Directed by: Mohamed Diab, Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson
Distributed by: Disney+
Written by Anna Harrison
How many times can you make the same complaint before it becomes stale?
What I really mean to say is: how many times can Disney+ make the exact same mistakes with its shows before you run out of forgiveness? How many times can these shows play with the vast Marvel Cinematic Universe and attempt to push it forward in new and exciting ways only to throw its elements haphazardly together for an overstuffed, undercooked finale? So far, we are five for six—only “Loki” escapes this fate, depending on who you ask (if you ask me, it definitely does)—and, unfortunately, one of those five is “Moon Knight.”
But to compare the ending of “Moon Knight” to more egregious offenders like “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” or the abysmal finale of “WandaVision” would be unfair, because “Moon Knight” gets a lot of things right, starting with the casting.
Oscar Isaac, who has been saddled with a thankless role in a blockbuster franchise before, once again proves how utterly wasted he was in “Star Wars” as he navigates the complexities of playing Marc Spector, a mercenary with dissociative identity disorder who also serves as the avatar of the Egyptian god Khonshu (voiced by F. Murray Abraham in a genius bit of casting). Isaac rotates between angry, violent Marc and sweet but nebbish Steven Grant, one of Marc’s alters, with a precise and moving performance, breathing unique life into each alter and letting you forget that they are all technically one person in a strong performance reminiscent of future MCU Disney+ show lead Tatiana Maslany’s turn in “Orphan Black.”
Steven is unaware of Marc’s presence, assuming that he just sleepwalks from time to time, until the arrival of Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke), who does very normal things like putting glass in his shoes to show his religious fanaticism. Hawke is a strong get for the MCU, and Harrow proves an interesting enough villain for him to sink his teeth into, though perhaps not as chewable as Hawke deserves. Harrow, a former avatar of Khonshu, grew unhappy with punishing only after the crime, and so he has turned to the goddess Ammit, who seeks to wipe out evildoers before they actually do any evil. This somewhat disturbs Steven (though far more disturbing is Hawke’s truly, truly heinous pronunciation of Mandarin—and this coming from someone who can’t speak a lick of anything outside English aside from a few choice phrases in Latin). Soon enough he discovers the existence of Marc and the two of them, though they jostle for control, decide to take down Harrow. They’re joined by Marc’s estranged wife, Layla (May Calamawy), who fares much better than most Marvel love interests, helped by Calamawy’s grit and toughness.
Read Anna’s Marvel Retrospective Series Here
The plot, stripped down to its bare bones—bad guy wants to do an ostensibly good thing (rid the world of evil) but goes about it in an evil way (kill a bunch of people before they do anything)—is classic MCU. What makes “Moon Knight” better than much of what came before is its willingness to get a bit weird and to get a bit dark, and when it veers from standard Marvel territory, it goes from good to great.
And this is what is so baffling about Marvel’s Disney+ shows so far: in each, the buzziest moments weren’t the big mano-a-mano showdowns, but the scenes and episodes where the shows threw off their Marvel trappings, if only for a moment. The sitcom episodes in “WandaVision,” the Isaiah Bradley scenes in “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” the Loki convention in “Loki,” and here, a brief sojourn to a mental hospital that may or may not be all in Marc’s head, especially in episode five, which executive producer and head writer Jeremy Slater said was inspired by “International Assassin,” the best episode of “The Leftovers” and possibly the best episode of television ever (and, to be clear, a world away from “Moon Knight” in terms of quality)—all of these moments were boundary-pushing in some way, and all of them get singled out as the best moments of their respective shows.
So why do these shows (again, with the exception of “Loki,” whose finale consisted of Jonathan Majors somehow managing to make oodles of exposition sound riveting) still insist on abandoning their ingenuity in favor of standard, workmanlike action at the end? Who told Kevin Feige that was the best part about the sprawling universe he has built? Because it most definitely ain’t.
To its credit, “Moon Knight” avoids some pitfalls by following Layla while Harrow fights or by having Marc black out in the midst of a climactic scene (just like Bilbo in “The Hobbit,” except add a heaping of mental illness and violent tendencies), and it doesn’t rush to answer all its questions because it leaves a few for the inevitable season two/Midnight Sons series/whatever thing Marc shows up in next. But whatever steps forward “Moon Knight” takes feel agonizingly slow, and the same mistakes can happen only so many times before they stop becoming mistakes and turn into plain old bad habits.
“Moon Knight” Trailer
“Moon Knight” is streaming on Disney+.
You can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd, Twitter, Instagram, and her website.