REVIEW: ‘Moon Knight’ Makes the MCU A Darker Place

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Watch Moon Knight - But Why Tho

Marvel’s Moon Knight Season 1 is bringing a more mature story to the MCU. As one of the first hero brought to the Disney’s MCU (Netflix series not withstanding) that is written for adult audience, Disney and Marvel had the chance to prove that they can handle adult IP without sacrificing mature themes and moments for the all-ages genre fare they’ve become aces at. And for the most part, it succeeds. With Mohamed Diab and Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead working as the series directors, Moon Knight stars Oscar Isaac, Ethan Hawke, May Calamawy, and F. Murray Abraham.

In the series, we start by meeting Steven Grant, a mild-mannered gift-shop employee plagued with blackouts and memories of another life. By chaining himself to his bed each night, Steven hopes to keep the weirder elements of his dreams at bay. However, he soon discovers that his dreams and blackout are connected to each other and are very much real. Steven discovers that he has dissociative identity disorder and shares a body with a deadly mercenary named Marc Spector. Steven’s antithesis, Marc is aggressive and assertive, but also has an entire life outside of the mild-mannered Englishman he shares a body with. As Steven/Marc’s enemies converge upon them, they must navigate their complex identities while thrust into a deadly mystery among the powerful gods of Egypt, helping to save the world and placate the god in their body.

The most compelling part of the series is, of course, Oscar Isaac as Steven Grant and Marc Spector. Acting against himself, Isaac brings forward two dynamic characters. One that wears his fear and trauma on his sleeve and another whose bravado and confidence work as a shield of survival. Both sides of one person, fighting against each other and ultimately coming together as a real strength. But because of the strength he brings to his roles, it makes me all the more let down by the lazy attempt at identity crafting that we see in Episode 5. No more than lip service for either his Latin or Jewish identity, I find myself wishing they hadn’t done it at all. To match Isaac’s power on screen, Hawke brings a creepy charisma that creates a great villain, not because of his motives or his endgame, but because of his gaslighting and ability to coerce.

Outside of Isaac though, the work and care that was put into representing Egypt on screen is stunning. Not only do we see Egypt as a country without a sepia filter and Hollywood geography that ignores the real position of the Pyramids of Giza, but we get a full picture of mythology and culture I didn’t think Disney was capable of. A lot of this has to do with director Mohamed Diab’s focus on showcasing his culture on screen in a way that feels authentic as much as it does magical. And part of this grounding of Egypt is that we see it through Layla El Faouly’s experience as an Egyptian woman. But outside of the every day, the detail and beauty of gods and how they were designed gives a grand scale to the series. They’re intimidating and opulent while still managing to embody their sources.

Over the course of six episodes, Moon Knight Season 1 takes its audiences through experiences grounded in different genres. There is pure action thriller embedded in the early episodes as Steven loses himself only to awake in weird places having enacted violence. Episode 3 and 4 begin to morph into a treasure hunting adventure film alá The Mummy. And with episodes 5 and 6 it embraces high drama while experimenting with concepts of reality. As a whole, the creatives behind the series have been able to seamlessly move the series from genre to genre while telling a cohesive story that all feels connected.

With all of that said, the series’ biggest flaw has more to do with the format of its release. With such an emotionally rich story, exploring trauma while also showcasing the action we expect is something the series doesn’t execute. The balance of enthralling and slow-moving push up against each other, which is ultimately thanks to only being given six episodes to tell the story. Not to mention the excessive exposition in every episode, sometimes rehashing things we were just clued in on the previous episode.

