Inverse - 🍿 Review: 'Moon Knight'

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Inverse Daily
 
By Dais Johnston March 31 2022
 
Oscar Isaac can’t save Marvel’s unbearable new show
 
Moon Knight means to kick off a new era for the Marvel Cinematic Universe

After using Disney+ as a platform to expand and evolve existing characters, Moon Knight is Marvel’s first TV series to introduce an entirely new protagonist into the MCU. It’s also the first show not to lean heavily on Marvel’s bigger interconnected universe. 

But while Moon Knight aims high with unique story untethered from the broader MCU and some unexpected directorial decisions (including Oscar Isaac’s inexplicable British accent), it fails to measure up to what’s come before both in the comics and onscreen. Bad pacing, repeated story beats, and a depiction of mental health that’s dubious at best all hold the show back from greatness.

The result, at least based on the first four episodes provided by Marvel Studios, is an unsatsifying experiment with a slim chance of succeeding in its final two installments.
 
 
 
What is Moon Knight?
 
Premiering on March 30, Moon Knight stars Oscar Isaac as Marc Spector (aka, Moon Knight), a vigilante with Dissociative Identity Disorder and super-powers rooted in the Ancient Egyptian god of the Moon, Khonshu. However, when we first meet Isaac’s character, he’s taken on the role of a mild-mannered museum gift shop worker named Steven Grant.

Meanwhile, Ethan Hawke plays the show’s antagonist, a cult leader named Arthur Harrow serving a rival Egyptian diety who sets his sights on Grant/Spector. Soon, what starts as a psychological thriller quickly explodes into a globetrotting treasure-hunting adventure.

With Isaac and Hawke as the leads, Moon Knight has the starpower to do something great. Headwriter Jeremy Slater, who’s credits include both Netflix’s Death Note and 2015’s Fantastic Four, is somewhat less reassuring as a creative force. Meanwhile, directing duties are split between Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Diab and up-and-coming duo Justin Beson and Aaron Moorhead (The Endless, Synchronic).

Combined with one of Marvel’s most unique superheroes and Disney’s unlimited budget, there should be enough good ingredients here for something great — or at least something worth watching. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. Instead, Moon Knight is the MCU’s most disjointed outing yet.
 
 
 
Knights in white satin
 
Moon Knight is, by its very title, the story of Moon Knight, but Marvel makes the unusual choice of establishing the nebbish Steven Grant (who in the comics is actually a high-society millionaire alter ego) as its protagonist instead. It’s a confounding choice, given that Steven is not the one with the combat skills or the connection to Khonshu, the Egyptian God that bestowed Marc with powers and to whom he serves. Steven also lacks the desire to move Moon Knight’s plot forward.

From the beginning, Steven is sort of unaware of his other personality. He ties himself to his bed at night and tries not to sleep. He suspects that something is amiss. But the first two episodes take their time unveiling Marc, with Steven spending a substantial amount of time freaking out over losing control of his body during various scary and violent situations. That is until he loses consciousness, and Marc takes over their body. 

Moon Knight’s split personalities have some interesting Jekyll-and-Hyde implications, but the show is unwilling and unequppied to explore its protagonist’s mental health with any real care. Multiple scenes feature a bumbling Steven Grant and a fierce Marc Spector talking to each other through mirrored surfaces, a gimmick that’s already gotten old by the time anyone bothers to explain how it works in-universe.

For the audience, the Spector-Grant dynamic also means the show frequently skips over what could have been many exciting action sequences. Whatever carnage Marc wreaks, we only see the aftermath from Steven’s perspective. (A cheap way to suggest brutal violence without ever showing it, or giving up a family-friendly rating.)

But Marc isn’t the only alter ego not given enough screentime. The iconic Moon Knight and Mr. Knight costumes seen in the posters and trailers aren’t used nearly as much as they should have, possibly due to CGI budget constraints. (Marc can summon a rugged super-powered suit that transforms him into Moon Knight, while Steven’s attempt at the same puts him in an all-white dress suit.)

Instead of a streamlined story, it’s like the four separate personas of Moon Knight are fighting for dominance — and none of them get the attention they deserve. The ambition here would be admirable if only the execution weren’t completely muddied.
 
 
 
A harrowing villain
 
One bright spot amid all this darkness is Ethan Hawke, who provides a haunting performance as Arthur Harrow. In the process, Hawke gives the Marvel Cinematic Universe a character archetype it’s been crying out for — a cult leader. 

Harrow is like a cross between David Koresh and Jim Jones, believing he alone has the blueprint for utopia. But like all utopias, there’s a nefarious — and in this case, deadly — side to it. 

Hawke and Isaac also clearly enjoy working together, and some of the best scenes pit the two actors against one another other in non-violent struggle. But this chemistry is not enough to hold Moon Knight together. The show feels simultaneously bloated and empty. Story beats that would last a single scene in a Marvel movie are given entire episodes, while other essential narrative moments are unceremoniously tossed off.
 
 
 
Moonlight at the end of the tunnel
 
Critics were given four out of the six episodes to review, and it’s obvious why. Episode 4 is where Moon Knight finally gets interesting — and harkens back to the comics in ways I won’t spoil here.

Unfortunately, while pacing like that may work for the Netflix binge model, Moon Knight is a weekly release, and fans will need to wait almost a month to reach some form of payoff. Worse, the show doesn’t set-up this twist ahead of time (or offer any other MCU connections to keep the Reddit theories flowing), there may be little to convince fans to keep coming back for more. 

If you’re not worried about spoilers — or have the discipline stay off social media — the best approach may be to wait until the entire show has aired before watching it over the course of a quiet weekend. 

In many ways, Moon Knight is a reversal of WandaVision. While the first Marvel Disney+ series took well-established characters from the movies and transplanted them into a sitcom setting, Steven Grant feels like a sitcom character plopped into a Marvel movie. WandaVision expertly played with the television format to its benefit, while Moon Knight feels like an overly long movie chopped up into parts. Finally, WandaVision kicked off with a fascinating tonal shift before settling into standard Marvel fare. Moon Knight starts out boring and doesn’t pick up until more than halfway through.

While Marvel devotees will probably tune into this series, don’t expect it to thoroughly shake up the MCU like Loki or WandaVision did. Then again, the Moon Knight character still has the potential to disrupt this broader universe once he’s escaped from his subpar introduction.

'Moon Knight' is out now on Disney+.
 
 
 
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