The MCU’s sprawling Phase Four marches on here in 2022 with the Disney+ series Moon Knight, headlined by Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke. Moon Knight, sometimes referred to as “Marvel’s Batman,” mostly due to some surface comparisons culled from the character’s earlier days, has always been an interesting, hard-to-pin-down outlier in the realm of superheroes.
This first episode — which plays like a sly, slapstick mystery — is helped across the finish line by Isaac’s fun and rambunctious performance as a bumbling museum employee, Steven Grant, caught up in a dangerous duel between Egyptian gods.
The premiere, like that of Wanda Vision (which didn’t start fully answering questions until its fourth episode), asks for patience as it offers very few specifics about poor Steven’s mental state, but Isaac’s “everyman” is such an endearing rom-com style fool that it all makes for an enticing introduction to a very unique crusader.
In a recent Moon Knight featurette, series star May Calamawy described the series as a mix between Fight Club and Indiana Jones. That label tracks, though let’s also throw in The Long Kiss Goodnight, which starred Geena Davis as a government assassin who, after a trauma, finds herself mentally trapped inside a docile, suburbanite alias she created as a cover.
There’s more of that going on here than Fight Club disassociation, but ultimately, after this first episode, we still need answers, particularly about the exact nature of Steven’s madness because he’s very much living half a life. Instead of seeking actual help for what he thinks are extreme sleepwalking episodes, he opts to strap himself to his bed at night, content with just losing large swaths of time and only partially existing within the real world. Even his job, as a lowly looked-down-upon gift shop employee, seems to allow him multiple unexplained days off as if everyone around him might be in on this particular ruse.
Day and Knight
The kick is that Steven’s other (real?) personality is a brutal mercenary named Marc Spector. When we meet Steven, Marc has somehow allowed this tamer persona to get away from him in a way that never happened before and the two sides struggle for dominance.
That being said, Marc also purposefully and willfully allows himself to be Steven again at times (and sets up Steven’s life in a very specific way that Steven himself couldn’t manage, including the bed strap at times). So as we move forward, it would be nice to get more clarity as to how these two sides of the same man work, rule-wise, since there are times when Marc can burst in to help save Steven’s life and other times when Steven has to willfully give up control to let Marc through.
Moon Knight is – four episodes in – a boldly bonkers affair that manages to capture the same giddy joy imbued in Hawkeye and Loki.
But even if this never gets fully sorted out, it wouldn’t be the end of the world since there’s more going on here than the various asterixis related to Steven/Marc’s dissociative identity disorder. Just the inclusion of it here, as a wild card element that helps keep Steven, and us as viewers, in the dark initially so that this new arena of Egyptian lore can be ushered into the MCU helps Moon Knight stand out in a good way. Just know that you’ll probably have a few questions about how Steven and Marc switch off with one another. Also, Moon Knight fans will know that in the history of the hero, there’s one more non-costumed persona — that of street-wise cabbie Jake Lockley — that’s currently left out of the mix (though this show’s Steven Grant is already completely different from the Steven Grant alias from the comics, a millionaire playboy that fed into the Batman comparisons).
Knight to Remember
In the comics, Moon Knight was a mercenary, Marc Spector, left for dead outside of an Egyptian temple, resurrected by the god Khonshu to exact vengeance on evil-doers. When he returned to the States, he adopted two other identities to help him in his crusade to fight crime (it’s actually just written quickly that he became rich through investments so he could be moneybags Steven Grant).
Over the four decades that have passed since the first Moon Knight run, different writers have played around with Marc’s overall reliability as a narrator and whether or not those aliases were merely covers, part of a splintered psyche, or a bit of both.
This new Moon Knight series is unlike any comic run that’s come before it (though one member of Marc’s old crew does appear in a bizarre-yet-apropos way), but given that Moon Knight is constantly reinvented and refreshed with new takes on his mental stability, the show is actually kind of par for the course in how the character’s been handled. His hallmarks are rather malleable and up for new interpretations, and so star Isaac, creator Jeremy Slater (The Umbrella Academy), and director Mohamed Diab are seemingly having a blast with this incarnation of one of Marvel’s most unhinged heroes.
Slater’s time on Umbrella Academy shines through a lot, in fact, when it comes to both needle drops in general and needle drops used to accentuate big boisterous action scenes highlighting Steven’s particular brand of haplessness.
