It goes without saying that Marvel Studios’ phase 4 has been- at minimum- experimental. This new chapter in the long running franchise seems to be the powerhouse working to push the limits of what they can and can’t do. That’s been evident with just about every single entry so far, and “Moon Knight” is no exception.
Hyper violent, cosmic and bold in scale, this untethered to the theatrical machine series really should be a bold step in the right direction from start to finish. What transpires is a series packed with more questions than answers, with “Moon Knight” somehow feeling rushed and incomplete despite spanning 6 episodes of globetrotting, packed with gods and monsters. The series starts strong and sports some killer performances, but ultimately falls short of delivering a complete and satisfying narrative.
I want to be clear. There’s a lot to enjoy in “Moon Knight.” It packs a visual punch and creatively demonstrates the split personalities of the protagonist consistently throughout. It also starts with one helluva a ride, playing much of its narrative close to the chest without revealing more than the minimum of what we need to know. Its first episode is a tantalizing experience, packed with eye catching imagery and a whole new world that begs you to explore. But what happens rather quickly is that the more that gets revealed, the less interesting “Moon Knight” becomes. Some of that is the rapid pace with which the story chooses to unfold, the rest is that the more we know the less meat we find on the bone. It’s not that the series isn’t good, just that when it all comes to down to it, the series focuses on the wrong thing without ever really giving us much else to concern ourselves with.
Egyptian history and gods are fascinating in and of themselves, but the breakneck pace with which “Moon Knight” chooses to tell us they are real never really lets viewers become fully invested in the grand scheme of things. The fact that all Egyptian gods aren’t only real but walk among us through avatars is an incredibly intriguing subplot, one that deserves for more examination than the series is willing to indulge in. We are given an introduction that tells us to expect much more, and then never quite figures out what we should learn or focus on. This lack of subplot inclusion can often benefit a show hoping to stick to the barebones of their adventure story, but “Moon Knight” seems at odds with itself even when everything is stripped away. It wants to be “American Gods” without ever really giving them much else to do outside of acting as devices to further the real focus, which is the mind of a damaged man.
I get it, the draw of the character of Moon Knight is the split personality, irreverent insanity the character is known for. But the series never really tackles it in the framework of a hero with issues, more so the series opts to focus on a man suffering from childhood trauma that causes him to be both a ruthless mercenary and an affable museum gift shop clerk. Again, it’s not that this isn’t interesting. Just that “Moon Knight” can’t see to find the balance or tone of which story it actually wants to pursue. What ends up transpiring is a jumbled mess of “The Mental Battles of Marc and Steven” pitted up against “The Egyptian Gods Have Issues.” And the series can’t seem to decide on which one they want to be the actual narrative of the six episode arc.
The saving grace of the series is Oscar Issac, who effortlessly transitions between every single personality inside his very damaged head. Issac shoulders the series and carries it up the unnecessary hills in creates for itself, and is really the sole reason the show works at all. Ethan Hawke also starts strong and remains a horrifying look at the devout religiosity, but is so under utilized that his haunting presence and threat is never really felt. Because everything the show chooses to focus on is in someway a macguffin, the presence of Hawke’s Harrow never feels nearly as threatening as he seems to be when the show starts. The longer the series goes on, the less intimidating he becomes as he is forced to transform from undeterred villain to background, meandering pressure. He goes from primary threat to “don’t forget he’s looking for the thingamajig too.”
And that’s really the big problem with the series. There isn’t a legitimate protagonist to root for despite Issac doing everything he can to make there be one. And the gods as the overarching characters feel like they should mean more than the actually do, making “Moon Knight” a big cosmic story that also incredibly self contained. I don’t often nitpick, but we have the god of the night sky in Khonshu able to turn back the skies at will, but that has no long lasting implications on the overall story outside of the series itself. The main takeaway from the series is that Egyptian gods are real and walk among us, but it amounts to a little more than a handful of chosen human walkers that occasionally get into some mischief. The scales are imbalanced, and “Moon Knight” is found wanting and judged.
There were plenty of moments I enjoyed, and I truly could watch Oscar Issac chew through scenery with masterful acting prowess. And I find the entire Egyptian mythology incredibly intriguing, and Hawke’s Harrow a haunting presence when he’s allowed to be. But where “Moon Knight” falters is in how tonally imbalanced it is and how quickly it ops to tell huge stories in a small, contained story. And adding to that, MoonKnight himself is a cameo in his own story, barely making a dent in the overall narrative and vastly under utilized in hopes to put the conflict between Marc, Steven and at times Jake as the main story. This would be fine if the very fabric of Khonshu’s relationship to both him and Harrow wasn’t the central catalyst for what happens.
But it is, and it’s only partially explored and unpacked, glossed over to get to the next macguffin that needs to be found. It’s a disservice to the more interesting aspects of the contained story. I’m fine with “Moon Knight” being nothing more than one off series with the tease of him popping up in the future for a brief stint, but he shouldn’t ALSO be that same superhero or anti-hero in his own show. If you’re going to give us a whole new world, you need to take the time to create that world in its entirety so we have reasons to invest in it. Truthfully, if it wasn’t for Issac putting in work, I don’t know that “Moon Knight” would be as good as many find it to be. And not to put too fine a point on it, but Khonshu is a manipulative dick, no better than any of the villain gods we’re suppose to be against.
I can’t say I didn’t enjoy “Moon Knight,” but I’m just not entirely sure where it fits in the grand scheme of things. And since this new phase seems to be completely contingent on how connected the series is on the overall story, I think this one doesn’t quite hit the mark. Too many questions and not enough answers, and the lack of in depth expansion and storytelling paired with the lower than normal promise of a second season makes “Moon Knight” a little more than a collection of interesting ideas executed incoherently. It never really justifies its existence despite having all the makings of something worth existing.
“Moon Knight” starts strong and is packed with strong performances, but lacks the necessary execution story wise to be a memorable or worthy inclusion into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You’ll probably have fun watching it, but it remains one of the more forgettable series in the current Marvel phase.
“Moon Knight” is currently streaming on Disney+ and you can watch the trailer below.