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TV Review: Moon Knight S1E1

Moon Knight

It’s not unfair to say that as good as the Marvel movies and TV series are, they’re all very much governed by a formula that makes them come off as predictable. Well, predictable up to a point. I can’t in good conscience say they’re merely copy and paste versions of the same story, but there are commonalities. The hero, or heroes, find themselves conflicted with the roles they’ve either played before or are going to play, they’re put on a path that confronts them with a villain that will eventually help them recalibrate their identities, and then they accept and embrace their hero status.

Disney+’s Moon Knight goes for different, at least as far as the first episode is concerned. It comes off as a kind of companion to WandaVision in terms of concept, being that it approaches the idea of fragile realities in an intimate manner. Magic, horror, and psychology take precedence over action and political intrigue. Whether it’ll sustain this or not remains to be seen, but it at least results in a very refreshing first episode.

Moon Knight follows Steven Grant (played by Oscar Isaac), a museum shop clerk that suffers from intense and violent dreams, blackouts, and an invading personality that the comics the series is based on have often treated as a kind of supernatural dissociative identity disorder (DID for short). Steven starts to get haunted by a booming and authoritative voice (supplied by the great F. Murray Abraham) that will reveal itself to be the entity that endows him with the power to become Moon Knight.

Moon Knight

Ethan Hawke plays Arthur Harrow, a cult leader-like figure that is looking to harness the entity that has taken over Steven Grant. He gets to see the very British Steven become the very violent mercenary Marc Spector. It all leads up to Steven becoming Moon Knight to fight off the villain while trying to untangle his multiple personalities.

Isaac and Hawke on their own justify the watch. Isaac in particular plays a very emotionally convincing man that’s being tormented by his mind and how it disrupts his notions of reality and identity. It makes the Steven Grant character instantly likeable and relatable, not unlike Dan Stevens’ character in Fox’s own comic book series Legion (named after the titular character).

In Legion, the main character sees his powers in heavy contrast to schizophrenia, a condition that in Legion’s case blurs the lines between metahuman abilities and psychiatric symptoms. It remains to be seen how the DID aspects of Moon Knight’s character unspool, but so far it’s presented as key story element that builds the character sensibly.

Hawke complements Isaac by approaching his character as a kind of twisted spiritual guide that disarms people through words first and violence second. It makes for a very menacing display of villainy, one I’m eager to see develop as the show progresses.

Moon Knight

The first episode’s director, Mohamed Diab, also shines, especially in how inventive his approach is to the show’s action sequences. Initially, we’re presented with a Steven that epitomizes defenselessness in the face of insurmountable odds. When put in a life-threating situation, though, Steven blacks out and reawakens instantly to see he has solved the situation he was in with a lot of spilt blood as evidence of his handiwork.

The fight sequence itself isn’t shown. Instead, Diab goes clever editing and quick cuts to make these segments play out like fractured instances of violence that demand viewers fill in the blanks the blackouts leave behind. It builds Steven’s character while in the middle of the action, especially in the bits not shown, and it’s something I hope the series explores more.

If the first episode of the series is any indication, Moon Knight has a lot left to impress us with. The performances elevate the material to impressive heights and make the wait for the following episode that much harder. This series might be the one to break with the MCU TV formula and come up with something different, if only just a bit.

Zeismic