Moon Knight Is Disney+ Going Through A Phase

Before we get to the Moon Knight meat, I implore you not to give up the fight to get Legends Of Tomorrow a proper conclusion in the face of premature cancellation. I just sent a three page email to HBO Max, Warner Bros. TV, & Netflix in an effort to save the Beeboverse’s best show. Let’s screw things up for the better!

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Where’s Moon Knight’s bread? He should eat only croissants! Hopefully Moon Knight works out better than the last time Oscar Isaac played an Egyptian-flavored Marvel character that’s space slut adjacent. This is the first of the D+ series not to headline a pre-existing MCU character. Ms. Marvel & She-Hulk will follow his lead. So get your psyche straight for SPOILERS! Bill Sienkiewicz’s cover for Empire is better than the photo variant. Check out his awesome nine panel action grid!

Unless you recall the Ultimate Spider-Man episode where he fought Mysterio’s daughter on Christmas, you may know Moon Knight best from memes. (So this is where the edits come from.) He doesn’t need contingency plans to defeat his fellow superheroes. They’re just a bunch of nerds! Moon Knight escaping a death trap thanks to Schlitz, however, is 100% real!

Moon Knight is Marvel’s Batman expy who’s not Nighthawk. He would later influence DC’s Azrael. Moon Knight comics have more retcons than than The Moon has phases. In the comics, his Moon Knight regalia is just a costume he puts on. He was originally given it by The Commission to battle Jack Russell, but it was retconned into something Spector made to honor the God that saved his life. Spector’s Steven Grant & Jake Lockley identities were just acts he put on to move in different social strata like The Shadow. Later on they were portrayed as actual split personalities. It was the “Is Bruce Wayne or Batman the real identity?” debate taken to the extreme. (The less said about the Bendis era when MK suddenly had Captain America, Wolverine, & Spider-Man alters, the better.) Then it was unclear whether Spector always had dissociative identity disorder or whether it was a result of Khonshu tampering with his mind.

The premiere was good but it didn’t have the surreal intrigue of Legion. The CGI was jankier than expected. I like Hesham Nazih’s score at the end of the credits (that Disney+ keeps shrinking to advertise Eternals) but not the pop music selected during the pilot. The lunar phases change with each episode. The six episodes are directed by Mohamed Diab & the duo of Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead.

We first meet the eponymous lunar avatar as Steven Grant, who has the least authentic English accent since Dick Van Dyke. This is a clue that he’s not the original personality. He feels closer to the blue collar Jake Lockley persona than the millionaire playboy persona of the comics. This British Museum gift shop employee is Oscar Isaac posing as a schlub, which means he’s still more debonair than me at my best. Getting heartbroken by phone was very relatable though. Grant not needing any flatmates in Brixton on his salary should’ve been a dead giveaway that he has a secret cache of cash stashed. Khonshu calls him an idiot, which is appropriate since his self preservation skills in the face of danger are dubious. His confusion about media Avatars was droll. When he says “Later, gators,” it’s a reference to Sobek.

Moon Knight has the prefect ingredients for psychological & supernatural horror. Unfortunately it still has the standard Marvel Studios tone. Steven’s comical dopiness prevents it from being satisfyingly dark. Even the smidge of extra blood doesn’t make it unique. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad show, but it does feel like they could’ve pushed the concept into more interesting directions.

During the pilot, Steven blacks out during conflict & wakes up to his enemies already defeated. This is a cute gag that allows them to skip brutal fight choreography. I already wish there was less of it, however, since I want to see brutal fight choreography in Moon Knight not just the aftermath. Kevin Feige oversold the amount of violence featured

Likewise the second episode is mostly Steven being a doofus in over his head while Marc & Khonshu have to bug him to let Moon Knight bail him out of jams. Netflixification means we barely see any Surf Dracula Moon Knight per episode. MK & Mr. Knight have a combined total of under ten minutes of screentime in the first five episodes. Maybe I was wrong about Hawkeye being the D+ series most like a Defenders show?

MoonKnight-OscarIsaac

“I’m sorry but the old Marc Spector can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, ’cause’s he’s Steven Grant!”

