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Marvel's Moon Knight is bonkers -- in the best way

  • The Oscar Isaac-led Disney+ Marvel series is very weird, and that's a good thing, says Eliana Dockterman. "Marvel has tried to break from the typical superhero tropes before, most notably with last year’s WandaVision, in which the characters of Wanda and Vision (Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany) find themselves stuck in TV sitcoms, playing out the white picket fence family life they never got to have," says Dockterman. "Riffing on the typical beats of American sitcoms, WandaVision was, at first, more interested in exploring the formal bounds of superhero stories than servicing the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the final episodes devolved into the typical, dull 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 the Marvel shows wouldn’t get too experimental. Though far from perfect, Moon Knight does offer hope that Marvel is willing to drop its more predictable story beats. Though far from perfect, Moon Knight does offer hope that Marvel is willing to drop its more predictable story beats. In the four episodes offered to journalists before the release of the series, the characters make only one reference to the rest of the MCU in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it allusion to the city of Magipoor, featured in Marvel’s clunky show, Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Instead, Moon Knight is intent on focusing on character work."


    • Moon Knight's compelling weirdness seems out of place in the MCU: "The latest Marvel Cinematic Universe miniseries is hampered from the very beginning by its attempt to distill both a dense comic-book backstory and complicated Egyptian mythology into six hourish-long episodes," says Roxana Hadadi. "But (Oscar) Isaac provides all that’s requested of him, from his silly London accent to his elastic facial expressions to his go-go-go physicality, and if your fetish is a universe in which more than one of him exists, congratulations! What does it feel like when dreams come true?" But with few ties to the rest of the MCU, Moon Knight "initially feels more in line with swashbuckling adventure franchises like The Mummy (the ones with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, not the Dark Universe) and Indiana Jones, in which saving the world comes down to translating a manuscript and solving a puzzle," says Hadadi. "There are missteps throughout, like overly expository dialogue and clunky placement of backstory, but the series’ overall structure evokes a video game with each episode presenting a sort of mini-challenge that our hero must work through before he moves on to the next stage of play."
    • Moon Knight is another example of the ability of the performers exceeding the inventiveness of the crew: "Writers and directors seem to be hired for competence rather than distinctive vision," says Mike Hale, adding: "And that’s where the casting comes in: reflecting Marvel’s ability to attract top-flight talent, Steven and Marc are played by Oscar Isaac, and who wants to wrap Oscar Isaac in C.G.I. mummy bandages, no matter how nifty they look? There are a lot of issues swimming around in Moon Knight, including its treatment of ancient Egyptian culture, its presentation of its Middle Eastern milieu and its depiction of its hero’s mental health issues. But as a drama, it’s built entirely around the Isaac vs. Isaac cage match, which supplies fair to middling action and sentiment and consistently satisfying laughs."
    • Moon Knight is weird, wild and so much fun: "It's become a cliche to say each new Marvel thing is nothing like any Marvel thing you've seen before," says Richard Trenholm. "OK, Falcon and the Winter Soldier and more recently Hawkeye were pretty straightforward action/adventure shows, but WandaVision and Loki charted new levels of bonkers. So is Moon Knight unlike any previous Marvel story? Yes and no. It's an escalating spiral of weirdness, as delightfully odd and surprising and unique as WandaVision and Loki both were. So yes, it's unlike anything Marvel has done before. Especially as there's almost no mention of anything or anyone from the wider MCU, which is unimaginably restrained by Marvel standards. In fact, easily the weakest part of these early episodes is when the show gets into the type of thing you'd most expect from a Marvel blockbuster with some underwhelming and familiar CG creatures."
    • Moon Knight looks fantastic as another in a long line of well-oiled Marvel machines: "The series’ plotting gets sloppy at occasional intervals during its first four installments, with narrative dilemmas exacerbated by characters refusing to say (or listen to) basic facts that would stop things from spiraling out of control," says Nick Schager. "Nonetheless, on the whole, Moon Knight is another in a long line of well-oiled Marvel machines, delivering the mixture of winning personality-driven humor, functional combat, and hit-or-miss CGI—Moon Knight looks fantastic; multiple generic creatures, on the other hand, are habitually hidden from view in murky darkness—that fans have come to expect."
    • Oscar Isaac gets to lose himself in the trappings of a mop-haired capital-L loser: "As Grant, Isaac’s body is a knotted contradiction," says Manuel Betancourt. "He hunches over in deference to the world around him, too self-conscious to take up any space, even when you can already tell there’s a presence about him that remains, perhaps, all too inscrutable for him to understand. With an admittedly very distracting accent, Isaac nevertheless makes us feel for Grant. We’re in his shoes the entire time. Something is clearly going awry and by god(s) we need to figure out what it is that’s happening soon, lest we lose the plot. The joy of this pilot is how Grant’s bumbling persona becomes our introduction to the occult world of Moon Knight. Like Jason Bourne, it’s clear that Grant is more than meets the eye."
