It seems the Marvel Cinematic Universe is fully committed to their strange ventures into the unknown. As they continue to take bolder and bolder steps into the fringes of the comic book world, we get yet another bizarre, hard left departure from their previous phase with “Moon Knight.”
Full disclosure, I am not going to pretend as though I have any authority on the adaption of the source material. Moon Knight is an already strange character with a more cult like following than general appeal. So you’d be hard pressed to find someone with a true wealth of knowledge of the character. That being said, I can only weigh the limited Disney+ Series on that very limited knowledge. In that regard, “Moon Knight” delivers a wild first ride, one that is delightfully confusing and yes, as violent as the Disney+ stronghold will allow.
Written and created for television by Jeremy Slater (“Fant4stic,” “The Umbrella Academy“) and directed by Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead (“Something in the Dirt“), and Mohamed Diab, the series premiere gets off to a wild first start.
Steven Grant (Oscar Issac) is an aloof, British gift shop worker at an Egyptian museum. He is plagued by gaps in time during the evening, where he wakes up feeling as if he’s “been hit by a bus” and therefore tries to stay away as often as he can to avoid the strange nighttime occurrences. Of course, things go awry when Grant begins to realize that he’s not the only entity inside of his mind fighting for control of his body. This battle within is further exacerbated by an encounter with a cult leader Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) who appears to also have a god in him and clearly has big plans that Moon Knight is thwarting.
There’s a lot to unpack in one single episode, so to avoid any “Moon Knight” spoilers, we’ll try to recap the episode is broader strokes rather than specifics. What immediately stands out about this first episode is just how unpredictable and delightfully weird it all is. As a refreshing departure from typical MCU outings (“WandaVision” notwithstanding) the new series goes out of its way to tell you as little as possible as to what the hell is going on. Viewers are thrust onto the shoulders of Grant who is as clueless as we are about what is happening even has he is currently doing things. It makes for a very fun, manic approach to complex storytelling, something I hope continues as the series progresses. The lack of exposition in lieu of clever camera tricks for time gaps makes for a really exciting intro into a relatively unknown character.
Issac is more than game in “Moon Knight,” seamlessly switching from clueless, aloof Brit to hardcore, problem solver mercenary Marc Spector to costume god Moon Knight. Issac is forced to essentially play three different characters all inhabiting the same body, and his Gollum like conversations with the voices in his head make for numerous strange but fun encounters. It is rather rare that the MCU still has some tricks up their sleeve, and I have to give credit where credit is due for going out of their way to try different things. Issac has clearly been given the go ahead to devote himself fully to whatever character he wants to indulge, and his acting prowess carries us through the strange introduction with top notch skill.
Ethan Hawke as Harrow is hauntingly subdued, portraying a man with unwavering devotion to his clearly skewed plans of the god Ammit, which judges the good and evil of humanity but a moving tattoo scale. It is powerful, and Hawke is terrifically dubious and frightening. “Moon Knight” seems to have put their best foot forward with their casting, with Hawke and Issac pulling no punches and delivering a no holds barred first episode. Not that the series doesn’t work without them, but Hawke and Issac are truly the anchors of the series so far. There is so much going on with little exposition, which is a plus for me but for general audiences really need something to latch onto if they’re be asked to go down a rabbit hole of gods and mercenaries and mental health struggles. The lynchpin is the actors, with both Hawke and Issac really delivering with every moment they’re given.
“Moon Knight” is a great first step into new MCU abyss of strange, however the sprawling narrative and scattered puzzle yet to be constructed leaves one character in the dust at times. That character is Moon Knight himself, who is surprisingly absent for most of the first episode. Obviously, it’s an introduction to the series, so he can’t be front and center right out of the gate. But he also shouldn’t feel like an afterthought in his own series, and “Moon Knight” seems to be heavily focused on the turmoil between Steven Grant and Mark Spector (the mercenary with DID and multiple personalities that include Grant despite Grant thinking he’s the main person-you know what, don’t try to put it all together yet) with Moon Knight being a kind of disruptive third wheel instead of the headliner of his own series.
It’s hard to really know where the story is going, as the first episode of “Moon Knight” plays much of the truth close to the chest. There’s a lot of fun to be had in this unknown, and I’m on board for more MCU weird. While I’m cautiously optimistic that this weirdness will continue, there is a part of me that worries that once the true story comes to light, it will operate as a more standard MCU narrative. I hope I’m wrong, because this first episode proves that the Marvel is better when it’s experimental. Even if it’s not necessarily welcomed by everyone at all at once, when you dominate every facet of media with a rinse and repeat format, it is best to try new things.
“Moon Knight” is definitely a new thing, and starts with such a manic pace that it’s hard not to want more.
Really hoping that somewhere in these 6 episodes we get a “Random bullshit, go!”