Episodes Watched: 4 of 6
Following the mind bending and often emotional exploits of WandaVision and Loki, it looks like Marvel are set to further push the boundaries of a superhero series with Moon Knight. The six episode series finally brings one of Marvel Comics’ most violent – but also most compelling – heroes to the screen, with Mohamed Diab and Synchronic duo Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead both directing episodes. Along with exploring Marc/Steven’s inner conflict, the series features an intriguing blend of horror, action/adventure and comedy with a sprinkle of the supernatural – resulting in a very intriguing (and different) take on the superhero origin story.
Moon Knight follows the affable Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac), a museum gift shop cashier who begins to suffer blackouts, amnesic episodes and flashes of mysterious memories that aren’t his own. As these bouts intensify, he discovers he has Dissociative Identity Disorder and shares a body with former U.S. Marine and mercenary Marc Spector – who’s the current avatar of Khonshu (F. Murray Abraham), the Egyptian god of the moon and vengeance. Soon Steven is catapulted on a globetrotting adventure with Marc, Khonshu, archaeologist Layla El-Faouly (May Calamawy) and a winged scarab beetle in tow, in a deadly race against time to stop Dr. Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) and his powerful followers.
Some of Marvels’ most powerful storytelling lies in the emotive exploration of identity and trauma, none more so than WandaVision, with Jac Schaeffer delving into Wanda’s fragile mental health and unstable identity through the mysteries of Westview. While the central puzzle unravelled via a sitcom setting, here we have another internal struggle set against an even more fantastical backdrop, featuring powerful Egyptian Gods and ancient mythology, dark and mysterious supernatural magic, religious cults and tomb hunting. The studio really has opened the door to something wholly new with the series, pairing intimate storytelling with fantastical elements for a globetrotting adventure with a real Indiana Jones vibe. Just like Doctor Strange paved the way for the more magical and mystical in the MCU, Moon Knight certainly sets the scene for the darker, supernatural side of the universe – potentially planting the seeds for Midnight Sons – especially with Eternals‘ Black Knight and Blade waiting in the wings. However, this isn’t quite the brutal vigilante comic book fans know and love – thanks to a number of convenient cuts and editing due to Steven’s blackouts, the violence and fight sequences do feel a little sanitised to fit with the rest of the Disney+ MCU content.
While the globetrotting adventures make for an enjoyable quest, it’s the slow-burn piecing together of the central puzzle which I found most gripping. Steven/Marc is an incredibly intriguing character with a compelling dynamic and setup – there’s a real dichotomy between the two identities, coupled with the Venom-esque voice inside his head, courtesy of Khonshu. Unravelling via the perspective of Steven, the viewer is thrust directly into this crazy new world alongside him – experiencing it just as he’s experiencing it. The translation of the personalities fighting for control – as part of Moon Knight’s dissociative identity disorder – is sensitively handled, allowing audiences a direct and empathetic viewpoint. The writers have also cleverly peppered in the dark humour harking back to Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey’s 2014 run, as the dark and brooding vigilante Marc is brilliantly juxtaposed with the comical and often adorable cockney Steven – who’s pretty useless when it comes to the numerous hand-to-hand combat sequences!
With an unreliable narrator at the helm, the fascinating question of what’s real and what isn’t (along with driving motivations) is ever lingering. While this certainly marks an intriguing direction for Marvel, I can’t help but feel that Noah Hawley has previously covered this in the underrated FX series Legion, which does – at times – creatively trump the similar narrative thread.
Following roles in blockbusters Star Wars and X-Men, Isaac has truly found his big franchise calling in Moon Knight with an exceptional performance which finally gives him the chance to delve into and flex his true range. While his British accent leaves something to be desired, it’s hard not to fall in love with the adorably sweet Steven Grant, as Isaac channels his inner Karl Pilkington in An Idiot Abroad, paired with a touch of Jamie Demetriou’s Stath Lets Flats (trust me on this one!) While the push-pull dynamic – and eventual stubborn acceptance – of the duo’s current circumstances certainly grips, it’s the gradual teasing of Marc and Khonshu’s history and relationship which fascinates. Control, power and what you’re willing to sacrifice are the more compelling stakes at play here – and boy does it make for an enthralling cat and mouse chase.
Guiding Steven is archeologist and adventurer Layla El-Faouly, played by the brilliant May Calamawy. Layla is an Egyptian woman who is strong, smart and fights for what she believes in – and this representation is long overdue in Western media. Her dynamic with Steven is hugely endearing, despite her complicated past with Marc. And while there is a building romance between the two, Layla is thankfully never reduced to just the love interest.
Making his Marvel debut is Ethan Hawke as the mysteriously dangerous Dr. Arthur Harrow, an enigmatic cult-ish leader who’s intriguingly no stranger to the hidden world of gods and avatars living amongst us. Waging war against Khonshu’s integral and moral stance, Arthur is dangerously idealistic – believing whole heartedly that he’s the good guy with his warped viewpoints, and we all know how dangerous that type of power and belief can be in a leader. However, we are seeing this character from a skewed point of view, so the question over whether we’re being told the truth is always lingering.
It’s also clear to see how much time, effort and craft has been put into the series’ distinctive aesthetics to respectfully represent true Egyptian mythology and culture on screen, with Diab driven to bring the Egypt he knows and loves to audiences in a way that feels truly authentic to him. Instead of shooting on location in Egypt, studios often film predominantly in stand-in locations such as Morocco, however Moon Knight was shot on location in the Jordanian desert, specifically Wadi Rum. Paired with the global locations, Production Designer Stefania Cella has worked with Egyptologists and an Egyptian supervising art director to correctly design large-scale practical sets to authentically portray and feature the ancient mythology throughout, especially in the impressive Chamber of the Gods and an Egypt exhibit in the National Gallery. Moon Knight really does feature an immersive and exciting Indiana Jones-esque world full of ancient traditions, the supernatural and various deities.
Longtime fans of the comic can breathe a sigh of relief, as Costume Designer Meghan Kasperlik has impressively crafted one of the most intricate costumes yet in the MCU. In Moon Knight‘s main suit, all of the crests are able to be detached and used as practical weapons, particularly the armored chest piece. Numerous hieroglyphs also adorn the suit, along with the cape which is perhaps one of the most notably shaped capes we’ve seen in live-action yet. Despite being hugely stylish, Mr Knight’s three piece suit also features several fascinating details such as buttons shaped in Khonshu symbols and homages to Khonshu on the vest and tie. Complementing the visuals is the incredibly thrilling score from Egyptian composer Hesham Nazih, who injects a real pace and atmosphere to proceedings, along with providing one of Marvel’s best end-credits tracks yet.
Moon Knight is a weird and wonderful blend of archaeological action-adventure and psychological thriller, propelled by a captivating lead performance from Oscar Isaac. While this is Marvel’s most aesthetically distinct series yet, die hard comic book fans may be disappointed with the more restrained delve into the brutal nature of the vigilante hero. With potential for real greatness clearly on display, it’s a shame the series hasn’t quite hit its stride yet, but I honestly can’t wait to experience the mind-bending conclusion.
Moon Knight comes to Disney+ on March 30