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Marvel’s Moon Knight Review: An Odd, Perhaps Inessential, But Often Fun Ride

Oscar Isaac stars in the newest MCU drama, debuting this week on Disney+

Moon Knight Review
Moon Knight (Disney+)
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    The Pitch: When Moon Knight viewers first meet Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac), he’s a simple man living a relatively simple life in London, working a menial job as a museum gift shop employee and struggling to connect with the people around him. While a bit of an odd duck, personality-wise, Steven has a good heart but a big secret: He keeps experiencing missing time, waking up in strange locations no matter how hard he tries to stay awake or chain himself up in his sleep.

    The cause for these lapses, as we soon learn, is that Steven shares his body with an entirely separate personality — that of a man known as Marc Spector, who’s caught up in some complicated business involving a golden scarab, a cult leader named Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke), and as we eventually come to discover, the modern-day presence of ancient Egyptian gods, who use “avatars” like Marc to engage with our world.

    Like so many unlikely heroes before him, Steven is ejected from his comparatively comfortable life to go on a dangerous adventure — except in his case, the Gandalf/Obi-Wan Kenobi bringing him along is the other personality living inside his body, and it’s dangerous business to mess around with the gods…

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    Not Your Typical Origin Story: Moon Knight is arguably the most unconventional MCU series to date, and even after watching four episodes of Season 1 (out of six) it’s hard to say where things are going, and if they’ll ever feel connected to the other aspects of Phase 4 in play.

    A core aspect of the Disney+ MCU shows is that they provide the franchise with an opportunity to spotlight lesser known characters within the Marvel universe, but this is the first series to date that’s fully focused on introducing a brand new hero (and his friends and enemies).

    It won’t be the last show like this, by a long shot — Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk are both coming later this year — but beyond the set decoration packed with Easter eggs reflecting daily life in this post-Blip world, there’s very very little to connect Moon Knight with the rest of the MCU.

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    Moon Knight (Disney+)

    Without the crutch of previously introduced characters, that means Moon Knight has to rely entirely on its own merits, and there are many positive things to call out in this regard. For one thing, there are some staggeringly good action sequences, including a cupcake van chase battle in Episode 1 that uses Steven’s gaps in perception for both great dramatic and comedic effect, and a hand-to-hand combat scene in Episode 3 where the editing gives each movement time to breathe, creating a fresh and grounded feel.

    As Steven learns more about Marc’s secrets, the series takes a sharp turn into some Indiana Jones-esque tomb raiding that does credit to its inspiration, plus there are a number of horror touches throughout that give certain sequences extra zest.

    There’s also a turn in Episode 4 that kind of defies description at this point (even if this review wasn’t actively avoiding spoilers), but does deliver some very welcome surreality. If the rest of the season plays along similar lines, it’ll be a most welcome choice.

    Who’s Who: Oscar Isaac is one of those actors who just feels endlessly watchable no matter the project, and watching him really dig into making Marc and Steven feel like separate personalities is one of the best aspects of the series. However, as Moon Knight opens with Steven as the central character — not Marc, the character with the more plot-driven goals — the early episodes struggle to find their momentum.

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    Providing a needed kick in the ass to the plot, though, is the introduction of Layla (May Calamawy), a woman from Marc’s past who becomes key to the ongoing adventure. Calamawy, best known before now from Hulu’s Ramy, throws herself into the action of the series, and her dynamic with both Marc and Steven is pretty compelling in how it shifts.

    moon knight oscar isaac may calamawy Marvels Moon Knight Review: An Odd, Perhaps Inessential, But Often Fun Ride

    Moon Knight (Disney+)

    Meanwhile, as fun as Hawke’s commitment to the role of Arthur the cult leader is, his presence in the show is representative of a lot of its problems. Arthur’s ability to “judge” people as good or evil and, if found wanting, cause their immediate demise is matched only by his ability to wander into pretty much any setting he wants, say some cryptic words, and then slip away without too much fuss. It’s all clear build-up for an ultimate showdown in the finale, but that doesn’t make his appearances any less distracting or unnecessary.

    About Multiple Personalities… The idea of multiple personalities as a narrative conceit is far from new, while our understanding of the root condition has changed. The idea of two or more souls sharing the same body, fighting for their own identities, was made iconic by classic fantastical works like The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, as well as more grounded takes like Sybil (based on a true case) — in recent years, projects like M. Night Shyamalan’s Split films have continued to play with the concept.

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    The catch, however, is that scientific understanding of multiple personality disorder has gotten more complex over the years, with the term rephrased as dissociative identity disorder (DID), and now understood to be far more complicated than just “two personalities in the same person.”

    Thus, the show fails to strike a balance between the extraordinary circumstances of Marc/Steven’s situation and the reality of DID as a very serious psychological condition — while the credits do offer mention of mental health resources for those who might need them, it clashes with the liberties taken by this horror-fantasy about heroes and gods.

    The Verdict: All told, Moon Knight feels limited by that one key choice to start with Steven’s point-of-view. While some of the show’s best moments come from Steven’s ever-present disorientation as to his circumstances, it throws the pacing of the show off to such a degree that by the time the story really kicks into high gear, this highly unconventional origin story feels like it’s drawing to a close.

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    That being said, there’s enough intrigue established to inspire curiosity about just how it’s all going to play out, in the end, and Isaac’s performance alone is enough to recommend it. Moon Knight has its quirks, but the worst thing one can say about it is that it feels inessential at this moment in time. And there’s certainly potential for a few more surprises yet.

    Where to Watch: The first episode of Moon Knight debuts on Wednesday, March 30th on Disney+. New episodes roll out weekly.

    Trailer:

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