and the avatar of the Egyptian moon god Khonshu.
Normally that’d be bad news, but as Steven has somehow become the target of cult leader Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke), it turns out that having a superpowered alternate personality is actually pretty useful.
As a huge Marvel Cinematic Universe fanboy, it’s strange to write this, but for the most part, I feel quite ambivalent about Moon Knight. It’s odd because there’s a lot to like in this delightfully deranged drama, but while watching, I could never really shake the notion that it was just another Marvel series. It’s well made, of course, but I never really connected with it, which is a shame because the show has potential – we’ll start with the good.
The cold opening is bone-chilling; we’ve never really seen a Marvel villain like Harrow before. Like Thanos, he’s a zealot, motivated by the assuredness that his mission is a just one, but he lacks the overt bombast of the Mad Titan (it helps he’s not a purple giant). Instead, Hawke makes Harrow a friendly and avuncular figure, which gives him an unusual degree of menace when he commits his crimes.
Isaac, meanwhile, is having a lot of fun with Steven. The Dune star has said in interviews he channelled Karl Pilkington for his performance, and it shows. Steven is delightfully clueless, bungling his way through life like the MCU’s answer to Inspector Clouseau. It’s funny, but also kind of tragic, especially as the supernatural events surrounding his alternate identity derail his pleasant life at the museum.
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We don’t get an awful lot of Marc in the first episode but what we do get is good. He’s almost the exact opposite of Steven, self-assured, powerful, and violent. Still, the Spector personality is very much in Isaac’s wheelhouse as an actor (he’s a lot like his Star Wars character Poe Dameron), so I preferred seeing him try and be funny over his usual action star schtick. That said, I look forward to seeing how the two diametrically opposed personalities will interact as the show goes on.
Mohamed Diab’s direction is good as well. The way he shoots action is effective, if slightly workmanlike, but he spices it up with Steven’s blackouts. It’s actually quite a good way of protecting the mystery of Steven’s multiple personalities and adds some levity to what may otherwise have been yet another prolonged action sequence. I thought he was probably better at shooting the more grounded stuff in Steven’s flat and the museum, but maybe I’m just bored of superhero punch-a-thons.
That said, I did enjoy how violent the first episode was. I know we shouldn’t judge a show by the amount of blood it dares to show, but it’s refreshing to see our hero get hurt. Too often in the MCU, we see Earth’s mightiest heroes take what appears to be a deadly or crippling blow and walk away from it, looking like they’re ready to walk the catwalk. Seeing Steven rehinge his jaw is easily one of the most gruesome things we’ve seen in the MCU, and I hope we get more.
Violence aside, Moon Knight’s greatest strength is its commitment to being weird. The show doesn’t shy away from the more bizarre elements in the source material. As such, we get to see the skeleton bird god Khonshu, the multiple personalities, and there’s a lot of discussion of Ancient Egypt. I’m a sucker for adaptations that embrace the ludicrous nature of comic books, so all this silliness worked for me, but it does bring me on to my biggest question about this TV series.
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‘Is being weird enough to keep audiences engaged?’ Honestly, I have my doubts. We’ve seen Marvel shows like WandaVision and Loki enjoy success by being as outlandish and big as possible, but I worry it’s diminishing returns. You can only rely on wackiness up to a point, and I have my concerns that Moon Knight may lean heavily on being strange (no, not the doctor) and neglect a far more interesting aspect of its main character, his mental health battles.
It’s a bit harsh to judge Moon Knight by its first episode in this regard, but I didn’t really feel that the series was going to dig into Steven/Marc’s mental health. I know it’s silly to think that a show about a guy in a cape thumping baddies would be a nuanced look at multiple personality syndrome. Still, the series doesn’t seem particularly interested in talking about it beyond some surface level stuff about sharing a body with someone you don’t like.
Maybe I’m wrong. I hope I am. I liked Moon Knight well enough, and I’m looking forward to where it goes, but I can’t say it blew me away. I don’t know. It just feels like more of the same. Like we’re watching the same show we’ve seen before, just wrapped in a different cloak.
Moon Knight review
Marvel’s Moon Knight isn’t afraid to let its freak flag fly but is it enough to sustain the series?