NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Moon Knight” are present in this review
We’ve had plenty of time to ease into a regular clip of Disney+ shows set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by now. 2021 was filled with MCU series offerings made for Disney+ that allowed supporting characters formerly established in Marvel Studios’ movies to finally occupy center stage within their own expanded storylines, in turn setting a greater foundation for the next selection of MCU movies to come, as well as more Disney+ shows, naturally. For 2022 however, it’s time for Disney+ to push the boat out a little further with its MCU content, and that begins with Moon Knight, an all-new miniseries that introduces a formerly unseen hero to Marvel’s live-action canon for the first time.
More than representing the first opportunity for Disney+ to make a first-run contribution to the MCU’s growing catalogue of headlining personalities however, Moon Knight also represents a significant shift in tone for this franchise’s headlining projects. While it still got away with a TV-14 rating in the end, Moon Knight is darker, scarier, more complex, and certainly more outwardly mature than the MCU’s previous mainline offerings, on Disney+ and in the movie space. Perhaps the fact that the show still contains some cheeky, silly humour to break up its surprisingly brutal violence is how it managed to skirt by with a TV-14 certificate, while also fitting nicely with the rest of the MCU’s sense of humour. Outside of that though, Moon Knight feels like more of a throwback to the style of the former Marvel Television’s Netflix shows, seemingly foreshadowing it as an omen that the MCU is about to embrace darker, more exclusively adult-oriented storylines in the future, something that’s bound to excite longtime Marvel enthusiasts.
It’s also exciting that the MCU is fully committing to just how weird a character Moon Knight truly is, something that’s also fully embraced by lead personality Oscar Isaac, strangely playing his second Marvel character steeped in Ancient Egypt here, following his turn as the eponymous villain of 2016’s Fox-made Marvel sequel, X-Men: Apocalypse. Moon Knight, very much unlike Apocalypse, has Dissociative Identity Disorder, and is technically several people inhabiting one body, specifically the chosen vessel of the Egyptian god, Khonshu, voiced in this case by F. Murray Abraham. While Moon Knight is chiefly associated with his violent, highly skilled mercenary identity, Marc Spector to boot, this Disney+ series makes a surprising pivot, and instead makes its main protagonist, Steven Grant, a mild-mannered persona that works in a British museum’s gift shop within the MCU. Steven has an apparent sleep disorder that compels him to stay awake, and even tie himself to his bed, as he seems to keep waking up in random locations, with no memory of how he got there. This is treated as a mystery for the uninitiated, but those who are already familiar with Moon Knight’s character from Marvel Comics lore (or were paying attention to my brief primer a moment ago), will already know that it’s Marc causing these unexplained blackouts, as he takes the fight to whatever bad guys happen to run afoul of him.
Moon Knight has more personalities in the pages of Marvel Comics, but it’s smart for this miniseries’ first episode, “The Goldfish Problem” to keep it to just Steven and Marc for now. Like I said, for all intents and purposes, it’s Steven that seems to serve as Moon Knight’s true protagonist, an unexpected, but surprisingly effective move, as it makes him the perfect audience surrogate for such a bizarre Marvel anti-hero. Steven seemingly loses track of everything thanks to his blackouts, including dates and which goldfish he owns (a reference to this episode’s title, of course), but things really get bad for him after he ends up in a mysterious village, at which point Steven encounters the series’ main antagonist, Arthur Harrow, played by Ethan Hawke.
In Marvel Comics lore, Harrow is a short-lived character that served as a mad scientist, one of many in the Marvel Universe. In the MCU however, Harrow seems to be far more influential and dangerous, as he appears to be a cult leader for the Egyptian goddess, Ammit, complete with the ability to assess and kill those deemed unworthy by the goddess’ judgment. Somehow, Marc stole a precious scarab-like treasure from Harrow, and Harrow wants it back, seemingly unaware that Marc is a personality buried within Steven. This is a standout way to create some real horror for Moon Knight, because Steven is so confused and pathetic that he seems perpetually overwhelmed by the circumstances that Marc continually creates for him. It’s definitely terrifying, but also weirdly humourous at the same time, creating an ambitious mix of tones that quickly helps Moon Knight stand apart from the glut of MCU content that we have already.
That said however, while the tonal shifts are executed surprisingly well between scenes, it’s also true that Moon Knight’s pacing can be a bit all over the map in its first episode, even though some of this feels intentional. The charm of Steven’s obliviousness doesn’t hold up in some scenes, particularly when the narrative starts going in circles regarding Steven losing time, and waking up to more weird mysteries created by Marc. Likewise, it’s a little frustrating that we don’t really get to see Moon Knight properly unleashed in the action scenes yet. Instead, Steven simply blacks out and wakes up with all of his opponents having already been killed off-screen by Marc, which is a novel way to tease a character, but one that does lead to some annoyance, since we’ll have to wait at least one more week to see this anti-hero in all his glory. In fairness though, binge-watchers that are waiting to watch all six episodes of Moon Knight at once, after the entire miniseries has become available to stream in May, won’t have to suffer this issue as much.
I must also give credit where it’s due; The final reveal of the MCU’s Moon Knight design is pretty damn fantastic. After Harrow finally corners Steven within his own museum, sending some sort of ancient Egyptian beast after him, Steven is eventually contacted by Marc in the bathroom. Demanding that Steven surrender control, Marc eventually coerces Steven into letting him in, at which point the monster is heard being knocked around the bathroom, before struggling to escape, only to be put down by a cloaked figure in the end. This episode then concludes with the figure turning around and being revealed as Moon Knight, now fully unleashed after Steven finally found a way to unify with Marc. Like I said, it’s a little frustrating that the only Moon Knight footage in this Moon Knight miniseries is currently restricted to a few precious seconds at the very end of this episode, but man was this a cool way to introduce this character to the MCU just the same!
I imagine that quite a few viewers won’t know what to make of Moon Knight right away, what with its gaslighting presentation, and liberally violent displays that could nonetheless be currently described as ‘action denial’. For those craving another unique new flavour to add to the MCU’s unpredictable selections of content however, Moon Knight is a shady shot to the brain that you can’t help but be intrigued by. Isaac and Hawke in particular both bring some compellingly bizarre new personalities to the MCU here, both boldly disconnected from Marvel’s larger live-action world at this point, with only passing reminders of the Global Repatriation Council to illustrate that the Blip has already occurred during the time of Moon Knight’s events, thus placing this miniseries somewhere within the rest of Marvel Studios’ Phase Four timeline. The best moments in this miniseries are clearly yet to come, but as a tease for a darker, edgier side to the MCU starting to creep out, Moon Knight remains a pretty cool way to kick off Marvel Studios’ latest offerings for 2022.