When I first watched the trailer for Moon Knight many months ago, I’ll be the first to admit that I was hardly impressed. Aside from a love for its leading man, Oscar Isaac, it was hard to see what people were talking about when they theorized that this would be the darkest and most mature Disney+ show to date. And now, having seen four of the six episodes for this review, I can say that it does not, indeed, reinvent the MCU wheel. However, in comparison to the previous shows, the series created by Jeremy Slater quickly rises to the top when it comes to the sheer talent not only of its lead but the rest of the cast.
As a lesser-known superhero, Moon Knight has a lot less pressure from the audience to build around an existing narrative. Instead of centering the show around Marc Spector, we instead are put into the shoes of one of his other personalities. Struggling with dissociative identity disorder, we first meet Steven Grant, a soft-spoken, mild-mannered gift shop attendant. He suffers from blackouts and a sleeping disorder that forces him to shackle himself to his bed and stay up night after night in fear of not knowing where he’ll end up.
Steven is undoubtedly the true hero of the series. Although a comic book reader might know Marc Spector as the “true” person behind the mask of Moon Knight, Steven is easily the one that steals our hearts. He’s kind, morally sound, intelligent, funny, and painfully earnest. Sure, he’s got a dodgy British accent, but that’s kind of the point. Even better is his immediate chemistry with May Calamawy‘s Layla El-Faouly, whose contrasting relationships with Marc and Steven are really the highlight of the show. Steven plays like the funny man to Marc’s straight man and it works like a charm.
Much like the success of Loki, it’s the interpersonal relationships that hit hard in this series. And like that show, Isaac’s talent is unparalleled, especially when it comes to jumping back and forth between Marc and Steven. With Isaac’s own brother, Michael Benjamin Hernandez, acting as his acting partner and double for his scenes, the scenes with just Marc and Steven are every bit as compelling, if not more, than his scenes with the other characters.
Speaking of those other characters, while there’s a lot going on with Ethan Hawke‘s Arthur Harrow, he’s not nearly as interesting as some of the other Marvel TV villains we’ve seen. His relationship with Khonshu, the Egyptian moon god who uses Marc as an avatar, is intriguing, but it’s not enough to power a character who is essentially a cult leader generic bad guy. While he does have one significant scene with Calamawy, it’s not enough to put him even near the top when it comes to Marvel villains. Depending on how the show ends its final two episodes, Hawke might forever just be “the bad guy in Moon Knight played by Ethan Hawke.”
On top of that, in typical Marvel fashion, the first two episodes of the season are immensely familiar. The claims that this would be a “darker” and “grittier” Marvel show are greatly exaggerated. The show quite literally cuts around the most violent scenes, giving us only the before and after, never the in-between. While Isaac is compelling, not much else is. The plot about a MacGuffin item is only there to power the story forward. It’s not until we dramatically shift locations that the story really begins to pick up steam.
But along the way, there are some good horror moments that show off the potential of what could have been. While it’s not true horror, the tone is a more marked shift than in the previous shows. However, by the end of Episode 4, the show goes completely off the rails in the best way possible. Incorporating elements that feel like they’re from both The Mummy and Legion, the show fully indulges in the swashbuckling adventure that would come with a show about Egyptian gods and archaeology buffs. The shifting gears of aesthetics are also refreshing, feeling genuinely like the first time Marvel is taking somewhat of a risk (though granted, shows like Legion paved the way). And, on top of all that, the comedic timing that Marvel is known so well for is there and still works.
Ultimately, this show is the Oscar Isaac show. It’s less so about Moon Knight the superhero than Oscar Isaac playing these two characters. In truth, the action sequences when Moon Knight is actually fighting are rather standard and just okay. In a world of a thousand superheroes, there’s only so much you can do with a guy who fights in a suit and a cape. Instead, it’s the character work that shines. The shift between Layla’s estranged relationship with Marc, who is distant and cold, to her blossoming relationship with Steven, who is all sunshine and sweetness, is genuinely fun to watch. As is how distinct Steven clearly is from Marc, he has a different moral code, he has different boundaries, he is his own person.
By putting us in his shoes to start with, it’s easy to relate to the everyman Steven who likes to crack jokes and read and maybe isn’t fully confident in himself even if he does look like Oscar Isaac. At the end of the day, is having a strong lead like Isaac enough to keep a series going? Previous Marvel shows have had two characters playing off of one another, but perhaps having the two sides of Marc and Steven is enough.
Moon Knight will premiere March 30th exclusively on Disney+.