Now with their 6th series streaming on Disney Plus, Marvel’s phase 4 has found a way to simultaneously continue the story post Infinity saga at an astounding assembly line like pace while introducing new characters / placing more emphasis on supporting, fan favorite roles propelling them to the forefront now that the original 6 heavy hitters are either dead, old, or retired. With no signs of remotely slowing down after the gas pedal has been floored the prior 13 years, along with the studio and Kevin Feige recently confirming that the next 10 years are being mapped out, there is no end in sight, especially with the floodgates about to be opened with the introduction of mutants and the Fantastic Four making their grand return.
Fans of the MCU can sleep well knowing the culminative universe is about to get even bigger in scope.
Following in the footsteps of new characters in phase 4 including Shang-Chi, and the Eternals, on top of the replacements for Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye, the newest character on deck is Moon Knight. Announced years prior along with the rest of Phase 4, Moon Knight is a character that will be unfamiliar to the casual viewer while the die-hard comic readers will have their blood pumping for whats about to make a debut to the masses. But leave it to Kevin Feige who also made Iron Man, a D-level hero relevant in 2008 to shepherd in this new phase of unknowns.
At the forefront of Moon Knight, when we first meet the titular hero, is Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac), an English gift shop employee of a museum who straps his leg in at night to the frame of his bed, pours sand around the bed to check for footprints and tapes up his door all while keeping himself awake with a Rubik’s cube so that the blackouts don’t come, and Steven doesn’t lose track of time. Within all of this preparation, neurosis still comes for Steven who blacks out and his other personality takes over named Marc Spector, a mercenary who is also the avatar for the Egyptian moon God Khonshu (voiced by F. Murray Abraham, portrayed by Karim El Hakim).
Steven will blackout and lose track of days at a time as he suffers from dissociative identity disorder. When Marc takes over as host, Steven has no recollection – even ending up in a different country surrounded by cult members all following Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) looking to release the Goddess Ammit and punish those for future crimes before they are committed.
Without Oscar Isaac fully in control of both Marc and Steven, Moon Knight wouldn’t be as polarizing. Effortless in his ability to switch between the two personalities, Isaac is hypnotizing in the lead role. Whether it’s his childlike hopeful innocence as Steven Grant or the more grounded realistic Marc, Isaac stands out among a talented ensemble that includes Ethan Hawke. After helplessly watching Steven experience emotional turmoil, you can’t help but want to hug him and tell him it’s not his fault. Opposite Isaac is Hawke who will send chills down the spine the moment he’s introduced. The opening frames alone as Harrow prepares his penance for future crimes will make anyone’s skin crawl and teeth chatter. The type of scene you want to look away from but can’t.
Well after Moon Knight ends the term “Later’s Gator’s” will be stuck to the subconscious as an ear worm for years to come. Spoken in the same accent as Steven. Maybe the face of Alligator Loki will pop up, too.
Like the series that came before, excluding Wandavision and What If…, Moon Knight is merely 6 episodes long for its season and better yet, introduction to the character that majority didn’t know existed before 2022. A length that has proven to be cumbersome as there is a lot of ground to cover with different iterations of the character in such a short amount of time. 6 episodes is not cutting it with these series. Between 44-53 minutes long with at least 5 minutes or more for credits, why Marvel Studios is continuing to think this experiment is working is beyond reason. Maybe its budgetary or maybe the executives know best, but the story suffers as a result of it.
Whatever is introduced in the expository episodes does not get addressed and wrapped up in a bow by episode 6. Beyond episode 1, 2 and 5, the other half are a complete blur featuring forgettable subplots, poorly constructed CGI kaiju fights, an out of place trial, and Indiana Jones like treasure hunts. Maybe the cracks under pressure are finally starting to show – phase 4 consists of 25 total projects spanning theatrical releases and streaming series in a two-year timeframe. Partly to blame on the pandemic that shut the industry down for quite a while, the MCU has a lot of ground to cover in such a condensed amount of time. Certainly, ambitious in its undertaking, the level of care that the MCU is known for from Phase 1-3 isn’t as tightly wound.
For Moon Knights sake this may be seen as a disappointment for the potential the series presents. Not a mention of the greater universe, series creator Jeremy Slater keeps the focus front and center on Marc/Steven and the conflict at hand. Thanos and the snap who? Moon Knight has no connection to the larger events of the multiverse cracking wide open thanks to He Who Remains. Boasting a darker than normal tone the MCU is used to with majority of the projects, the comic relief is here to ease the built tension that characters create. But still Moon Knight has its training wheels on – not fully transitioning to the dark side that the show can achieve now that mature content like Daredevil and the rest of the Netflix refugees are on Disney Plus.
Add to that the missed opportunity of exploring the dissociative identity disorder. Slater and team merely scratch the surface in the first half leaving much to speculation surrounding the different personalities. Once the second half of the series comes, namely episode 5, only then does the show do a deeper dive into the trauma that caused this split.
If one theme could best describe Phase 4 up to this point, its trauma and how to cope with loss. From Wandavision on, every major character has dealt with traumatic events and learning how to move forward from the past. Just another example of Isaac’s brilliance in playing Marc/Steven.
With everything going on in Moon Knight the typical romance subplot is haphazardly thrown into the mix. Shang-Chi worked so well because there was no romantic element involved. Marc is married to Layla (May Calamawy) who doesn’t have the faintest idea of Steven’s existence prior to the events. May, for what the character is given in 6 episodes, brings a ferocity and toughness that Oscar nor Ethan can achieve. Further proof that the most underrated aspect of the MCU is the casting.
Regardless of its shortcomings, inconsistencies or foundational issues holding the series back, Moon Knight is special from the performances, to the tone, to the action scenes (though very few and far in between they may be). More of a Marc and Steven series and less Moon Knight, the fear imposed in episode 1 at the very end is sorely missed in the subsequent episodes. The Egyptian mythology weaved throughout is super intriguing to explore – If only there was more of it, more of the trauma that caused Marc to disassociate from the pain and abuse he was put through as a child.
One would think a mass murder and borderline genocide would be an Avengers level threat.
Created By: Jeremy Slater
Episodes Directed By: Mohamed Diab, Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson
Music By: Hesham Nazih
Cinematography: Gregory Middleton & Andrew Droz Palermo
Starring: Oscar Isaac, May Calamawy, Karim El Hakim, F. Murray Abraham, Ethan Hawke
Where to Watch: Disney Plus
Release Date: March 30, 2022
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Based On: Moon Knight by Doug Moench & Don Perlin