Moon Knight is the newest Marvel series to premiere on Disney Plus. The pilot aired about a month ago. He is a lesser known character in the Marvel universe. As someone who’s been reading comic books and obsessing over Marvel lore for decades, I admit I was unaware of the character for many years.
Moon Knight begins with Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac), a straitlaced, fairly insecure British man who works in a museum gift shop. Mr. Grant has trouble when he sleeps at night. He surrounds his bed with sand to monitor footprints and braces his ankles to the floor to trace his somnambulism. But it gets worse. Mr. Grant starts experiencing black-outs in the daytime, waking up in strange places, not knowing how he got there. He then meets Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke), a mysterious, cult-like figure in search of a golden scarab. You get the impression that Harrow is not up to anything good, and he sends a few goons after Steven. Steven loses consciousness once again, then wakes up to find himself surrounded by the same men now bloody and beaten.
We begin to piece things together and discover that Mr. Grant has dual personalities. One being Steven Grant, the other being mercenary Marc Spector. Spector is Moon Knight, an avatar and servant of the Egyptian Moon God Khonsu. Khonsu is a tall ghostly creature with robes and the skull of some type of bird in place of its head that follows Steven and Marc wherever they go.
Toward the end of the first episode we meet the eponymous Moon Knight, a superhero cloaked in Egyptian burial threads, a hood and a cape beating some hell hound dog creature to a pulp. He's a cool-looking Marvel character right off the page! He’s got these glowing eyes and he just kicks ass everywhere he goes, seemingly impervious to pain.
From there the series follows Marc/Steven and his partner Layla (May Calamawy) on their quest to track down the scarab which leads to a lost tomb filled with otherworldly power. It’s up to Moon Knight to save the world from annihilation, all the while struggling with multiple personalities that tend to get him into serious trouble.
The creators use mirrors throughout the series to reveal the clashing voices in Marc’s head, vying not only for his attention, but for the possession of his body. This is not the most original way of conveying an often over-exaggerated mental condition, but the audience gets it. Steven has all the brains and less the brawn, solving many ancient Egyptian clues, while Marc pulls a punch and shows very little mercy for his enemies.
In the comics, the question “Is Marc going crazy?” comes up often. On the page, Marc is psychologically trapped in his mind and incapable of discerning dreams from reality. Episode 4, the last episode I saw before writing this review, suggests this.
Some of the better, more alluring parts of the comic involve Marc’s tenuous grasp of reality. The quasi-cosmic realms he navigates - toeing between real and fictional worlds, at times in the clutches of his enemies - make for exceptional, original adventures unique to the character.
As I’ve mentioned thus far, Marc’s mental illness is somewhat exaggerated. Less a weakness, and more a special ability. However, Harrow acknowledges that it's Steven’s ‘weak’ mind that allows Khonsu to possess him so easily. And a cause for Marc’s condition is not stated nor are there steps taken to address it. Marc/Steven is not in a straitjacket or sitting on a couches under the scrutinizing eye of a psychiatrist. But time will tell.
Ethan Hawke is great as Arthur Harrow. He shines as a weathered, somewhat creepy character with an obsession. And I like Oscar Isaac. Some have criticized his English accent as sounding too fake. I personally think it's fine for the alter ego of a superhero with multiple personality disorder. Additionally, Isaac convincingly changes personas between Marc and Steven on their quest for truth and answers.
Isaac has shown his versatility in recent years, playing a Jewish professor in HBO's Scenes from a Marriage and otherworldly royalty as Duke Leito Atreides in Dune. The Cuban/Guatamalan performer and Juilliard graduate is one of the most in-demand names in Hollywood. May Calamawy may be the newcomer to the group. The Egyptian/Palestinian actress soars as Marc's love interest, bringing emotional investment and dimension to the role of Layla.
As far as world-building goes, the show spends a large portion of its first few episodes establishing Steven’s quite ordinary life. I would have liked to see an explanation of Moon Knight’s origins in greater detail and more of Marc’s surreal encounters with Khonsu or the villainous Harrow.
The series looks great and the visual effects are well integrated into the action, making most of the application of CGI into real spaces a seamless feat. And Moon Knight’s two looks, one with a hood and cape and the other in a dapper white suit and mask, are adapted from page to film quite well.
In the comics some, have labeled Moon Knight as Marvel’s Batman. Like Batman, in the comics, Steven Grant is a billionaire playboy (not a feeble museum employee) who possesses an arsenal of weapons and gadgets in order to catch the bad guys. I think I would have preferred that to the direction the creators have taken here, which is that Marc’s powers and abilities (aside from his mental condition) stem from Khonsu, the banished Egyptian deity. To me, this is too broad a stroke, and a closer examination of Moon Knight accessing his powers and fighting skills would have been more exciting. In short, Moon Knight is more The Mummy and less The Batman.
Additionally I hope I’m not spoiling anything when I say that Marc and Steven have a third personality that they’ll have to deal with eventually: Jake Lockley, a cab driver. All in due time I guess. Although with only two more episodes left I wonder whether they’ll cram all that information into the show in time. And if not, what will be Moon Knight’s fate? Personally I find he’s too fun a character to ditch. Come to think of it, does Marvel ditch characters?
Marvel Studio puts out so many of these series nowadays that it’s hard to keep track of all the characters and crossovers. To have to sit through 9 hours of a show to retrieve one clue so that one future story line makes sense is obnoxious in my humble opinion. This is different, however. Maybe I’m biased, but Moon Knight is worth the watch.
Incluvie Score: 5/5
Movie (TV) Score: 4/5