Similar to the Captain Marvel approach, the likable lead has an uphill battle getting audiences to connect with a protagonist that’s deliberately not fully rounded. Viewers are introduced to one of Moon Knight’s secondary personas who also doesn’t know what’s going on. This is a clever yet expected method for building intrigue around a protagonist with multiple personalities. His origin isn’t referenced until episode four, so audiences without knowledge of the comics may be frustrated by dragging out the mystery. Without context, it feels like they’re making stuff up as they go.

Khonshu is voiced by F. Murray Abraham. I was expecting it to be another of Isaac’s accents, but this reinforces that he’s a legitimutant God. Fans looking for ambiguity as to whether Khonshu is a delusion of Marc will be disappointed. Moon Knight’s magic powers have gotten a big upgrade making him more akin to Ghost Rider that can’t be easily handwaved away, so this choice makes sense. (It’s amusing Moon Knight is considered a street level hero in the comics when he’s empowered by a literal God.) I don’t think that whether the Egyptian Gods being real should be in doubt (especially given everything else that’s real in the MCU), just whether Marc is employed by one.

The villain is the incredibly obscure Dr. Arthur Harrow because showrunner Jeremy Slater thought Bushman would be too similar to Killmonger. (I presume Marvel Studios & Disney didn’t want any blowback from a white man in a white hood slicing off a black man’s face either.) Even the unrelated Dr. Jonas Harrow is more famous. Aside from sharing a name, this gravelly voiced antagonist is brand new. Here he’s a cult leader with a nifty animated scales tattoo that weighs the hearts of those he handshakes. His crocodile cane is keen. Since the hero is neurodivergent, Ethan Hawke decided to counterbalance by playing the villain as sane despite his masochistic messiah complex. (It could’ve been worse.) Harrow also claims to be the previous Moon Knight. How did he resign? The contrast between him & the protagonist would be stronger if Harrow didn’t believe in Egyptian magic.

This has the unfortunate side effect of making Harrow’s misconceptions about Ammit appear accurate. I’m not a fan of Ammit being vilified like how LOT did The Fates dirty. She’s just a divine liohippodile serving a critical afterlife function. She doesn’t even weigh hearts herself. She just gets fed the unworthy ones. Set & Apep were right there! If Harrow is already empowered by her even after she’d been imprisoned as an ushabti, why does he still need to free her?

Ammit is supposed to be the villainess here because she wants to consume sinners before they do evil. (This is not mythologically accurate at all.) If these people are predestined to do evil, how is Khonshu helping their victims by waiting to act until after they’ve been victimized? Khonshu procrastinating on murder is supposed to be the more moral path? Being an Avenger is stupid! Amit is a Preventer!

That bastard Moon Knight punched out a werewolf in a public loo! (Steven’s lucky the museum didn’t press charges!) After Luke Cage botched Nightshade & the Spider-Man trilogy snubbed Man-Wolf, I’m elated Moon Knight will finally bring werewolves to the MCU! Technically they’re humanoid jackals conjured by Ammit’s magic, but that’s at least in the ballpark. (Although he doesn’t appear here, Marvel Studios has plans for Werewolf By Night that preemptively foiled Kevin Smith’s cancelled cartoon. Does Jack Russell only buy green pants or does his lycanthropy turn all his pants green?) Like the grizzly that battled Archie, they’re invisible to mere mortals. Unfortunately these CGI beasties get bested as soon as Steven cedes control to Marc, so they’re not as formidable as they could be. Weirdly he has more trouble with human henchmen.

With Marc officially the latest Khonshu avatar, it begs the question of what He wants. There’s brief mentions of Konshu’s murdery vengeance against nighttime miscreants, yet the story is just in-fighting with His fellow Deities & former avatar. Who exactly is is being punished in the name of The Moon? Marc doesn’t even declare himself as The Fist Of Khonshu to evildoers.

Meghan Kasperlik’s costuming is outstanding. Possibly to distinguish him from Batman, Azrael, & Daredevil, his MCU costume is a magical girl mummy symbiote. It’s inspired by his Universe X costume. The costume upgrade helps sell that he’s divinely empowered, yet it’s not that distinctive since many live action superheroes have transforming costumes now. His wraps are bigger than nano-tech, but it feels the same. (At least they’re comfier than Lashina’s metal straps.) It being the default raiment of Khonshu’s avatar is less intriguing than something Spector decided to wear by himself.  The instant switch to Mr. Knight as he he fell onto a girder was a fun surprise though. (Fans expecting Mr. Knight to be a badass loathed it.)

