Note: The first four of six episodes were sent out for review, thus the review only covers those episodes.
Full disclosure, the Disney+ Marvel shows turned me off with the finale of “WandaVision” back in early 2021. All of this great buildup went to waste like a WWE wrestler being built up to turn out to be a flop, a la Drew McIntyre the first time around. And no, the finale of “WandaVision” was not disappointing because Al Pacino didn’t show up as Mephisto — though that would have been preferred. The finale just felt like it threw away all of the tension and mystique by having Agatha and Wanda face off in a CGI fest that was more generic than the ending of “Shang-Chi.”
Enter “Moon Knight,” the MCU series that brought hope back to this MCU skeptic because of Oscar Isaac — who is like the modern-day Al Pacino — and Ethan Hawke — one of Hollywood’s best actors. “Moon Knight” doesn’t do much to really break the mold of the dreaded MCU template, and while Isaac and Hawke do their best to elevate the series, the series loses its steam and feels dragged out. I know that series like “The Mandalorian” work with the long-form series format, and maybe the other MCU series do as well, but “Moon Knight” feels better served as a two-hour film rather than a six-hour series. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy “Moon Knight,” I actually enjoyed myself watching all four of the episodes, I just feel indifferent after watching it. It wasn’t really ambitious, nor was it unique enough to stand out.
Oscar Isaac does Jefferson Mays in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” (to a lesser degree) and plays a few different roles due to Marc’s disassociative identity disorder. There’s the badass mercenary, Marc Spector, and the impotent museum merchandise seller, Steven Grant. On top of that, there are times when Khonshu (F. Murray Abraham) uses Isaac’s body as a conduit to speak to the higher gods. Some of the best bits in the series revolve around Isaac switching from Steven’s Cockney British accent to Marc’s American accent. While some scenes likely featured cuts in between to allow Isaac time to switch, there are a few occasions where he has to switch back and forth in a matter of seconds — including a conversation resembling the Billy Loomis and Sam conversation in “Scream” (2022) — and Isaac does so seamlessly. Isaac is one of the best actors working today, so it’s no surprise that he is the best reason to watch “Moon Knight.”
The multiple personalities screw over Marc on more than one occasion; think Jason Bourne. He blacks out whenever the body is given up; resulting in bloodshed that the other — usually Steven — does not recall. He has a wife, Layla (May Calamawy), that takes him a while to come back around to. But there are also secrets that Arthur Harrow — more on him in a moment — has and holds over Layla. And with that come other burdens such as Steven seeming like a psychopath. It’s a true “boy who cried wolf” situation, especially when Steven attempts to show the museum security a video from the night he was attacked or responds to Khonshu in his head (who sounds an awful lot like the Venom voice).
Opposite Marc/Steven for much of the series is Arthur Harrow, played by Ethan Hawke. If you’ve seen Hawke’s recent performance in “Zeros and Ones” you could compare Hawke’s performance in “Moon Knight” to the brother that is a religious martyr (he plays twins). If you haven’t seen “Zeros and Ones,” which wouldn’t be all that surprising, Hawke plays a God-like figure who is here to “heal the world.” He goes around giving people his God’s judgment of them via his cane. His signature “kiss of death” is when he tells people, “I wish you could live to see the world we make.” While Hawke is certainly weird in his performance, I wouldn’t go as far as to call this his most terrifying one yet. The series does open with a scene where he crushes glass and places it at the bottom of his sandals, a nice callback to “First Reformed.”
Make all of the jokes you want about Hawke’s previous comments about Marvel before joining them, he is committed in “Moon Knight.” It’s one of the weirdest performances in an MCU project, and Hawke can be applauded. That being said, he doesn’t do a whole lot aside from standing around with his cane, at least in the first four episodes. Hopefully, there is more to come with his character other than being a creepy religious figure.
And for as different settings as “Moon Knight” has —they globetrot from London to Egypt — it’s still much of the same Marvel formula in a different setting. The difference is, “Moon Knight” has almost six hours to tell its story meaning that it can really take its time to build up its character. I don’t know if this is a series that will get a second season — or if it warrants that — but there’s a lack of the titular character that is frustrating. Origin stories in comic book/tentpole movies feel like they’re at an all-time high, but no one likes those endings where the hero finally gets its signature costume (I’m not bitter about “G.I. Joe Origins: Snake Eyes,” you are!).
Marvel fans will likely love “Moon Knight” because it’s a different shade of color from the same palette. It’s perfectly fine, but those wanting something ambitious and truly unique will be left disappointed. The acting is top-tier, especially for an MCU project, but that’s almost a given when considering the top-billed stars. After each one of these MCU shows, it’s likely fair to ask: “Why break what isn’t broken?” well, there’s a reason that “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” couldn’t hold my attention for more than the first 10 minutes; it feels like an MCU movie on a smaller screen. Even the action feels very constrained and is nothing to write home about. MCU movies can be fun but what happened to the spectacle? Moon Knight is a cool enough character that a film would’ve been able to take the Cliffnotes — which are far stronger than the big picture of “Moon Knight” — and make a really fun, globetrotting adventure. Instead, this is another example of Marvel trying to prove themselves while not thinking outside the box (or mummy tomb in this case).
“Moon Knight” will premiere on Disney+ on March 30 and release episodes weekly.