Again, though, this first episode doesn’t give us the full picture and scope of the series. It seems like the type of story that’ll call for a big flashback episode to fill in the many gaps and until then, it’s going to be a comedy of errors of sorts. Notable too is that Moon Knight feels very disconnected from the MCU. This is by design, apparently, but it can feel a bit jarring after five previous MCU shows that were heavily tethered to the events of Endgame. It’s not inherently bad, but it does make Moon Knight feel like latter-day Marvel Television shows like Runaways, Cloak & Dagger, and the later seasons of the Marvel Netflix series, in which any connection to the MCU had all but vanished. There are no mentions of The Blip or Avengers or other events from the Infinity Saga, keeping Moon Knight (who’s had many team ups in the comics, including becoming an Avenger) in a bubble. Thematically, it works for now since Steven is in a very odd cerebral prison, as it were.
Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke
New Moon Knight Images
This first episode rightfully focuses all its might and glory on Isaac and the peculiarities of Steven (which includes a purposefully wonky British accent). It’s not a one-man show, but Steven being a man trapped inside a sinister swirl of blackouts, bloody aftermaths, and what he perceives to be a nightmarish dreamworld attacking his senses (the towering Khonshu appearing like a sexy Skeksi stalker) is definitely the anchor for this initial outing.
Steven’s job plants him smack-dab inside a large London Egyptology exhibit where he’s able to absorb all the info he can, and may later need, for his adventures. Over the course of this premiere, Steven gets swept up into a madcap maverick adventure that he can’t possibly comprehend. The Indiana Jones elements here aren’t just the plot’s ancient Egypt dealings but also in the way Steven escapes scrapes by using a combination of luck and skill.
Even though Steven’s confused, bleary existence roots the series at first, that doesn’t mean we’re cheated out of the show’s other famous star, Ethan Hawke, or that it keeps Steven and Hawke’s cult-leader Arthur Harrow apart. No, they have a ton of screen time together and Hawke is able to play into his skills as a gravely whispering obsessive, honed over decades of intense roles spanning multiple genres.
Hawke has a ton of horror and sci-fi films on his resume, and thus is easily able to feel at home in this batshit world of wicked deities and multiple personalities. Ethan Hawke’s Arthur Harrow is alluring because there’s a quiet kindness deep inside him.
Here, Hawke gets to play around with the time-honored MCU template of Villain with Good Intentions but Bad Execution while also being the one “in the know,” to juxtapose Steven’s total bewilderment. Hawke’s Arthur Harrow (which was the name of a blink-and-miss-him adversary in Moon Knight lore, though this version is its own thing) is alluring because there’s a quiet kindness deep inside him. Like all cult figures, he wears the strong charisma needed to attract followers and it’s the perfect icky environment for Steven to get weirdly wrapped up in.
It’s good that this show not only has these two stars but also uses them to their fullest because, as mentioned, Moon Knight isn’t widely known and the series itself is holding back a lot of information for the time being. That being said, hardcore Moon Knight fans out there who never thought this day would arrive might feel like collapsing at the sight of this crazed champion presented fully in front of their eyes.
It’s also the perfect show to slip into if you’re an MCU casual, as it does keep the rest of the long-running story at arm’s length. Isaac called this the “the first legitimate Marvel character study since Iron Man” (though that could be disputed, for sure), mostly meaning that it was an origin tale set outside the hulking weight of knowing everything going on elsewhere in the MCU. We’re still left — without the rest of the MCU to prop this up — with a clever, action-packed war of wills.
At the start of Moon Knight, there’s little more than Oscar Isaac’s Steven Grant flailing around on a battleground he doesn’t (and we don’t) understand to keep us going. But Isaac’s animated efforts, as the meeker half of a double-sided man, craft what could be a grim ride into a jovial romp. Moon Knight is treated like a necessary evil of sorts, an encroaching enemy with designs on drowning Steven out of existence, so it will be interesting to see how the series treats Marc when he finally arrives. Will it be a situation like The Long Kiss Goodnight’s Charly Baltimore, where the real answer lies somewhere in the middle of Marc and Steven, or is this so much of a standalone story that Moon Knight himself/itself is the ultimate obstacle? We’re left in the dark here, but in a fascinating way, and with two solid leads infusing confidence in the crucible to come.
What did you think? Did you enjoy Oscar Isaac’s performance? Have you forgiven the accent? Have your say below …
MOON KNIGHT: SEASON 1 (2022)
Our Rating - 3
Its entertainment value may wax and wane a bit, but Moon Knight ultimately settles into a mostly enjoyable -- and refreshingly weird -- spot in the MCU firmament.