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‘Moon Knight’ Review – A First Step into a New Marvel

In 2019, at Disney’s D23 Expo, Kevin Feige announced three new MCU projects for Disney’s (at the time upcoming) streaming service, Disney+. Those titles, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, and Moon Knight, would stray from the previously announced continuations of existing MCU stories to instead introduce new heroes to the universe. Two and half years later, audiences are about to be introduced to the first of these leads. A show marketed as starring a different kind of hero, Moon Knight places its focus on a character who deals with Dissociative Identity Disorder. A lesser-known name to some, Moon Knight has nonetheless gained cult popularity in the comic world, and buzz about a live-action version had been around for years before the initial announcement. After months of theories and rumors, Marvel is finally ramping up to their Moon Knight premiere, and if the first four episodes are a sign of the show’s trajectory, fans are in for a crazy adventure.

Moon Knight places its focus on Oscar Isaac’s Steven Grant, a gift shop employee working in a museum in London. When Steven starts to get glimpses of a parallel life he’s living as former mercenary Marc Spector, Steven is forced to question if anything he’s experiencing is real at all. This split life leads him to run into Ethan Hawke’s Arthur Harrow, a man with a devoted following and who is directly opposed to the Egyptian Moon god Khonshu, a being who just so happens to be compelling Marc’s actions. Steven is also introduced to Layla El-Faouly, a figure from Marc’s past played by May Calamawy. Moon Knight‘s story is full of adventure and focuses on the pantheon of Egyptian mythology, a new corner of the MCU. It starts out in London and leads to Cairo, where the oft-repeated comparisons to Indiana Jones come fully into focus. With our characters exploring the deserts of Egypt and fighting horrific creatures in tombs and pyramids, it’s an exciting adventure that brings out something that the MCU hasn’t explored quite yet.

Marvel is often praised for their casting, starting off strong with Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man back in 2006, and even if Oscar Isaac isn’t as shocking a casting as some of their earlier choices, it works just as well. Isaac’s ability to play two separate characters at the same time, each with a distinct personality from the other is incredible to see. From Steven’s more awkward and passive nature to Marc’s tortured and restrained nuances, Isaac is able to bring out each part of what makes both of these characters interesting and use it to the performance’s benefit. His physicality is also incredibly impressive, with Steven’s anxious form clearly identifiable as distinct from Marc’s almost heroic assuredness. But Isaac isn’t the only superpowered heavy hitter in the cast, as he finds himself opposite Ethan Hawke as Arthur Harrow.

Ethan Hawke in ‘Moon Knight’ courtesy of Marvel Studios

Harrow, the leader of a cult of worshippers, sees himself as burdened with the responsibility to fix the world, curing it of evil and sin. His performance feels very real and grounded because of this, with Hawke speaking extensively in the press tour about how he looked into real-life cult leaders to build his interpretation of the character. He’s not physical, playing heavily into the brute vs manipulator archetype that pops up in the superhero genre, and he uses his words and connections to help him towards his goal. The final piece of the puzzle comes in May Calamawy’s Layla, a character that will likely come as a surprise to audiences used to largely one-dimensional love interests in the MCU. Layla is fundamental to the story, acting as both the emotional core of the episodes and an extremely important driving force in the plot. There’s even more under the surface, and while not everything is explored in these episodes, there’s only room for more growth with the character.

One of the primary must-haves for fans going in was for Marvel to fully embrace Moon Knight’s more brutal side. As a character not prone to holding back his punches and whose most iconic images see the white of his costume being stained with blood, it was questionable if the largely PG-13 MCU could capture that angle of the antihero. Although it may not be as violent as Netflix’s takes on Daredevil or The Punisher, it’s safe to say that Moon Knight is Marvel Studios’ most brutal offering to date. Much like the character, Moon Knight doesn’t hold back and his fists are almost always bloody when he’s done with a battle. Besides being more violent than fans may be accustomed to, the action is exciting and the different roles that Marc and Steven play during combat are a testament to how fleshed out this portrayal of the character is. The way in which the series approaches violence far exceeding the rest of Marvel’s canon feels telling of Moon Knight‘s willingness to cut its lifeline to the interconnected universe, with no references to the wider MCU and relying entirely on new characters and mythology – this is the first project since Phase 1 that truly feels like it stands on its own.

Marc Spector is one of the few leading heroes with Dissociative Identity Disorder, with the vast majority of his comics dedicated to that fact of the character. With a lot of discussion being had about how representation of DID has been either lacking or disrespectful in most popular media, and Marvel themselves having a history of not portraying mental health properly, there was a reasonable concern for how Marc’s condition would play into Moon Knight. Though it’s impossible to say that the show’s portrayal of DID is perfect, and more knowledgable sources will no doubt have more to say about it in the months to come, Marvel isn’t playing Marc’s mental disorder for jokes. While Moon Knight hasn’t yet explicitly stated that Marc has DID, numerous mentions are made of what Marc is dealing with and it colors much of the moment-to-moment beats of the narrative. The series also leaves room for a far more in-depth exploration of Marc’s mind in later episodes.

May Calamawy and Oscar Isaac in ‘Moon Knight’ courtesy of Marvel Studios

Along with Marc’s DID, many fans were worried when it came to how Marvel would adapt Marc’s Judaism. As one of Marvel’s few prominently Jewish characters and the son of a Rabbi, it was crucial going in that Marc’s Jewishness be treated with respect, something the MCU has neglected to do in the past on several occasions, most notably with the Maximoff twins. Unfortunately, Marc’s Judaism is relegated to subtle hints, but a shot of him wearing a Star of David pendant around his neck seemingly confirms him as the first Jewish character in the MCU. This can be accounted for with the show cloaking Marc and his history in an air of mystery, however, it does nonetheless come off as Marvel dancing around Jewish representation once again. Much like with his DID, the episodes end with a clear line to a further exploration of Marc’s past, meaning that his observantly Jewish childhood and how his adult identity stems from it may yet be explored.

Moon Knight is an exciting new addition to the MCU. Oscar Isaac as the titular character is yet another great lead, Ethan Hawke and May Calamawy are fantastic co-stars and form one of the better core casts from Marvel in recent years. With action that lands and a story full of adventure and mythic imagery, it’s safe to say that the MCU has started the year off strong. Though the way in which the series captures Marc’s Judaism and DID does leave much to be desired, it sets the stage for an effective closing third act to bring the show home and make Moon Knight the scaled-back character study that has been pitched to audiences since Isaac was first cast.

★ ★ ★ ★

Moon Knight premieres on Disney+ March 30!

Follow writer Dakota Wheeler on Twitter: @KotaBearzz

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