The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand in interesting new ways with the introduction of Moon Knight, a superhero that struggles with mental illness and serves the Egyptian Moon God, Khonshu. Although Moon Knight made his first appearance in comics in 1975, in Werewolf by Night #32 by Doug Moench and Don Perlin, the character has not yet crossed over to live-action until this Disney+ series. However, if you ask ardent comic book readers, many will speak glowingly about Moon Knight’s unique background and history.
In many ways, Moon Knight is more in line with the Daredevil universe of Marvel live-action stories (which were recently added to the Disney+ library) than the rest of the MCU. He’s darker, more violent and his background is complex. Moon Knight’s alter ego, Marc Spector, has dissociative identity disorder, which results in him manifesting alternate identities. His power is derived from an Egyptian God, a strikingly terrifying deity known as the “God of Vengeance.” Moon Knight is not a bright and happy character.
That’s likely why it’s taken this long to adapt Moon Knight into live-action, despite the fact that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has been interested in the character for many years. Moon Knight is hard to do well, but thankfully Marvel Studios is up to the task and has created a show that is visually stunning and highlights the impressive acting range of star Oscar Isaac.
This review is for the first four episodes of the six episode season.
For those interested in exploring Moon Knight’s comic history, be sure to check out my four favorite Moon Knight comic runs.
Moon Knight premieres exclusively on Disney+ March 30th!
When Steven Grant, a mild-mannered gift-shop employee, becomes plagued with blackouts and memories of another life, he discovers he has dissociative identity disorder and shares a body with mercenary Marc Spector. 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.
Moon Knight is a visual wonder. For a show about a character that, in comics, wears an all-white costume with a hood, the costume designers outdid themselves. Moon Knight’s costume is simply exquisite, full of intricate detail that can’t even be fully appreciated on screen. It simply has a weight and depth to it that truly brings the character to life. What could easily be a goofy looking design if done incorrectly is instead one of the coolest looking superheroes costumes ever. I firmly believe that the secret weapons that Marvel Studios employs to consistently set itself apart from any competitors are the visual development team and the costume design team. Together the two departments are elite and create a look for the Marvel Cinematic Universe that is both relatable and inspiring. Moon Knight is yet another notch it an already impressive belt, breathing life into the character and the world around him.
Of course, it’s not enough for Moon Knight to look good if the character development fails. Moon Knight is an almost impossible character for any one actor to portray because of the dissociative identity disorder. Fortunately, Oscar Isaac proves to be more than worthy, playing what is essentially four different roles with a dexterity that is worth award recognition. Interestingly, this version of Moon Knight starts with Steven Grant, who in the comics is simply one of the alternate identities of Moon Knight and Marc Spector. Grant, a British museum retail employee with a passion for Egyptian mythology, is not the kind of character one would expect a superhero to act like, which makes sense because he doesn’t know that he’s a superhero either. Spector on the other hand is much more within the realm of expectations, as an American mercenary with a violent history. Then, of course, there are the superhero identities of Moon Knight and Mr. Knight, who are similar, but not the same. Isaac is deftly able to navigate the different personas with what looks like, but can’t be, ease.
The show itself does an excellent job of managing a constantly shifting tone, depending on which character Isaac is playing at any given moment. Moon Knight is generally a violent and dark character, but Marvel is rarely too serious with any of its projects, and here Isaac brings such an amusing levity as Steven Grant. As with the costume, Grant’s characterization is a fine line that can easily go bad, but thankfully Isaac’s talent and the strong writing make Grant an unlikely hero that you can’t help but root for.
The music perfectly complements the acting and the script, boasting as much variation in personality as the title character. One moment we hear Engelbert Humperdinck’s 1968 song “A Man Without Love,” then Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin,” and later “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham! It’s not easy to bring humor into the world of Moon Knight, and I appreciate the way the show is able to inject some fun into an otherwise dreary world.
While Isaac does much of the heavy lifting, Palestinian-Egyptian actress May Calamawy brings a subtle confidence as Layla El-Faouly, who seems to be a newly created character. Calamawy gets quite a bit of action, with numerous fight sequences, including an extended scene in one episode where her fighting prowess is on full display. Layla’s strength and stability offers a welcome counterbalance to Moon Knight’s constant shifting, and the on-screen dynamic benefits from the natural chemistry between Isaac and Calamawy.
Avoiding spoilers, it’s worth commenting on how unusual it is for Marvel to release screeners of four episodes out of a six episode season. However, the end of the fourth episode does leave the story in a fascinating place that I won’t delve into at this time. I just hope that there is enough runway in the remaining two episodes to fully realize the story they seem to be planning.
As much as Isaac is given many layers to work with as Moon Knight, Ethan Hawke’s Arthur Harrow is disappointingly one-dimensional (at least for four episodes). His background and abilities are potentially interesting, but unfortunately, Harrow doesn’t do much beyond give repeated speeches about his mission.
The MCU has an uneven track record when it comes to villains. Sometimes they hit a home run with characters like Killmonger who have depth and a rich backstory. Other times their villains are little more than pale imitations of the superheroes they seek to defeat. With an actor of Hawke’s caliber on board, I certainly hoped for more of the former, but two-thirds through the first season, the show does not give Harrow the necessary depth to establish a great villain.
Beyond Harrow, the biggest disappointment has to be the human vessels of the Egyptian gods. Considering the show and Moon Knight as a character are so closely tied to Egyptian deities, the story is ripe with potential to explore characters and realms beyond what other Marvel stories have been able to do. Khonshu is very much a character in the show, and a wonderfully creepy one. However, the other gods, though they make an appearance, are unnecessarily confusing and fall short of the story’s potential.
Moon Knight makes a concerted effort to respect the Egyptian culture and aesthetics that are such an integral part of the character. Adding Calamawy as part of the main cast, as well as Egyptian director Mohamed Diab, greatly enhances the authentic voice of the show. Indeed, the cast and crew credited Diab for his in-depth knowledge and for helping to bring on more Egyptian crew to work on the series. As always, representation behind the camera is just as important as representation in front of the camera.
One element of Marc Spector’s character that is not clearly explored in the first four episodes is his Jewish faith. Moon Knight is one of the few well known Jewish superheroes, and many fans have been eager to see that represented on screen. Hopefully, that aspect of his character will be more visible at some point.
THE RATING – 4/5 Pocky
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.