In addition to giving the wearer superstrength & regeneration, the white suit generates weapons. I’ve been saying that more MCU characters should have gold accents like the comics instead of silver. Now they gave Moon Knight gold moonrangs when they should be silver! (He did have a gold phase with the West Coast Avengers, but silver is the lunar metal.) Now how’s he supposed to hurt werewolves? Sadly there’s no mention of how the avatar’s abilities wax & wane with the lunar cycle. He has a built-in excuse for his powers not to be at their best until the finale, & they didn’t exploit it?

Moon Knight’s comics are often contradictory, so it’s no surprise the MCU would radically reinvent him as they do most characters. Most of the changes aren’t for better or worse; they’re just different. (The living statue is Crawley, but Frenchie is a no-show chauffer.) Something still seems off though. The changes make him less like a Batman expy. Since the MCU didn’t have a direct Batman analogue, however, he no longer has a unique niche. I like more focus on Egypt & its mythology beyond his backstory, yet amping up his magic powers isn’t handled with enough specificity.

Isaac wasn’t necessarily wrong when he described the Moon Knight comics as “a mess.” While there’s some brilliant ones, hes also a character that’s tricky to thread the needle on. Rather than fixing the mess, this series substitutes a different mess. It rapidly cycles through psychological thriller, horror, pulpy adventure, sequel where the hero is powerless, & surrealism like it has an identity crisis. It’d be less jarring if it just picked a couple & focused on them. The ADHD shifts make it difficult to get invested in the story  its fractured protagonist. It both feels like there’s not enough episodes to do him justice & that big chunks could’ve been been ripped out to fit it into a more cohesive movie.

May Calamawy plays Marc’s estranged wife, but her character is named Layla El-Faouly not Marlene Mandrake Alraune. Was her late father Scarlet Scarab? Does she sound a bit Scottish to anyone else? In addition to being fun, Layla’s killer necklace game is on point. She boasts of repatriating antiquities that had already been stolen, although it’s noted she keeps some loot herself. This is probably not meant to deconstruct the “thief with a heart if gold” trope. It’s about ethics in tomb raiding! Layla breaks the mold by already knowing her husband is a superhero although not about his alters. (It would’ve been interesting to see her & Marc as a couple before he ghosted her.) She does a Jurassic Park homage when villains randomly appear. Not only does she possess magnetic charm, Calamawy sprints through the whole gamut of emotions in episode four. She even has great rock-climbing arms.

We start to get more Marc in the third episode. This terse mercenary without the whimsical accent is less endearing than Steven. He’s not as good at fighting as I expected. Pacifist Steven irritatingly begging Marc not to hurt anyone during battles with armed assailants must be pretty distracting. A secret Jake Lockley personality kills their opponents when both are out of commission. The alters talking to each other in reflections is neither as naturalistic as Mary Walker in Iron Fist nor as fantastical as Crazy Jane in Doom Patrol. There’s too much telling that Marc is suffering & not enough showing. Him managing to punch Steven in his own face while not in control of the body for kissing Layla like a screwball romcom really undercuts his tragedy.

The problem with making Khonshu & other Egyptian Gods as real & involved as possible is why don’t they resolve the conflict themselves? The third episode addresses this … in the worst way possible. Since The Ennead entombed Ammit centuries ago, Khonshu convenes a meeting to get them to stop Harrow from succeeding. While Khonshu has a unique design inspired by the comics, they didn’t put nearly as much effort into the other Deities. We just see their avatars, who dress in boring normal clothes. (Why do they use human avatars, unlike Asgardians?) That requires Isaac to bellow when speaking as Khonshu, which gives me Apocalypse flashbacks. Harrow counters that Khonshu should be on trial for taking advantage of a mentally ill avatar. Instead of punishing both Harrow & Khonshu, the Ennead send them off with warnings. So that was a waste a time.

Now that the late Gaspard Ulliel (His memorial in the credits was very brief.) is playing Midnight Man, the MCU has all the Hannibal Lecters except Brian Cox! Rather than being a black clad thief, Anton Mogart just buys stolen antiquities. Having barely anything in common with his counterpart isn’t a dealbreaker, but it’s still odd. Is picador/jousting training trendy in Egypt? Maybe The Matador would’ve made more sense than Midnight Man?