Compelling Characters And if the genre or the mythology doesn't convince you to watch Moon Knight then take a look at the characters through the eyes of the actors who played them. For Oscar Isaac, who is no stranger to superhero stories or large IPs, he explained what makes Moon Knight different from his past projects, "I think the story is so point of view.  It means that you're just in the skin of this guy, and you're seeing things happen.  You're experiencing it just as he's experiencing it.  So there's something that's terrifying about that." But it isn't just the show's perspective, it's also about his characters, Isaac continued, "I think Steven, in particular, there's a sense of humor there that is different from what we've seen.  I think Marvel in particular have done such an amazing job at combining action and comedy in such a great way.  And I thought with Steven, there was a chance to do a different type of comedy than we've seen of somebody that doesn't know they're funny, doesn't know they're being funny.  And so that was really exciting.  And then to find the counterpoint of that with Marc, in some ways leaning into a bit of the stereotype of the tortured, dark vigilante guy, but what makes him so special is that he has this little Englishman living inside of him." As for Layla, we get the chance to see an Egyptian woman who is strong and vulnerable, and equal to the men around her. May Calamawy expanded on her love of her character, "I love how strong she is.  But at the same time, I felt like I got to play the full gamut of a woman with her because she's strong and she's for the people and fights for what she believes, but she's also really vulnerable and scared." Additionally, Layla has parts of Calamawy's identity as well, "I guess the main thing with Layla, I didn't have this idea to pull from of this woman -- without giving any spoilers -- and it was just really important to me that as someone who's grown up in the Middle East that I take -- the more I ended up taking from myself, the better -- the easier it became. Because I wanted to find a story that would work with someone who had a similar conditioning, who would deal with situations a certain way." That said, your heroes are only as interesting as the force they're working against. Ethan Hawke explained the balance he had to find between his "villain" and Isaac's "hero," "Well, the history of movies are paved with storytellers using mental illness as a building block for the villain.  I mean, there's countless stories of mentally ill villains, and we have a mentally ill hero.  And that's fascinating because we've now inverted the whole process.  And so now as the antagonist, I can't be crazy because the hero's crazy...And that was an interesting riddle for me to figure out how to be in dynamics with what Oscar was doing."  Hawke added, "And Mohamed was really embracing his mental illness as a way to create an unreliable narrator.  And once you've broken the prism of reality, everything that the audience is seeing is from a skewed point of view.  And that's really interesting for the villain because am I even being seen as I am?  And it's also...I think that was our riddle, and we came up with somebody who was trying to save the world.  And in his mind, he's Saint Harrow, you know?  I mean, he thinks he's gonna be part of the great solution."

Had the series been allowed to let both the emotion and action breathe it could have succeeded, but instead, the emotional impact feels rushed and the action leaves more to be desired once we reach the final episode. On top of that, the pacing issues caused by heavy exposition and everything else the series is trying to accomplish could have been avoided if only it had been released all at once. But, Disney wants people to discourse the hell out of its series, so here we are.

While Moon Knight Season 1 was near perfect with its first half, the last half only succeeds because Oscar Isaac is well, Oscar Isaac. He’s a phenomenal actor who can make up for “just fine” storytelling by turning everything up to eleven. That said, Moon Knight doesn’t let you sit in its emotion or its action nearly enough for either to get the justice they deserve. The elements are all there. Isaac is phenomenal and he’s backed by a compelling and fierce cast with Ethan Hawke and May Calamawy. The use of action-adventure tropes with horror and drama sing. But the story they’re all living in is one that either needed to be trimmed back into a feature film or expanded to be at least 10 episodes.

Moon Knight Season 1 is one of my personal favorites of the MCU’s Disney+ slate of series. But while I like it infinitely better than any series I’ve watched, I’m struggling to find the magic and depth that Marvel’s Netflix series accomplished. Moon Knight offers a darkness and grit to the MCU that we haven’t seen before and ultimately sets the stage for the more adult and horror-focused Midnight Sons in the universe. Moon Knight is good, but it could have been great.

Moon Knight Season 1 is available now in full on Disney+.


Moon Knight
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    Rating - 8/10
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TL;DR

Moon Knight Season 1 is one of my personal favorites of the MCU’s Disney+ slate of series. But while I like it infinitely better than any series I’ve watched, I’m struggling to find the magic and depth that Marvel’s Netflix series accomplished. Moon Knight offers a darkness and grit to the MCU that we haven’t seen before and ultimately sets the stage for the more adult and horror-focused Midnight Sons in the universe. Moon Knight is good, but it could have been great.