The Marvel Egyptian superhero is refreshingly averse from superheroing
Marvel shows seem to be the place where the studio’ narrative exploration is taking place the most. The cinema-directed properties are increasingly playing it safe, choosing an incrementalistic approach to their overarching narratives instead of bold forays. Thankfully, to those that have Disney+, we’re able to enjoy storytellers who are given slightly more creative freedom. This is how we got such enjoyable shows as Wandavision (2021) and Loki (2021-), and now we get perhaps the boldest show yet: Moon Knight (2022).
Moon Knight follows Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac) a museum gift shop worker at the British Museum in London, who discovers he has a multiple personality disorder, his second personality is Marc Spector who is the superpowered servant of the Egyptian moon god Konshu (F. Murray Abraham). Strange and Spector soon uncover a nefarious plot by Harlow (Ethan Hawke) who plans to release the dangerous imprisoned Egyptian goddess Ammit.
Moon Knight is created by Jeremy Slater, who has had a bumpy ride as a writer in Hollywood. He was the screenwriter behind the maligned Fantastic Four (2015) that tanked director Josh Trank’s career; however, his work in series has been paying off, especially in the Netflix hit The Umbrella Academy (2019-). With Moon Knight Slater seems to have found his groove at last. Moon Knight relishes in its character and setting, and Slater is thankfully given free rein to explore the curious aspects of multiple-identity disorder as well as the concept of Egyptian gods living among us in modern times. This latter aspect feeling like the proper “Percy Jackson” adaptation we never received.
One gets the sense that Moon Knight is not so much interested in being a Marvel property or in exploring it superhero as much as using it as a marketing excuse for a much more interesting character-driven mystery. One does get their inevitable superhero fights and showdowns, and yet even here Slater is able to play around with expectations, such as having our character black out when he switches personalities so that we only see the beginning and end-result of a conflict on screen. The final three episodes also enjoy teasing viewers to question the nature of their characters’ reality: are they insane? Are they dead? Are they being tricked?
Throughout all the crazy gimmicks and concepts at the center of Moon Knight Slater doesn’t forget to bring about an intriguing character arc at the center. We slowly get to discover who Grant and Spector are, as their personalities begin to thaw towards each other and meld into one. This is greatly aided by a spectacular performance from Oscar Isaac in the lead role. Not only is he able to switch from the shy and British Grant to the brass and American Spector with alarming ease, but the steady character journey he delivers in two separate roles is truly astonishing. Despite playing two personalities, sometimes in the same take, Isaac is able to truly distinguish each character for viewers, so that you sometimes forget there is an actual performer acting, and you truly believe you are watching two different characters within one person.
Many Marvel properties have suffered from having rather weak villains, yet Ethan Hawke is able to give us a rather winning and convincing Harlow, whose motivations are grey and murky and make viewers truly question whether he is in the wrong. Hawke does resort to a mumbling and grunting delivery of his lines that is unnecessary to prove menace, but his overarching take on what could have been an easily maniacal character brings nuance and complexity to the central plot at hand.
In the end, Moon Knight proves to be one of the more intriguing and winning shows Marvel has made thus far. The show is not without its faults, resorting to some costuming and superhero shenanigans at the end as per usual, but Slater as the creator is able to stave off these aspects much longer than expected, delivering a truly unique and engrossing six episodes.