The debut episode of Moon Knight is available to stream right now on Disney+.
Marvel Studios has fully embraced the supernatural with Moon Knight. This marks a watershed moment for the MCU in several ways – for one, the inclusion of Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke, both heavyweight actors in their own right, indicates there’s something more to this universe than just heroic figures in spandex. Mastermind of the MCU Kevin Feige has also stated that Moon Knight would promise to “pull no punches”, instead deep-diving into the darkness found in the likes of Warren Ellis and Jeff Lemire’s iconic runs of the character. So, does Moon Knight tip the scales of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in its favour or against it?
The first third of Moon Knight is framed not through Marc Spector but instead Steven Grant, one of Marc’s altered personalities. It’s clear that he has some sort of condition, but he’s unsure of what. There are some great visual metaphors from cinematographers Gregory Middleton & Andrew Droz Palermo, splitting Steven’s world through puddle reflections and fractured selves in mirrors, weaving his mental instability into his own unconscious perception. Once Steven begins to unravel completely, his mental lapses are just as disorientating for us as they are for him, jolting us out of time and space through disorientating editing. This is a clever trick from Marvel, allowing them to play with violence without completely descending into anarchy, as Steven awakens to find a bloodied hand or flecks of someone’s teeth on his shirt.
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There’s clear consideration by the team on integrating Steven’s psychological condition into every technical aspect of Moon Knight. One of its best qualities is its camera work; its constantly hurried, anxious, and sometimes panicked state embodies Steven’s own psyche. Some shots even run at Isaac as though his world and our world are moments from a collision. Here Isaac plays with frustration and emotional distress, demonstrating the anger and pain in Steven’s eyes when he discovers his fugue states.
Meanwhile, Hawke’s Arthur Harrow flickers in and out of the first two episodes, similar to Steven’s time-slips, but makes a bold impression. His village of followers feels like a Bavarian Jonestown or Heaven’s Gate, complete with its own self-righteously unnerving prophet. Despite this malevolence, Isaac’s comedic chops are carefully placed when dealing with Harrow – his frantic self-mutterings and anxieties in the face of this all-powerful cult leader disarming. Harrow believes himself to be a gardener of goodness, ripping up evil from the roots to create his own Eden under the guidance of the Egyptian god of judgment, Ammit. Hawke has a pervading menace that gets under your skin; like the best Marvel villains, his most lethal weapons are his words. His absolute belief reflects a man who sees his future as an inevitability rather than a possibility.
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Once Marc Spector finally emerges, Moon Knight gets a lot more complicated. When the show provides an answer, it always leads to more questions. Here Steven and the audience are trapped in a continual unravelling of lies and lost time, constantly shifting to keep us guessing. Isaac has a brilliant knack for acting against himself, with clear depth to separating Marc and Steven through detailed characterisation – his differentiation so clear that it genuinely feels like two different people. Several past titles like Fight Club influence the relationship between Steven and Marc, but the clearest comparison is Mr Robot.
As we learn more about Marc, Moon Knight knowingly tests our allegiance to the pair – a wanted mercenary performing executions at dig sites certainly isn’t being called up to join the Avengers anytime soon. Marc and Steven are a whole new calibre of character for Marvel – there are no heroics being performed but a constant desire for self-preservation. They’re selfish and unstable, so you can’t really understand who they are, as they don’t even know. It’s an interesting position to follow a shady and morally murky character in a traditionally ‘heroic’ world.
Konshu in Marvel Studios’ MOON KNIGHT, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.
Fully investing in Egyptian mythology for Moon Knight’s story was a fantastic choice – it gives the feel of a historical adventure akin to National Treasure and is an inroad into the supernatural side of this universe. The scenes in the Wadi Rum, a now-iconic sci-fi filming location seen in the likes of both Dune and Star Wars, are gorgeously breath-taking; it’s on-location filming like this that instils the show with a sense of globe-trotting adventure. This dedication to Egyptian mythology and a more self-contained story also invites a much larger audience than previous MCU titles – aside from one reference to the wider world, someone could enjoy Moon Knight as a stand-alone adventure without being party to preceding MCU titles.
As Marc and Steven form an uneasy alliance, the show embraces the messier fighting style of the mercenary. The fight choreography feels very much in line with the Jason Bourne series – the camera’s frantic search for its possessed protagonist with snap zooms and pans is reminiscent of Greengrass’ direction without the discordant editing. Likewise, the quick, kinetic dynamism of Marc, caught in a chaotic dance of combat to get situations under control, sets him apart from the likes of Captain America or Thor of Odinson. The fighting itself is far from the brutality Feige may have teased, and certainly, Moon Knight isn’t “the darkest Marvel has ever gone”, as some will proclaim, but it isn’t afraid to muddy the waters a little.
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The focus on Egyptian identity is something that couldn’t have been done without director Mohamed Diab. His influence on the show helps to give Moon Knight its strong sense of identity, from transforming Marc’s fiancé to a more realistic portrayal that suits her backstory to inviting a plethora of Egyptian creatives like composer Hesham Nazih. He has undoubtedly done wonders to create a more MENA-inclusive project both on-and-off screen. Nazih’s score is especially laudable in episode four as his ancient horns create a looming sense of otherworldly dread.
One of the biggest problems with Moon Knight is having to wait over a month for the next episode. Here Marvel leaves us one of the greatest cliff-hanger twists seen in a while, an unexpected gut punch that will send you into another dimension. To say any more would be to ruin the surprise, but you will not see this coming. The first four episodes of Moon Knight are a brilliantly bonkers dark globe-trotting adventure – this is Marvel’s National Treasure. Oscar Isaac is the best addition to the MCU since Robert Downey Jr., kicking off a whole new decade of the universe with an ambitious new direction. He entwines torment and humour into a morally ambiguous cypher, making Marc Spector a whole new calibre of hero.
The first four episodes of Moon Knight are a brilliantly bonkers dark globe-trotting adventure – this is Marvel’s National Treasure. Oscar Isaac is the best addition to the MCU since Robert Downey Jr.