Oscar Isaac enters The Marvel Cinematic Universe with Moon Knight, a six-part television offering, the sixth from Marvel in this fourth phase.
It tells the story of Steven Grant (Isaac) a London-based man, who works at a local museum, and who tethers himself to his bed at night, given he is well-used to waking up in different environments – even different countries – and believes these to be sleep-walking episodes. When he wakes one day in Austria, he witnesses a cult meeting led by Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke).
Realising two days have passed since he was in London, he experiences a number of blackouts and mysterious voices in his head before again waking at home. Speaking to an unknown number in his phone, he speaks to a lady called Layla (May Calamawy) who addresses him as Marc. Seeing Arthur again at the museum he learns that Harrow is a servant of the Egyptian goddess Ammit.
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Attacked that night, Marc – manifesting as Steven’s reflection – asks for control of his body, transforming into the warrior we come to know as the titular character. Learning Marc is Marc Spector, the avatar of the Egyptian God Khonshu (voice by F. Murray Abraham), eventually he finds that Ammit and Khonshu are engaged in a battle of ideologies: the former is using Arthur to purge the world of everyone who has or will commit evil, while Khonshu is using Marc/Steven to prevent his having gifted them to powers they use as Moon Knight.
It is certainly an easier concept to write down in retrospect than it was to watch over its six-week run. It takes until the final episode fully to piece together what the show is looking to achieve. We have dream sequences, and a full hospital-based section that is taking place in Steven’s head, with the wards populated by characters from the main story. Much of the time there are vague references to the gods driving the story, with the viewer sharing Steven’s confusion as to what is going on.
As storytelling goes, it is brave to be so different, but there are surely large parts of the fanbase that won’t go with this, particularly as Moon Knight’s screentime is slight. The show lacks the singular vision of the series that have come over the previous seventeen months, with three directors and a raft of producers working on the show, and the style veering wildly across the run, from mystery to psychological thriller, to comic book action, with none being settled on for long.
What the show ends up being is an Oscar Isaac acting masterclass. Much has been made of the different accents, with Marc sporting Oscar’s everyday voice, and Steven speaking in a very meek South-East England accent. There is so much more to it than this. Both characters have their own variant of the Moon Knight character, and without the perfect differences in design, body language alone would tell the viewer which character is in control.
There was a still released of Marc and Steven in the hospital setting to promote one of the mid-season episodes, where both were screaming at an unseen threat. Even with a virtually identical pair of poses it was clear from this one photo which character was portrayed in each. This is the big selling point of the show: a genuinely high-quality actor essaying endless variation in support of brave storytelling that will leave the viewer – at times – not knowing where they are.
That latter point is also its weakness. It is a story that unfolds at its own pace, and is frequently confusing, as concepts are voiced without introduction, and only really illuminated towards the end of the run. This leaves Moon Knight as a show that is more pleasurable to look back upon than it is to watch at the time. As such, it is a brave experiment, and – perhaps only with Loki and WandaVision – one of the few projects in this phase that suggest there is still creative juice in this studio’s work. Phase four is a mess, but this is one of the more interesting parts of it.
Moon Knight is now streaming on Disney Plus.