Ethan Hawke’s participation in Moon KnightShould have warned us. He has always been skeptical of the popularity of Hollywood superheroes. Oscar Isaac managed to convince Hawke that he would be a part of a television series about a mysterious Marvel hero who has been possessed by an Egyptian god. There had to be something different about this Disney+ show that distinguished it from the streaming service’s increasingly formulaic iterations of Marvel and Star Wars properties.
So, yes, Moon Knight is bonkers—in the best way. Marvel has tried to break from the typical superhero tropes before, most notably with last year’s WandaVisionThe film, which sees Wanda and Vision (Elizabeth Olsen, and Paul Bettany), trapped on TV, living the white picket-fenced family life that they didn’t get to live. Here’s a sampling of American sitcom beats. WandaVisionAt first, I was more interested in the formal boundaries of superhero stories than the wider 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.
Although it is far from perfect but still useful. Moon KnightMarvel may be willing to let go of some predictable plot beats, which is encouraging. 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 Winter Soldier.
Instead, Moon Knight is determined to focus on character work. The show centers on Isaac’s Steven, who has dissociative identity disorder. When we meet him, he’s a socially awkward Brit who works in a gift shop and spends his spare time talking to his fish and nerding out over Egyptology. To prevent him from sleepwalking, he chains his leg to the bed. He wakes up often with bloody hands.
Eventually Steven meets his more confident, deadlier, and—in one of the show’s funnier bits—somehow more handsome personality, Marc, an ex-mercenary with a wife he’s abandoned and a secret cell phone hidden in Steven’s apartment. Steven catches on to Marc’s presence whenever he emerges from a blackout and hears yet another voice groaning, “The idiot is back.” This third voice turns out to be the moon god Kohnshu, a disembodied voice who occasionally manifests as a skeleton bird with a scythe (F. Murray Abraham, having a ball giving violent commands in a sonorous voice). Marc and Steven battle each other over mirrors, puddles and other reflective surfaces to determine who has control of their body.
Oscar Isaac Moon Knight
The early days of Moon KnightSteven like the rest of us is trying to catch up on Marc’s past personalities, Marc’s danger, and how he summons a white suit with healing and bullet-absorbing properties. Layla could have the answer.Ramy’s May Calamawy), the wife of Marc who explains to a confused Steven that they’ve spelunked many a pyramid together. (Steven develops a crush on her, to Marc’s chagrin.) Over and over again, Marc and Steven bicker over who should hold the body while Layla begs them to “summon the suit,” since Ethan Hawke’s bad guy is baring down on them. Steven (pacifist vegan) usually refuses to take control of the body if he is.
As a result, Isaac doesn’t wear the Moon Knight suit much. Watching Isaac, run suit-less, wide-eyed and charmingly sweaty from a demon hyena or one of the other ghouls that Hawke’s cult leader character summons evokes another Disney+ series, Mandalorian. I’m a fan of that Star Wars show mostly thanks to the titular Mandalorian’s adorable little companion. But the series’ very famous star, Pedro Pascal, has lifted his helmet to show his face exactly two times in The Mandalorian’It aired for two seasons. Fans have begun to speculate that Pascal isn’t in the suit much while filming.
And even if Pascal is hiding under there, what’s the point of casting a movie star when you don’t get to see his face? With more films and television shows featuring masked actors (and women), this problem is becoming more pressing. I’m sure Hollywood executives are holding long meetings about how often Spider-Man or Darth Vader should pull off their masks to remind the audience there’s an actor under there. The compelling argument for taking off the mask is made by Isaac.
The actor clearly delights in playing Moon Knight’s different personalities and bickering with himself. Steven, a mild-mannered actor, looks shocked when Marc, an exaggerated and confident man, approaches him in the mirror. If the comics are any indication, we’ll get to meet even more personas and watch Isaac flex his acting muscles further. The struggle between the two men the central plot, with Steven/Marc’s possible connections to Doctor Strange or Spider-Man thankfully shunted to the side.
Ethan Hawke (L-R), Oscar Isaac Moon Knight
The story can be nonsensical, with the revelations about Steven/Marc’s past often hard to follow. The show attempts—not always with success—to carefully navigate Steven’s mental health issues. While certain shots and musical moments are included, Indiana JonesThey are intended to be a tribute to the iconic franchise. Moon Knight’Its strength. The audience is reminded not only that Steven Spielberg is an unmatched director whose adventure movies are shot far more beautifully than this one, but that perhaps a show about Americans and Brits plundering Egypt’s antiquities is not the best choice of story for 2022. (In fairness to the series and its many “authentic storytelling” consultants, Layla’s Egyptian identity and the battle over who really deserves to own the Egyptian treasures displayed in British museums, are central to the plot.)
After episode 4, the show starts to fall back on its old formula, and it can begin to feel like an awful series. Mummy remake. But just when you’re getting a little bored, the show pivots (no spoilers). The show’s pivot offers some hope that it will continue to follow the traditional arc of the superhero story. WandaVisionYou did and you tried something slightly different.
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