Layla & Marc/Steven are so terrible at bluffing their way to Mogart’s plot device papyrus that it almost immediately becomes a bizarrely intriguing horsesback battle. Harrow randomly appears here too to not contribute much since the ruse was already doomed. Thousand year old papyrus star charts are absurdly sturdy to smuggle out of a sarcophagus directly into your clothes during a fight scene. Somehow the Steven persona that’s only existed for six months reads ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics more fluently than the antiquities thief whose father was an Egyptologist.

If Marc had asked Hathor’s avatar where they teleported Harrow in from, they wouldn’t have even needed this whole sequence to find Ammit’s tomb. (Why don’t The Ennead know where they entombed Ammit?) Khonshu literally turning back the sky to find the right star alignment was trippy, but he gets turned into a statue by the Ennead. Apparently there was an app for that. Just when I thought we’d finally start getting a decent amount of both Moon Knight forms, they skip ahead to the sequel where the hero loses his superpowers! Then how does Harrow have Ammit’s powers?

Ammit’s tomb doubles as the secret tomb of Alexander The Great. Ptolemy became Pharaoh, however, by installing Alexander’s corpse in Alexandria as propaganda. How’d MCU history diverge? It also contain living mummies that aren’t N’Kantu or Mumm-Ra. Instead of getting a flashback to Moon Knight’s origin, he & Harrow just tell Layla that Marc was involved in her dad’s death.

As expected, the “big mind-bending swing” teased for the fourth episode is that everything prior was a hallucination of Marc’s fractured psyche. The “it was all a dream trope” is often infuriating because it violates the social contract by showing that the agreed upon fiction is even more fictional. Actually it isn’t, which makes it a non-twist. It doesn’t even commit to this conceit for a full episode. (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Ash Vs. The Evil Dead, & Legion did similar episodes.) The psychiatric institution is merely a psychopomp for Marc’s latest near death experience. So why even bother with it the first place? Introducing sanatorium segments since episode one would’ve given the illusion of a less obvious fake-out.

At least patient Marc watches a campy Steven Grant adventure movie & has a Moon Knight action figure. It’s a customized Walgreens exclusive, which I still haven’t been able to find at a reasonable price. If Hasbro could make more or if Big Bad Toy Store could just sell it like they did with Stepford Cuckoos, that’d be great. Jake Lockely is locked in a sarcophagus while the other two unite.

The friendly hippo Goddess is Taweret, played by Antonia Salib. (Isaac did a ditty about her kind.) I liked her design & Duat boat. Why is she doing Anubis’s job? Why wasn’t Ammit there to devour Steven after he fell off the boat? It’s been suggested she’s substituting if Anubis is imprisoned too, but I thought turning God into statues only kept them from interacting with the human world? Even if it is that thorough, Ammit is still able to empower Harrow. This requires more explanation.

We don’t see Moon Knight’s origin until the penultimate episode. Watching two personalities watch it unfold robs it of its urgency, especially since we already objectively know he’s Konshu’s avatar. Most of it focuses on Marc’s childhood trauma, which is distinct from his childhood in the comics. (Was Jewish Spector working for an Egyptian God meant to be a pre-Exodus allusion?) It’s a lot of trauma to pack in at once that it verges on parody. Although dissociative identity disorder is often linked to abuse, it feels uninspired to invent a tragic homelife to explain Marc’s condition. Wouldn’t being near death after witnessing a massacre be enough to fragment his identity without adding an dead brother & abusive mother? Waiting so late to reveal all this bogs down the momentum when it should be intensifying. This wants to be Swamp Thing’s “The Anatomy Lesson”, but it mostly confirms what we’d been told or suspected rather than showing everything we know is wrong. It commits the unpardonable crime of containing zero Layla content.

Upon unleashing Ammit, Harrow somehow vanquishes all The Ennead’s avatars instantly & offscreen. (So Osiris wasn’t in cahoots with Harrow after all.) Now Harrow can judge people at a distance without the personal handshake, but where’s his wardrobe upgrade? Layla frees Khonshu, who resurrects Marc & Steven. The duo agrees to only aid Khonshu for a limited time. Layla also agrees to temporarily become Taweret’s avatar. (It would’ve shaken things up more if she became the avatar of Ammit or Khonshu.)

