Moon Knight spearheaded by showrunner Jeremy Slater, and director Mohammed Diab, is the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU for short) Disney+ show which has just completed its first season with its 6-episode arc about the adventures (both physical and psychological) of Steven Grant, Marc Spector and Layla Al-Faouly.
While other MCU TV series have had its fair share of successes, they're often criticized for being inconsistent in quality, especially at the end of each series. While WandaVision, and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier have often been criticized for their somewhat underwhelming season finale, Loki and Hawkeye, despite some hiccups in between are considered a bit low-key (no pun intended, I swear) for their ambitious ideas to go into fruition.
So, being a relatively new character added into this universe, Moon Knight decides to take the biggest risk an MCU franchise has rarely done since Phase 1: be its own story. Yes, this has been a rare outing from this latest addition of the MCU, where the characters, settings and adventures are all self-contained within the story instead of the usual references, teases and cameos linking to other superhero stories.
So, does Moon Knight succeed with the risk taken? Well... Mostly yes and no... I think it's need to be elaborated a lot further.
The plot revolves around Steven Grant (played by Oscar Isaac with an intentionally wonky British accent), a sincere yet buffoonish British gift-shop employee working at the British Museum who has a keen interest in being a tour guide especially that of ancient Egypt.
He suffers from a Dissociative Identity Disorder which he realizes soon as he's turned into a mercenary named Marc Spector, who might've got superpowers from a vengeful Egyptian god Khonshu (voiced by F. Murray Abraham, and motion captured by Karim El-Hakim) where he transforms into an invincible warrior called Moon Knight.
His mission is to stop the evil forces who are summoning an exiled god Ammit, led by their charismatic leader Arthur Harrow (played with extremely sadistic charm by Ethan Hawke).
With constant struggle with the identities between Steven and Marc, and the overbearing yet scary presence of Khonshu, plus with Marc's wife, Layla (played by May Calamawy) tagging along, one must find a way to complete the mission if not the world would suffer grave consequences if Harrow succeeds.
While it isn't exactly a masterpiece, it does have its few fair shares of problems which could've been clarified. For one, the editing feels too jarring to a point it gets so convoluted. Some of the editing choices feel awkward, especially at the season finale where a character rises from the dead where the screen often cuts to black; or at episode 5, where a character successfully fights back against some dead souls trying to claim their souls with a weird jump cut in between.
Also, some of the tonality is a little off the charts; at one point it's a psychological thriller about a man struggling to keep his sanity, and then it turns into your typical Marvel quip which undoes the tension soon enough. Initially, you might feel a little off about hearing Steven talk in his weirdly wonky accent, but that depends on how much time audiences are invested in his story.
While Hawke's performance as Harrow is devilishly charming, his character as Harrow initially has promise (the opening scene in the pilot might be one of the most squeamish moments in MCU history; if you're not considering Daredevil, and other former Netflix shows), he unfortunately dissipates to one of those side villains, à la Darth Vader, or Bane in The Dark Knight Rises who are actually serving the big bad of this story.
But at least Moon Knight works well, in fact way too well, just because of one thing driving through: Oscar Isaac's brilliant performance. I would dare say this is one of the best MCU performance ever and he's only just begun, sharing the distinction of brilliant superhero depictions like Christian Bale in Batman Begins, Hugh Jackman in Logan, and Robert Pattinson in The Batman.
His constant switch between the clumsy yet endearing Steven, to the cynical yet brooding Marc, shows how easily comfortable Isaac gets under the skin of the character. His emotional outbursts, comic timing, and most of all his action choreography in his big fight scenes (albeit they're admittedly low in number as it is a character study more than the typical action-heavy spectacles from any other MCU project) show how Isaac might be one of the greatest actors of our generations.
It helps that their journey, both Steven and Marc eventually align together with quite possibly one of the most moving depictions of mental health shown on screen at episode 5. It's often very tricky to handle mental health on-screen, but with Steven's empathetic view calming Marc's emotional scars, it makes us the viewers care for them to win their fight.
It's definitely flawed like its protagonists, but they're a lot of heart and fun. With some terrific soundtrack choices mostly stemming from the Middle East, and an otherwise unseen depiction of a Middle Eastern city like Cairo as a developing city other than its usual depiction as an exotic location Hollywood is used to, there's no denying some of the escapist fun this show has to offer.
The show has been promoted as "Indiana Jones on Acid" and to some extent, it delivers on its promise. With a brilliant leading character, and an intriguing character study, Moon Knight is a different beast from the MCU catalog.