Marvel Embraces the Weird: Our Review of ‘Moon Knight’

Posted in Disney +, What's Streaming? by - March 30, 2022
Marvel Embraces the Weird: Our Review of ‘Moon Knight’

Arriving this week on Disney+ is the first of the Marvel television series developed for Disney+ that stands on its own. It does not have a direct link to characters already in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Moon Knight. The story of a masked vigilante in a modern world where Egyptian Gods still exist leans heavily into the mystical side of the Marvel Universe. It’s more mystical than any other Marvel property to date. The entire MCU seems destined to become more engulfed by mystical bent stories.

The story starts with the feeble Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac), a skittish museum gift shop owner that binds himself at night. He does this because he doesn’t want to find himself waking up in different locations anymore. But what Steven is unaware of is that his ramblings are not just random. He suffers from dissociative identity disorder and that there is an entirely separate identity living inside him, Marc Spector. Spector also possesses power passed to him by Khonsu, an Egyptian God of the Moon, that allows him to become the Moon Knight. The pair must learn to co-exist within the same body as enemies start to close in on them. Meanwhile, the powers inside both of them is needed to succeed.

Moon Knight starts the story at a point where Steven Grant makes a shocking discovery. He discovers that he has Spector and Moon Knight inside of him but the show doesn’t explain to us how this happened. It also doesn’t show anything that has happened prior to this point of discovery. This is the filmmakers’ attempt to put the audience into the headspace of Grant as everything unfolds around him.

The lack of explanations is a risky choice, clearly influenced most prominently by Christopher Nolan’s Memento, amongst his other works. It is very likely to divide audiences as it challenges the audience to follow multiple threads all at once. I have been able to see the first 4 episodes for this review and watch them all back to back. The story does start to unravel nicely as we delve deeper. But it will turn off some audiences for sure. And we’ll see whether it works as well with a week between episodes.

The direction is top-notch though. The first 4 episodes flip between episodes directed by Mohamed Diab and the duo of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Diab directs the odds and Benson/Moorhead the evens. Benson/Moorhead has flair for off-kilter fantastical storytelling. See their previous efforts Spring, The Endless, and more for a better idea of what I’m referring to. This flair transfers well to Moon Knight’s style of storytelling. They actually mesh quite well with Director/Show Runner Diab’s sensibilities and deep knowledge of Egyptian culture and heritage. Thus, the series carries a slick and accomplished flow throughout. The action sequences work well. And the use of CGI and practical costuming used in the Moon Knight design blends seamlessly.

The real reason the series works though comes down to the performance of Oscar Isaac. Everything hinges on Isaac’s ability to convince us that these are two vastly different individuals sharing the same physical body. And he allows us to see through voice and physical manipulation which character, without having to over-explain, is currently driving the action. It’s a frantic yet grounded performance. It should keep audiences engaged throughout the series, no matter how strange it may get.

The always dependable Ethan Hawke shows up as would be heavy Arthur Harrow. And he proves to be a formidable foe. He always seemingly knows much more about what’s happening than our protagonist does. The show leans heavily on these tw0 to carry it and they do not disappoint. But a supporting turn from May Calamawy should not be overlooked. Although yes, discussing her role any further may dip into spoiler territory. Plus it’s always nice to hear the booming voice of veteran actor F. Murray Abraham.

Moon Knight‘s formatting and layout may be one of the riskiest we’ve seen Marvel adapt to date. Selecting the Moon Knight character for his own series was a bit of an offbeat choice, to begin with. This leads to what I assume will be the most divisive of the Marvel series to date. It’s a rare excursion from the traditional Marvel format. But those willing to take the ride should stay for Isaac and Hawke’s performances and the unpredictability that abounds. And I for one can’t wait to see what Benson/Moorhead have in store for us next year. After all, Marvel named them as the directors for Loki‘s second season.

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"Kirk Haviland is an entertainment industry veteran of over 20 years- starting very young in the exhibition/retail sector before moving into criticism, writing with many websites through the years and ultimately into festival work dealing in programming/presenting and acquisitions. He works tirelessly in the world of Canadian Independent Genre Film - but is also a keen viewer of cinema from all corners of the globe (with a big soft spot for Asian cinema!)
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