Layla’s armored avatar form is spiffy! Mr. Knight & standard Moon Knight (It looks like his head bandages were based off concept art, but that’s not the hardest fix.) are getting Marvel Legends, so what about her? If she’s supposed to be Taweret’s avatar, however, why isn’t her armor hippopotamus themed? She looks more like the avatar of Isis with those wings. (Thinking about Isis makes me fret we’ll never see Tala Ashe as Zari Tarazi again!) Apparently her codename is meant to be Scarlet Scarab based on her golden gorget’s scarab, which I had trouble discerning was even red.

Ammit’s unleashed form is disappointingly just a crocodile lady. She’s doesn’t have any lion or hippo thirds. Ammit is supposed to be an amalgam of the most fearsome Nile animals. She doesn’t even get a proper tail; she has to fight Khonshu by swishing around her giant braids.

The sixth episode finally has a decent amount of costumed Moon Knight action. Switching betwixt personalities, he & El-Faouly battle Harrow & his cult through Cairo. Khonshu & Ammit have an unseen Kaiju battle behind them but their actions aren’t synched up to their avatars. (Now that The Ennead aren’t bound to their dead avatars, why didn’t they join Khonshu?) I should’ve been an easy mark for this sequence, which shows that it’s not as easy as Toho made it look. Harrow is winning until the Jake Lockley persona defeats him while Layla blinks. I can’t believe they repeated the same trick so you can’t understand how anything is accomplished! Why does Ammit lose just because Harrow’s cane is snapped?

Moon Knight & Layla combine their divine power to trap Ammit in Harrow. Aren’t the Gods already bound to their avatars? Khonshu tells Marc to execute Harrow/Ammit, but he chooses to refuse. Marc & Steven quit Khonshu. Then it abruptly jumps to Steven tied to his Brixton bed again before the credits roll. We don’t know what happens to Layla. Can she squad up with Fosthor, Valkyrie, & Sif?

We do get a stinger that reveals depowered Harrow gets institutionalized. Then the Jake persona kills him on Khonshu’s behalf. (This doesn’t seem like it ought to annihilate Ammit, especially as she’s an afterlife Goddess.) Unlike Spector & Grant, Lockley didn’t resign. I was hoping his version of the Moon Knight suit would look more like the traditional comics variety, but he doesn’t manifest one at all. He gets the right hat though, albeit sans moustache.

Marc Spector & Mary Walker need to be in a support group for superpowered mercenaries with dissociative identities. (Maybe David Haller can attend also?) The way that Jake Lockley has been handled is identical to Typhoid Mary on Iron Fist. Both are the most indomitably violent alter of a mercenary whose other two personas aren’t completely aware of. Since the Defenders era imploded before we could get an actual Typhoid Mary reveal, it’d be cool if she was ported over for the probable second season. Since most viewers hated IF’s lackluster first season so much they didn’t watch its solid sophomore series, I doubt Marvel will make an effort to bring her back. That’s a shame because Alice Eve aced that performance.

Mogart mentions Madripoor while Tarawet references Wakanda’s Ancestral Plane, which is the only connectivity to the wider MCU. (Is the Egyptian Bast the same Deity as the Wakandan Bast?) This may be a relief to those who prefer stand alone stories. Meanwhile MCU enthusiasts could easily headcanon this as happening in another universe, unless The Egyptian Pantheon wind up on Gor’s hit-list in Thor: Love & Thunder. He could do an ushabti smashing montage set to a pop song.

I wanted to enjoy Moon Knight much more than I did. By hardly showing the titular character in either costume, it doesn’t make a strong case for caring about this superhero in an increasingly crowded field. Although it’s presented in a confusing manner with awkward pacing, the actual narrative doesn’t deliver a rich enough reward. Fortunately it has the acting master class of  Isaac, Hawke, & Calamawy going for it. I wish they starred in a stronger story. If you’re looking for a trippy superhero show about recontextualizing identity in the wake of tragedy, there’s three outstanding seasons of Doom Patrol! I would’ve gladly sacrificed Moon Knight to get Legends of Tomorrow a proper conclusion.

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Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness collaboreview comes next!

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