Ethat Hawke’s participation in Moon Knight should have warned us. The actor has long expressed skepticism on the rise of superheroes in Hollywood. But somehow, Oscar Isaac convinced Hawke to go on a TV show about an obscure Marvel superhero possessed by the Egyptian moon god. There had to be something different about this Disney+ show that set it apart from the streaming service’s increasingly stereotypical iterations of the Marvel and Star Wars properties.
Then yes, Moon Knight is bonkers – in the best way. Marvel has tried to break away from typical superhero tropes before, most notably with this one from last year Wanda Vision, in which the characters of Wanda and Vision (Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany) find themselves stuck in TV sitcoms, reenacting the white picket fence family life they never had. Playing on the typical rhythms of American sitcoms, Wanda Vision was, at first, more interested in exploring the formal boundaries of superhero stories than serving the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the final episodes devolved into the typical, boring CGI battles we’ve come to expect from superhero shows. And they introduced all sorts of characters and Easter eggs, as if to reassure its audience that Marvel shows wouldn’t get too experimental.
Although far from perfect, moon knight offers hope that Marvel is ready to let go of its more predictable story beats. In the four episodes offered to reporters before the series’ release, the characters only make one reference to the rest of the MCU in a nod that you’ll miss the town of Magipoor, featured in Marvel’s Goofy. To display, Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
In place, Moon Knight intends to focus on character work. The show centers on Isaac’s Steven, who suffers from dissociative identity disorder. When we meet him, he’s a socially awkward Brit who works in a gift shop and spends his free time talking to his fish and taking an interest in Egyptology. He chains his leg to his bed to avoid what he believes to be a particularly pernicious form of sleepwalking: he often wakes up from bad dreams with blood on his hands.
Eventually, Steven meets his most confident, deadliest, and, in one of the show’s funniest moments, somehow more beautiful personality, Marc, an ex-mercenary with a wife he abandoned and a secret cell phone hidden in Steven’s apartment. Steven senses Marc’s presence every time he comes out of a power outage and hears yet another voice moaning, “The idiot is back.” This third voice turns out to be the moon god Kohnshu, a disembodied voice that sometimes manifests as a skeleton bird with a scythe (F. Murray Abraham, having a ball giving violent commands in a sonorous voice). Steven and Marc battle through mirrors, puddles, and other reflective surfaces over who controls their joint body.
Oscar Isaac in moon knight
For much of the first series of moon knight, Steven, like the audience, grapples with when his multiple personalities appeared, if Marc is dangerous, and why he can summon a sleek white suit that absorbs bullets and gives him healing powers. The answers can be found with Layla (Rummy’s May Calamawy), Marc’s wife who explains to a confused Steven that they caving several pyramids together. (Steven has a crush on her, much to Marc’s chagrin.) Time and again, Marc and Steven bicker over who should hold the body while Layla begs them to “summon the suit”, since Ethan Hawke’s villain lays them bare. If Steven, the pacifist vegan, controls the body, he usually refuses.
As a result, Isaac doesn’t wear the Moon Knight costume much. Watching Isaac run around costumeless, wide-eyed and deliciously sweaty from a demonic hyena or one of the other ghouls Hawke’s cult character summons evokes another Disney+ series, The Mandalorian. I’m a fan of that star wars show mostly thanks to the titular Mandalorian’s adorable little sidekick. But the very famous star of the series, Pedro Pascal, lifted his helmet to show his face exactly twice in The Mandalorian’it’s two seasons. Fans began to speculate that Pascal is not in the costume a lot during filming.
And even if Pascal is hiding underneath, what’s the point of casting a movie star when you can’t see his face? It’s an increasingly pressing issue as more TV shows and movies focus on masked men (and women). I’m sure Hollywood executives hold long meetings about how often Spider-Man or Darth Vader should take off their masks to remind the public there’s an actor under there. A fabulous Isaac argues convincingly to avoid the mask.
The actor clearly enjoys playing Moon Knight’s different personalities and bickering with himself. Mild-mannered Steven rolls his eyes in shock as he converses in the mirror with an agitated Marc, who boasts of Indiana Jones’ swagger and ego. If the comics are any indication, we’ll get to meet even more characters and watch Isaac flex his acting muscles more. The fight between the two men is the central plot, with Steven/Marc’s possible ties to Doctor Strange or Spider-Man thankfully set aside.
(LR) Ethan Hawke and Oscar Isaac in Moon Knight
The story can be absurd, with revelations about Steven/Marc’s past often being difficult to follow. The show attempts—not always successfully—to carefully navigate Steven’s mental health struggles. And while the inclusion of specific shots and musical moments from IndianaJones are meant to pay homage to the legendary franchise, they often diminish moon knightthe power. Audiences are reminded not only that Steven Spielberg is an unrivaled director whose adventure films are far better shot than this one, but that a show about Americans and Brits looting Egyptian antiquities may not be the best story choice for 2022. (In fairness to the series and its many “authentic storytelling” consultantsLayla’s Egyptian identity and the battle over who really deserves to own the Egyptian treasures displayed in British museums, are at the heart of the plot.)
By episode four, the show seems to be falling back on formula and can start to feel bad. Mummy remake. But just when you get a little bored, the show pivots (no spoilers). This gives hope that the series won’t fall back into the typical arc of superhero stories, like Wanda Vision done, and try something a little weird.
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