What’s new, everyone? Moon Knight, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe series to stream on Disney+ in 2022, has finally aired all six of its episodes after having premiered on March 30th. Inspired by the 2016 Moon Knight comic run written by Jeff Lemire and illustrated by Greg Smallwood, it starts off by revolving around mild-mannered Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac), who works as a gift shop vendor in a British Egyptology museum and seemingly struggles with sleepwalking—at least, that’s the impression we get from, among other things, the cuff he uses to tether his ankle to his bed every night. However, his life becomes infinitely more complicated upon realizing he has dissociative identity disorder (DID) and the times when he’s been blacking out have actually been him living a completely separate life as the American ex-military mercenary Marc Spector. But that’s not all. Nope, Marc is also the human embodiment of the Egyptian moon god Khonshu (F. Murray Abraham), who has bestowed Marc with the ability to transform into the white-robed, metal crescent-wielding, criminal-killing vigilante Moon Knight.
Helmed by creator and head writer Jeremy Slater (The Umbrella Academy) and director Mohamed Diab (Cairo 678), Moon Knight is the MCU’s top-notch attempt at weaving the taut tension and disorienting twists of a psychological thriller with the nuanced pathos of a mental illness-centered narrative. Right from the first episode, it throws you for a loop as Steven repeatedly loses track of time, finds himself in odd places, and realizes he’s apparently taken ruthless approaches to eliminate potentially nefarious pursuers. It isn’t as if the entire opening is packed with suspense. It drops bits of humor here and there, which I know some viewers felt clashed with the show’s tone, but I found the dry comedy—which includes some excellent line readings from Abraham as Khonshu—to be a natural fit for the scenes where it popped up.
Besides, it isn’t as if the whole series is littered with wry gags. Sure, there are some more of them as it progresses, but they’re sparse, particularly as the thriller vibe intensifies with each episode. There’s even a sequence in a storage facility that leans into horror territory thanks to the apprehension-building cinematography, the claustrophobic corridors, the well-executed employment of those motion-detecting lights that are always in storage sheds and have creeped me out in the past, and the bone-chilling character design of an otherworldly entity that prowls through the setting.
Moon Knight shows off what it can truly accomplish once it dives into Steven and Marc’s heads. Now, I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who isn’t a mental health specialist and hasn’t personally dealt with mental illness, so I apologize in advance for any uninformed opinions I may express here. When the show starts, the constant skewing of what Marc and Steven perceive to be reality turns their lives into a terrifying ordeal, one where each alter feels like his body doesn’t fully belong to him, where he has to be perpetually concerned about the other alter taking control at any moment. Having to tolerate Khonshu, a god who has his own dubious agenda, is no minor challenge, too.
As the series develops, digging deeper into the conflict of autonomy between Steven and Marc and the secrets that they’re harboring, it morphs into a story that’s grounded on the thematic foundation of trauma and how it molds you as a person; the importance of accepting and loving people for who they are, whether they’re in your life or they’re a part of you; and the power of free will. Heavy concepts, am I right? On top of treating them with the nuance that they require, Moon Knight uses Marc and Steven’s DID as a way to navigate what it’s like for people who contend with mental illness in real life, who typically endure the feeling that something is off-kilter in their lives and may or may not have been abused in the past. Judging from what I’ve seen people with DID say online, it looks like they’ve connected with the show and it’s helped them feel seen. I wouldn’t have expected an MCU series to achieve this, even after WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Solder’s commentary on grief and racism, respectively. That being said, Diab himself did tell Variety in March 2022, “But I still would say that, as respectful as we were, this is not an accurate depiction of DID. We are in a supernatural world and sometimes we over-dramatize stuff.” Sure, I get that, but I still found Moon Knight’s handling of DID to be much better than the icky ableism of James McAvoy’s character in Split and Glass.
All of what I’ve just laid out is further bolstered by Isaac’s outstanding dual performance. He devotes a massive amount of energy to shaping both the guileless, kind Steven and the solemn, gritty Marc into distinct characters who are easily recognizable via the differences in their voices, facial expressions, and bodily movements. It’s stunning that the same actor is playing the two of them. Then again, we’re talking about Isaac, who has already proven his talent in projects like Ex Machina and Star Wars. Let’s see if Moon Knight can win him an Emmy.
Having given a bit of praise to Abraham earlier for his vocal performance as Khonshu, I’ll reiterate it again to ensure that I make it clear how much I appreciate the godly intimidation Abraham exudes through his voice and the sliver of sardonic humor he slips in when Khonshu’s dialogue calls for it. May Calamawy is splendid as Layla, an archeologist who’s part of Marc’s life and gets to be a badass in her own right instead of being sidelined as a female character with no agency. Ethan Hawke gives a solid turn as Arthur Harrow, a cult leader whom Hawke modeled after David Koresh. I only wish Harrow had been given stronger writing. He has enough villain meat to play with as a charismatic figure who wants to use the power of Ammit, the Egyptian goddess of the Underworld, to eliminate anyone who’s either committed evil in the past or will commit evil in the future—a Minority Report-esque detail that significantly contrasts with Khonshu’s code of only punishing people after, not before, they carry out any transgressions. I like how Harrow’s scheme correlates with the show’s theme of free will, and there’s a scene of his in the finale that made me more invested in his character. But he’s written like a conventional bad guy most of the time. It’s too bad, since he could have been as fleshed-out as Wenwu from Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings or Killmonger from Black Panther.