    • Ethan Hawke’s performance demonstrates the distinction between charm and charisma: "The enigmatic Harrow radiates the kind of gravity that keeps cults glued together; he speaks in confident absolutes about good and evil, intensely but softly, tempering the weight of his philosophizing with the warmth of his tone," says Niv M. Sultan. "He’s also prone to self-flagellation: The first episode opens by depicting a ritual that ends with Harrow filling his sandals with broken glass. But while his practices are intriguingly depicted, their motivations and implications are left unexamined. Despite the centrality of a mental break to its proceedings, Moon Knight largely pretends at psychological depth."
    • Moon Knight brings grounded drama and weird horror energy into the MCU: "From the first few episodes of this thrilling trip into the darker side of Marvel, we’re absolutely all in with the combination of grounded drama—something that seems pulled from the indie-film world that most of its creatives have spent time in—and horror that propels the show," says Sabina Graves, adding: "Isaac brings his incredible dramatic acting chops—and since he’s also an executive producer, he helped enlist Ethan Hawke to take on the show’s villain role. But it is Diab who truly ties it all together by bringing in a necessary perspective to a new franchise built on Egyptian mythology that, thanks to Western cinema, has been drowning in stereotypical pastiche. Here’s Egypt as seen through the eyes of an Egyptian, with its lore authentically handled."
    • Moon Knight plays more like an older Marvel Studios production where the main goal is really to rehabilitate its hero’s brand: "That approach has worked in the past with classic heroes like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, who — up until a few short years ago — were not yet the big box office draws the MCU turned them into with a series of features delving into their origins and lives," says Charles Pulliam-Moore. "With Moon Knight, though, it feels as if the studio’s trying to replicate that revitalization process in a much, much shorter timeframe with a character who’s somewhat more difficult to sell, in part, because he’s a super mummy who sometimes speaks like he’s wandered off a stage production of Pygmalion."
    • Isaac and Hawke are two incredible performers who balance each other narratively in fascinating ways: "Steven/Marc are extroverts—the awkward and the aggressive—whereas Harrow is the calm sociopath, the introvert who will look you in the eye and calmly tell you why he’s killing you. Caught in the middle is Layla (May Calamawy), someone important from Marc’s past whom Steven has never met—it’s complicated," says Brian Tallerico. "As the first four episodes get to puzzle-solving ancient riddles in Egyptian tombs, it all takes on a very Indiana Jones aesthetic, and Layla is the Marion to Marc/Steven’s Indy. The best elements of Moon Knight outside of Isaac’s daring performance are when the writing allows Diab and Benson/Moorhead to get weird. This is an undeniably strange show that at times leans into its concept as a horror film—a superhero version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—and the directors get to have some fun in action scenes involving shifting personalities and invisible foes."
    • Moon Knight suggests a way forward for a content-creation engine that’s come to feel overwhelming: "There’s a freshness to it that’s enticing even for those outside the fandom," says Daniel D'Addario, adding that the new series "feels liberated from certain pressures that held WandaVision in place. Marvel hasn’t used TV to introduce new onscreen characters since its Netflix era, with shows like Luke Cage and Jessica Jones; those series were of variable quality, but all felt like attempts to map superhero sensibility onto familiar and somewhat safe styles of serialized TV. Moon Knight isn’t unfamiliar, exactly — the subjectivity-drenched psychodrama freakout is a prestige-cable staple — but it’s a new look for Marvel, and feels like an attempt for the dominant force in screen culture to try out new gears."
    • Moon Knight is a bit of a mess: "Midway through the second episode of Disney+’s new Marvel series Moon Knight, mercenary Marc Spector has a heart-to-heart conversation with museum gift shop clerk Steven Grant," says Alan Sepinwall. "This is complicated by the fact that Marc and Steven are two different personalities — both played by Oscar Isaac — of the same man, created by the mental illness known as disassociative identity disorder. Marc lays out the whole Moon Knight premise to Steven, explaining that he serves as the avatar of the Egyptian moon god Khonshu, protecting the vulnerable and delivering justice on Khonshu’s behalf. Steven considers this for a moment, then replies, 'Ohmigod, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!' This is a typical example of the brand of cliche-puncturing, self-deprecating humor that has become a key part of the formula to every MCU movie and TV show. It feels a bit more pointed here, though, because Moon Knight has long been a mess of a character, and one whom Moon Knight the show doesn’t quite manage to straighten out, despite a fun and energetic lead performance — or performances — from Isaac."
    • Moon Knight's freedom from the MCU is what makes it so compelling: "The joy in watching Moon Knight actually comes from what a few have opined are its liabilities — it has no connection to existing MCU fare and thus is not beholden to scattering Easter eggs or checking off boxes (though one familiar geographic location is name-dropped)," says Matt Webb Mitovich. "That frees the viewer up to experience Moon Knight for what it is, a rollicking yarn that is one part Venom (as voiced by F. Murray Abraham, Khonshu is a bit of a dick!), one part Split, two parts Indiana Jones and… at least one other part."
