REVIEW: ‘Moon Knight’ is a strangely compelling addition to the MCU

Boyce Rucker, Staff Writer

Disney+’s Marvel shows have so far proven to be strong additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the movies give us the epic narratives factoring into a larger story arc, the shows give more personable stories. Ones like “Hawkeye,” “WandaVision” and “Loki” give us introspective looks into central characters that the films can’t always allot within a two-hour runtime. “Moon Knight,” the latest series, stands out for being the first Disney+ series to adapt a new hero to headline their own show. Its first episode out of six shows promise in the series being a mind-bending and exhilarating thrill-ride unlike anything Marvel’s done before.

Marc Spector (Oscar Issac) is a mercenary who suffers from dissociative identity disorder, living a double life as gift shop employee Steven Grant. Spector is the conduit for the Egyptian moon god known as Khonshu (F. Murray Abraham), granting him special abilities. Spector faces off against religious cult leader Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) in a mystery involving powerful Egyptian gods. The first episode sees Grant uncover his double life as Spector as well as his alter ego Moon Knight. As Grant’s life comes undone, Moon Knight takes center stage.

The show is a great adaptation of the Moon Knight mythos so far. The character isn’t someone the average Marvel fan will know of right away, but the pilot sets up his status quo. Moon Knight’s comic storylines often lean towards psychological themes that show Spector questioning his reality while trying to balance his other personalities alongside his role as “The Fist of Khonshu.” His stories are dark and brutal as his questionable actions land him in the anti-hero territory more than superhero. A straightforward adaptation would see him standing alongside “Defenders” heroes for his gratuitous violence. 

The show greatly counteracts the level of darkness from the comics but pushes its TV-14 rating without crossing into “Defenders’” territory. The series infuses horror, adventure and psychological elements into the plot. A Disney+ show is the last place we’d expect to see an opening where the villain slips his feet into sandals filled with broken glass or bloody results after the hero brutalizes henchmen offscreen. “Moon Knight” is darker than previous Disney+ shows, but it’s not entirely bleak.

The show injects fun and bits of humor into the dark hero. The Grant persona is comedic relief as he shows confusion and naivety under duress. Spector is a morally complex character in the comics, but Grant is an everyman that we can root for early on in the series. Grant’s story begins like any formulaic superhero story. He’s the underdog with an uneventful life and a few quirks who we care for right away and want to see win. The episode then subverts the traditional origin format by putting us right into the action and confusion alongside Grant when he wakes up to guards chasing Spector. This later leads to the episode’s definitive action sequence, a chaotic car chase. This episode shows how surrealism and randomness define Moon Knight in both dramatic and comedic fashions.

The series creates mystery and intrigue that encourages the audience to pick up clues in each episode. “Moon Knight” fuels the same attentiveness that we maintained with shows like “WandaVision” or FX’s “Legion.” Spector’s grasp on reality is questionable at times, adding a wildly unpredictable layer to the narrative. Most of what we see and learn in the first episode is restricted to only Grant’s knowledge, making for an immersive viewing experience. The first episode plants the seeds for theorization and analysis that will hopefully pay off in future episodes. Some clues are hidden in plain sight while others drive the plot as Grant uncovers hidden secrets.

“Moon Knight” benefits from having a fresh start in the MCU with little to no ties to other heroes. This disconnectedness allows for character-driven storytelling that gives a focused introduction to Moon Knight. Moon Knight rarely features alongside other heroes in the comics, which makes his story arcs more character-centric and less subject to spectacle. However, given how each comic writer’s interpretation of him may vary tonally or personality-wise, it can be hard to pinpoint a definitive version of the character. Marvel Studios’ take on the character feels refreshing as they borrow from various storylines and blend it with the MCU’s charismatic style to give a version of the character that appeals to old and new fans alike.

Isaac teases a transformative and unforgettable performance that drives the series. He plays Grant’s timidness to near-perfection for most of the episode. Moon Knight doesn’t appear in costume until the end of the episode, but Isaac still entertains us as an Englishman and unlikely hero who’s out of his depth. Although Spector and his alter ego are the ones we want to see more of to advance the story, Isaac makes us care about the Grant persona as he reluctantly plunges into danger. Isaac’s comedic timing and mannerisms are crucial to playing Grant as he differentiates himself from Spector, who we’re briefly introduced to at the end. In a matter of seconds, Isaac displays Spector’s tortured persona with his stern visage and earnest line delivery. Isaac’s portrayal of multiple personalities is sure to be a great exercise of his immense talent for the remainder of the series.

Though Harrow doesn’t have much screen time yet, Hawke breathes life into a memorable villain. Hawke conveys Harrow’s eeriness and self-righteousness with gravitas, which makes the character a formidable foil to Spector. Because Harrow’s comic book counterpart only appears in a 1985 issue of “Moon Knight,” the show can take creative liberties with the character. The same creative freedom may also be in store for Hawke’s performance. Casting Hawke to star opposite Isaac might easily be among the best Marvel casting decisions to date.

Marvel’s “Moon Knight” is off to a promising start. The first episode is a reassurance that Marvel Studios isn’t running out of steam anytime soon with more characters to adapt. The series shows signs of being a memorable MCU entry with its captivating leads and mysterious plot. This is a show that will take Marvel fans over the moon.