Additional credit goes to the series for its Egyptian representation. It features Diab as the MCU’s first Arab director; its cast is filled with Egyptian actors, including Calamawy, who is Egyptian-Palestinian (Layla wasn’t even written as Egyptian in the comics originally); and its score by Hesham Nazih is the first one in the MCU to have been created by an Egyptian composer. However, a pandering moment in the finale does come off as Disney begging for acknowledgement of its rep. I won’t spoil what it is, but it really does irk me, particularly since it reminds me of the A-Force scene in Avengers: Endgame and Disney’s penchant for crowing about its range of first gay characters. Of course, this doesn’t prevent me from being able to enjoy the inclusion, especially since it’s immensely better than all that Islamophobia in Wonder Woman 1984 (a movie that Diab himself criticized for its stereotypical depiction of Cairo). I simply wish Disney would let it speak for itself rather than use it as an opportunity to blatantly pat itself on the back.
The Disney+ MCU shows have a reputation for messing it up with their finales, so there was plenty of speculation ahead of the Moon Knight finale as to how it would conclude the story. Personally, I think it did a pretty damn good job at wrapping up mostly everything in a satisfying manner, although a few of its moments do feel rushed. I actually wouldn’t have minded the series lasting for seven or eight episodes instead of just six in order to give certain plot points a chance to breathe. As for the post-credit scene, it didn’t blow me away, but it’s still effective and raises my hopes for the return of Marc and Steven. It’s up in the air as of this writing, considering Isaac revealed there aren’t any plans for Season 2 currently. He isn’t even contractually obligated to reprise this role. He spoke about this in a Variety profile that had been released right around the premiere of Moon Knight, where he expressed opposition to being trapped in anything and called such a contract “golden handcuffs.” Not only has he already dealt with his fair share of big-budget franchises in the form of Star Wars, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Dune, but he’s also been clear about not wanting to play cocky X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron again unless it’s necessary to do so. Nothing made his stance more obvious than the 2020 Deadline interview in which he was asked if his preference for working on indie movies over big-budget projects minimized the possibility of him playing Poe again, his answer being, “Um, probably. But, you know, who knows? If I need another house or something.” In short, I can sympathize with Isaac’s desire to avoid getting locked into the Marvel Studios machine for now.
Then there was all that hubbub over Disney releasing the finale trailer that was advertised as the “series finale,” which they subsequently changed to “season finale.” Did they edit the wording to keep the door open for a second season? And then there’s the news from Sarah Goher, a consulting producer for Moon Knightand Diab’s wife, who strongly insinuated to CBR that this isn’t the last we’ll see of the god-tethered vigilante. And this can’t be, really. There’s tons of potential with exploring Marc and Steven’s stories more deeply. If they come back as the stars of Season 2, the leads of a Moon Knight movie, or the side characters in any MCU properties, I’ll be pumped to see them.
My personal episode ranking:
- Episode 5, “Asylum”—directed by Diab, written by Rebecca Kirsch and Matthew Orton
- Episode 4, “The Tomb”—directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, written by Alex Meenehan and Peter Cameron & Sabir Pirzada
- Episode 1, “The Goldfish Problem”—directed by Diab, written by Slater
- Episode 6, “Gods and Monsters”—directed by Diab, teleplay by Slater and Cameron & Pirzada, story by Danielle Iman & Slater
- Episode 2, “Summon the Suit”—directed by Benson & Moorhead, written by Michael Kastelein
- Episode 3, “The Friendly Type”—directed by Diab, written by Beau DeMayo and Cameron & Pirzada
How am I ranking Moon Knight against the previous shows? Well, WandaVision is holding onto the #1 spot, but Moon Knight is now filling the #2 spot right beneath it, bumping Loki to #3. Hawkeye, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and What If…? remain #4, #5, and #6, respectively. I loved Loki for multiple reasons, including its riveting portrayal of the eponymous lead and its multiversal science-fiction, and I continue to love it. But what Moon Knight did with infusing a psychological thriller bent and a focus on mental health into its origin story has clicked with me on a specific and emotional level that most of the other shows haven’t, which is why I’m ranking it as my second-favorite Disney+ MCU series. Again, we need more Moon Knight, more Marc, more Steven, more everything.
Until next time, stay healthy and stay strong!
Windup score: 90/100