    • Moon Knight should've been a movie: "Those who appreciate TV as an art form groan at producers' hackneyed declaration that their show is 'really more like a 10-hour movie,'" says Melanie McFarland. "Well, this cuts in the opposite direction, a six-hour series that would have worked better as a two-and-a-half-hour film. Lead writer Jeremy Slater and his team luxuriate in the show's origin story past the point of interest, so much that we barely see much of the weird man in that white suit during its first episode. Most of what happens in the 45-minute episode could have gone down in about half that time without losing any context. Granted, if you enjoy Isaac's aptitude for physical comedy, consider yourself amply served by the heart of that episode, specifically slap-happy mountain road car chase involving pastries and lots of frightened yelling. But that comes at the cost of seeing the title hero in action."
    • Moon Knight works better as an Oscar Isaac acting exercise than a superhero thrill-ride: "The show’s pleasure comes from watching Isaac flex his action muscles, do intentionally silly accents and exhibit a flair for goofy comedy," says Daniel Fienberg. "But after watching four of the series’ six (45-minute-ish) episodes, I think it’s clear that the acting exercise stands out more than masked vigilante Moon Knight, his pair of alter egos or the story’s crash course in ancient Egyptian spirituality."
    • A British person reviews Oscar Isaac's British accent on Moon Knight: As a person with an English accent, James Whitbrook was initially worried about Isaac speaking like a Brit. "Thankfully, in the larger context of the series, Isaac’s accent works rather charmingly, and not just because it’s coming out of Oscar Isaac’s mouth," says Whitbrook. "The exaggeration gives Steven the sort of bumbling persona that transforms the series into something of an oddball buddy comedy where Isaac plays both sides of the duo, a sharp contrast to the little snippets of Marc Spector we get in the first episode. But in spite of that exaggeration, there is something that feels real about Steven’s lilts and twangs. The moments when he litters his dialogue with a casual remark like 'laters gators'—which, frankly, I’ve personally never heard anyone say before, but it sounds in the ballpark of the sort of random rhyming slang you’d expect from the English—are lovely. Perhaps most accurately and weirdly the most endearing of it all, is just the sheer amount of casual swearing that Isaac peppers his dialogue with. From an 'Oh bollocks!' or 'Bloody ‘ell!' here, to calling himself a bit of a knob when dressing for a dinner date there..."
    • Read about the history of Marvel Comics' Moon Knight character
    • May Calamawy says Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke helped empower her: "Oscar was such a teacher for me on this project. He would move between the roles so effortlessly,” she says, adding of Hawke: "I remember I messaged Ethan during the rehearsals, and I was like, ‘I feel like our characters need a scene together.' He’s a master developer, and then the next day, he came in and was like, ‘So I figured out a scene that we need to put in there.’ He had a whole scene mapped out."
    • What was it about Arthur that made Ethan Hawke want to say yes without reading the script?: "Mostly it was just that it was a new legend, a new superhero," he says. "I love that it wasn’t a well-worn path that we had to re-conceive. It was something I knew nothing about. So I’d be able to create a new character and play in this sandbox, in this arena, and make something new. That’s a turn on for me."
    • Director Mohamed Diab on the premiere focusing only on Steven: "That was intentional," he says. "There’s so much to unfold, so much to talk about. So if the two of you, I mean the audience and the character, are having that journey? We can understand or actually wait and understand with him. And I think one of the most brilliant things from Marvel and Jeremy was grounding Steven into an everyday guy, because usually he isn’t. He’s actually a rich guy in the comics. Grounding him into an everyday guy and discovering, seeing things through his eyes and then discovering that he has another identity and going through that. I love that. I love that about it."
    • In Moon Knight, Diab saw the opportunity to bridge his Egyptian heritage with big canvas Hollywood filmmaking: “The drama of it and the Egyptian part of it feels like an extension of everything that I’ve been doing,” he says. “And there’s the action and the horror and the comedy, which are things I wished I had the chance to show.”
    • Oscar Isaac found inspiration in Russell Brand and Karl Pilkington: “I thought, ‘What’s an energy that I haven’t seen in the MCU before? Like, what if someone asked Peter Sellers to be in a Marvel movie,” Isaac recalls, before name-checking an even more surprising figure from the British comedy world. “And then I thought of Karl Pilkington,” he adds. “I was watching a lot of An Idiot Abroad, not so much for the accent, but for the comedy of it: like, you often don’t know if he knows he’s being funny. And there’s something a little bit naturally introverted about him, which I really liked a lot.”
    • Isaac admits he was hesitant to join Moon Knight after starring in the Star Wars films: “I had so much hesitation. So much,” he says. “I was like, ‘I just finally got out of a long time of being a part of the Star Wars universe,’ which I loved doing, but it definitely took up a lot of my time. So I was excited to get back to more character studies and smaller films. But this came my way, and my instinct at first was like, ‘This is probably not the right thing to do.’ But there was just something about the Steven character that was speaking to me a little bit.”

    TOPICS: Moon Knight, Disney+, Ethan Hawke, Mohamed Diab, Oscar Isaac, Marvel