‘Moon Knight’ continues Marvel Studios current trend of extending their franchise beyond the household name characters. In recent months we have seen them introduce Shang-Chi (successfully) and the Eternals (less so) theatrically but both those projects still used the greater MCU as a crutch. ‘Moon Knight’, the latest Disney+ show, is taking a different approach and standing on its own two feet. There is not one mention of the greater Marvel universe and this is the show greatest achievement in the first episode – after fourteen years of MCU content this show still feels fresh.
The show has one major advantage going for it. Although the character of Moon Knight dates back to the 70s there is not really a definitive version or evergreen storyline for audiences to get attached to. I, myself, have been reading comics for a lifetime and never picked up a Moon Knight book and my only real knowledge of the character is that he is always referred to as Marvel’s Batman and had been retconned to suffer from dissociative identity disorder. So, in a world where everything comic book related seem like a reboot or nostalgia driven, even though this is old it feels new.
The other thing Marvel are doing differently here is that this is probably their first project that is being sold on its star power rather than the character. Up until now Marvel Studios have been star makers but here they pull in Oscar Isaac, currently one of the biggest mainstream actors, as Moon Knight and Ethan Hawke, longtime indie darling, as the villainous Arthur Harrow. And its Hawke’s Harrow that we met first. One of the biggest complaints against the MCU shows is that they hide their villains until the final episode with the big revelation ending up as something of a distraction but here the villain appears in the first scene.
The beauty of this episode is that the story is simple, the good guy has something the bad guy wants, but the characters are complex. We are introduced to Oscar Isaac as Steven Grant, a bumbling Englishman who works in a museum giftshop, a man who believes he has a sleeping disorder to the extent that he chains himself to his bed. He’s drifting through life, not respected those around him, people struggle to remember his name, but he has a deep knowledge of Egyptian mythology. Mystery around him is there straight away; he has arranged a date with a colleague but seem unaware of it and its at a streak house even though he is vegan. But before he can go things get weird and the dissociative identity disorder kicks in.
Steven falls asleep and wakes up face down in a field in some unnamed central European country. Not only that, he also hears a voice telling him to surrender his body to Marc. Before he can get his bearing he is being shot at and he flees to a near by town where he runs into Harrow. Harrow appears to be a cult leader who is using a mystical power to judge the lives of his disciples against events that haven’t happen yet. He recognises Steven, referring to him as a mercenary, and asks him to handover the scarab but Steven is none the wiser.
From this point the episode goes batshit crazy. Steven has the scarab but can’t physical give it to Harrow. When people try to take it there are time jumps and carnage around him. He get into a car chase in a cake truck and the voice is still insulting him and the bodies begin to pile up but then wakes up back in his bed. When he goes on his date the woman does not turn up and he realises that he has missed the last few days. In his flat he finds a phone with missed calls from woman he doesn’t know and when he calls her she asks about his British accent. And to cap to all off he then encounters the skeletal bird-like form of the Egyptian god Khonshu, voiced by F. Murray Abraham, who happens to be the voice he has been hearing. The god touches him and he wakes up on a bus on way to work but Harrow is on the bus and then confronts him at the Egyptian exhibit at the museum. It turns out that Harrow’s cult isn’t restricted to a small European town and that he has followers everywhere and they are watching Steven.
Just when you thought we were going to go through the whole first episode without Moon Knight being revealed the big scene happens. Fleeing an ancient Egyptian jackal Steven becomes trapped in a heavily mirrored public toilet. Being face to face with himself allows Steven to converse with his other identity. Marc the mercenary begs to be let out as he can save them and when Steve submits control of his body he becomes wrapped in pristine white bandages, looking like a perfect mummy in a snazzy white hooded cloak, and proceeds to beat the shit out of the demon dog.
This episode was like a breath of fresh air in an MCU which hasn’t even gone stale. Everything felt spot on. Isaac is perfect as the tired and confused everyman and don’t listen to those telling you he doesn’t sound right because the London accent is a broader spectrum than Jason Statham and Hugh Grant. If anything he doesn’t use enough colloquialism and, yes, people have been known to say “laters, gators”. His performance is matched by Ethan Hawke who delivers a disturbingly calm villain. From the moment he puts broken glass in his sandals during the first scene of the episode you know he has utter belief in whatever it is he is doing.
The handling of the dissociative identity disorder is effective disorientating with the loss of time confusing both the viewer and the character. This, coupled with the use of reflection to show the other personality and the voices in the head, really offer something different from other MCU projects. The darker tone presented also serves the material well with the episode skirting the edge of the horror genre, something Marvel Studios are yet to tackle directly.
This version of Moon Knight clearly isn’t Marvel’s Batman but this is their best first episode of a series so far. For the most part this episode is a one man show with Oscar Isaac’s star power taking centre stage. And while it won’t last, it’s nice to watch some quality Marvel that stands on it’s own.