What to Watch Verdict
A fascinating, funny, scary debut episode with a dynamo performance from Oscar Isaac
Amazing performance from Oscar Isaac
Darker, horror influenced tone
Compelling character study
Brilliant use of the unreliable narrator
Somewhat derivative "zero-to-hero" elements
Moon Knight is not an easy story to tell. The idea of adapting a superhero with dissociative identity disorder, chosen as the herald of the Egyptian god of the moon poses both narrative and performance challenges for Marvel Studios. Yet, as the MCU has proven many times before, they’re capable of rising up to the challenge. They demonstrate this in a stellar, absolutely compelling first episode of Moon Knight featuring a dynamo performance from Oscar Isaac.
Immediately, you can tell this is going to be darker than the MCU series we’ve seen so far, as we watch Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) break a glass, pour the fragments into his shoes and begin to walk in them. There’s an eeriness to not only the shocking act itself, but his nonchalance and lack of wincing or limping in pain that makes you feel like this is going to be something different for the franchise.
We then get something that feels a bit familiar to the genre, which is the introduction of the unlikely hero as unassuming, mild mannered doofus, Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac). For his performance as Grant, Isaac strikes comedy gold being hilariously clueless and utterly devoid of self-respect.
The premise of a neglected nobody becoming a hero is a tried and tested formula in all superhero adaptations, not only dating back to Clark Kent in Superman, but even within the MCU via characters like Steve Rogers and Scott Lang. But Moon Knight wisely gets you to realize something’s much more off with Grant, thanks to the oddness of his nightly rituals: chaining his ankle to the bed post, a moat of sand around his bed, tape sealing his front door cracks and desperately trying to stay awake by becoming an Egyptology expert. Marvel is clearly setting you up to think this is the same story you’ve heard, but preparing for you to have the rug pulled under you.
And pull it they do. Grant proves to be an unreliable narrator who is as clueless as the audience. In a single blink, he goes from playing with a Rubik’s cube on his bed to being shot at by Harrow’s forces in a field during the day in the Alps. The situation has an incredibly Nolan-esque Memento vibe, which draws you into the story and struggles of Grant, as we begin to understand his delicate situation.
This framing technique is incredibly clever, allowing us to see only end results of action sequences and begin to understand Steven's "Marc" personality. It also gives Isaac the opportunity to really work with some incredibly funny physical comedy as he wrestles with his other personalities. When dealing with the physical and mental conflicts within himself, Isaac delivers a performance that’s almost reminiscent of Tom Hardy’s as Venom, but much less cartoony. It ends up leading to funny, exciting and at times scary moments during the series.
Once Grant wakes up back at home after his ordeal in the Alps and starts to discover the existence his other personality, as well as the truth about the Egyptian god Khonshu, the show pulls out stops, playing with light and darkness, and creepy imagery to create a sense of foreboding in settings as ordinary as Grant’s apartment or the museum we saw earlier in the episode.
All this requires singling out Mohamed Diab, who directed this episode. His work resembles something akin to Andy Muschietti’s work in IT more so than anything in the MCU, and the show benefits from this chaos once Grant begins to get stalked by both Harrow and Khonshu.
As soon as Harrow tracks him down, he sends Egyptian jackals to attack Grant in the Natural History Museum. The chase sequence is fun, evoking horror adventure films like The Mummy. It all leads to the eagerly anticipated meeting between Grant and his second personality, mercenary Marc Spector. For the first time on camera in the episode, we see the Spector personality take control of Grant’s body, before summoning the armor of Khonshu to become the Moon Knight. The whole thing concludes with a beautiful money shot of our hero brutally destroying the monster, fully suited up and ready to battle more evil.
The entirety of the episode only features the super heroics of the costumed Moon Knight persona once, and very briefly. Yet, what Diab and showrunner/creator Jeremy Slater have done is craft a story that’s so character-driven you don’t need superhero theatrics to make it fascinating. The heart and most compelling element of Moon Knight is absolutely the conflict between Steven and Marc, and their obligation with Khonshu, and the team behind it fully understands this. Fortunately for them, their star, Isaac, gets it too.
None of this show would work if Isaac was unable to carry out the clear duality between his Grant and Spector personas. But watching him argue with himself is an absolute delight. The show works and we buy into everything because Isaac humanizes both characters, making you love the wisdom and heart of Grant while admiring the toughness and resilience of Spector.
This being the first episode, however, we’ve barely scratched the surface of who Spector really is, only seeing what he’s capable of. That is the same thing that can be said about Diab and Slater’s work. The team behind Moon Knight has managed to craft a funny, scary, badass, fascinating hour of television. But for now, we are just scratching the surface of a series that I predict will only get better and crazier. Bring on the next episode!
Mike is a proud, sarcastic nerd with a penchant for comic books, comic book movies, and movies in general, and occasional delusions of grandeur. He's also a UC Berkeley graduate who decided to go into writing over pre-med because he figured he'd ultimately save more lives by not being a doctor. He's a Slytherin and a Pisces, so he's very emotionally sensitive, yet also evil, but can be defeated by exploiting his insecurities. His goal is to live one hell of a unique life, and it's been working so far! His proudest moments are being retweeted by James Gunn and Ryan Reynolds in the same week, and getting 999,999 points on Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters at Disneyland.
You can find Mike's writing around the web at publications like The Nerds of Color, What to Watch, Spoiler Free Reviews, and That's It LA.
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