Over the past year, Marvel has successfully brought its cinematic universe to television via a collection of popular—and mostly laudable—Disney+ series (Wanda Vision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, Hawkeye). Still, since those ventures pivoted around existing characters from its film franchise, the one thing the studio has yet to accomplish is launch a new hero on the small screen. Moon Knight (March 30) is a maiden attempt to do just that, introducing to mainstream audiences the comic book giant’s Egyptian god-powered agent of justice. Starring Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke as adversaries in a Middle Eastern-set adventure, Jeremy Slater’s six-episode origin story further ushers in the next phase of Marvel’s ongoing serialized epic, and if it might have fared as well (if not better) as a theatrical feature, it nevertheless boasts enough star-wattage personality—and craziness—to continue the Hollywood goliath’s winning streak.
An all-white caped-and-masked vigilante with super strength, speed and agility who dishes out punishment with his fists, feet and crescent-shaped blades, Moon Knight has historically been known as Marvel’s de facto answer to Batman. Rather than the Dark Knight, however, Moon Knight‘s protagonist more closely resembles Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by way of Venom, a schizoid individual with two dueling personalities who’s also plagued by the constant nagging of an otherworldly being: Khonshu (voiced by F. Murray Abraham), a disgraced Egyptian god with a giant beaked skull and an enormous staff who believe that the wicked should be handled with extreme prejudice. The man in question is Steven Grant (Isaac), a meek and perpetually out of sorts Egyptian history buff who yearns to give tours at the British museum where he works in the gift shop. His is a nerdy loser’s life, although from the outset, it’s clear that something strange is afoot with Steven—in large part because he never seems to know what time or day it is, and he sleeps each night with his ankle shackled to his bedpost .
[Minor spoilers follow]
Steven’s corny British accent isn’t as authentic as the artifacts he adores, which is deliberate, given that his own inherent identity is up for debate. Trying to get some rest one evening, Steven is suddenly transported to a remote village where he’s pursued by gunmen and witnesses would-be messiah Arthur Harrow (Hawke) use a magic cane and forearm scales-of-justice tattoo to judge the souls of some of his many brainwashed acolytes; when one fails this holy test, she promptly drops dead in her arms. Arthur covets a golden scarab that Steven, much to his surprise, possesses, but a mysterious presence prevents Steven from complying with Arthur’s demands, exerting puppetmaster-like control over his limbs. A car chase ensues, during which Steven temporarily blacks out at the very second he’s in dire peril, awakening to find that his attackers have been viciously felled. Before he can get a handle on this situation, he sits up in bed. Alas, the comforting notion that it was all a dream is complicated by his realization that he’s lost two days’ time, as well as his discovery (in a secret compartment in his flat) of a cell phone that’s receiving angry calls from a woman who refers to him as Marc Spector.
As Steven learns, he is Marc and Marc is him, two coexisting consciousnesses in the same Oscar Isaac body. Moreover, they’re both beholden to Khonshu, a disgraced deity who grants Marc—a mercenary, and Khonshu’s current Avatar—the ability to transform into Moon Knight, a semi-indestructible badass. When Steven gains control of his corporeal form and channels those powers, he becomes the dapper white-suited Mr. Knight, who’s like a more stylish and refined variation on this divine alter ego. Parsing such details, though, isn’t really important; the key here is that Marc and Steven are at war with themselves, and with the bloodthirsty and untrustworthy Khonshu, and also with the megalomaniacal Arthur, who’s Khonshu’s former Avatar, and who now seeks to resurrect the god Ammit so she might bring about a true paradise by pre-judging mankind for their future as well as their past and present sins, and wiping all wrongdoers from the face of the Earth.
Steven/Marc soon team up with thieving archaeologist Layla (May Calamawy) on an IndianaJones-style mission to thwart Arthur’s plans, and directors Mohamed Diab and the team of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson ably handle the show’s mind-bending, globe-trotting action; the latter in particular prove well-suited to the material’s psycho-temporal-vortex insanity. The series’ plotting gets sloppy at occasional intervals during its first four installments, with narrative dilemmas exacerbated by characters refusing to say (or listen to) basic facts that would stop things from spiraling out of control. nevertheless, on the whole, Moon Knight is another in a long line of well-oiled Marvel machines, delivering the mixture of winning personality-driven humor, functional combat, and hit-or-miss CGI—Moon Knight looks fantastic; multiple generic creatures, on the other hand, are usually hidden from view in murky darkness—that fans have come to expect.
“‘Moon Knight’ is another in a long line of well-oiled Marvel machines, delivering the mixture of winning personality-driven humor, functional combat, and hit-or-miss CGI…”
Steven and Marc are both familiar archetypes, the former a sweet-natured geek who dreams of being a hero, and the latter a hardened soldier of fortune with a hidden sensitive side. Yet Issac’s flustered charm and energetic physicality enlivens their warring dynamic. Hawke, meanwhile, follows in the tradition of Josh Brolin’s Thanos as a Marvel baddie whose aim is noble in theory—ridding the world of evil—but whose methods are outright genocidal. Sporting flowing hair and long robes, and with the calm and patient arrogance of a soft-spoken cult leader who’s convinced that he’s on the righteous path and thus will (and must) not be stopped by any potential opponents, human or otherwise, his Arthur is just the sort of formidable villain needed to provide the proceedings with dramatic/tonal balance, not to mention a dash of lunatic flair.
As with the rest of the MCU’s recent multiversal efforts, Moon Knight eventually gets more than a bit topsy-turvy, which keeps it operating according to pre-existing rules, no matter its unique Egyptian cultural details and religious lore, and its extreme-by-franchise-standards violence. This costumed hero murders, frequently and remorselessly, and while his initial outing isn’t an outright killer, it remains additional evidence of Marvel’s peerless capacity for rehashing formulas in novel, charismatic, and entertaining fashion.