Moon Knight has been one of my most anticipated Marvel series since it was announced at the D23 Expo in 2019, and that was well before it was announced that Oscar Isaac would be taking on the titular role. Personally, my excitement stemmed from Moon Knight’s characterization; he has a darker, more violent temperament than most others in the MCU. Of course, that was well before the TV-MA-rated Netflix shows, like Daredevil and Punisher, made their way over to the Disney streaming service. The 2019 announcement of Moon Knight occurred even prior to the release of Wandavision, which revealed the emerging Marvel-Disney+ template.
Keep in mind, I’m not a Moon Knight fan; I’ve never read any of the comics that the titular character is featured in. I just know the gist of who he is and what he does: a superhero with dissociative identity disorder, jumping between multiple personas, who inhabits the darker and more mystical side of the Marvel Universe.
With all this potential for something dark, fresh and mature in the MCU, Moon Knight seems to be squandering it a bit in its premiere episode.
The series, as of now, follows Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac), a museum worker suffering from severe sleepwalking issues, extreme nightmares and social ineptitude. One of his nightmares soon feels a bit too real and Steven awakes to a cult led by Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) out to get him, a strange voice in his head and unexplainable differences in his home.
Moon Knight has all the pieces of the puzzle together to make a successful series: the always fantastic Oscar Isaac in the leading role, Ethan Hawke portraying a threatening and villainous character, a mysterious, continuously unraveling plot, a darker tone than most other MCU projects and a seeming complete disconnect from the rest of the cinematic universe it inhabits. Yet, it just isn’t coming together for me. I can’t fully put my finger on why, but something just isn’t clicking.
It definitely isn’t the actors or the direction, both of which are top-notch relative to other Marvel projects. It isn’t the cinematography, which is a lot more dynamic and interesting than most other Marvel projects. It isn’t even the score, which is way better than most of the other Disney+ shows. I think, ironically, the series has an identity crisis to correct going forward.
This crisis stems mostly from the series’ script, written by Jeremy Slater. The script isn’t even bad, which is the most confusing part of this whole crisis I’m having about why I haven’t bought into this show. The dialogue, plot progression and pacing are all great; the show is never boring and is always moving forward. The series’ premiere even ends in the best way it possibly could. The inconsistent tone is what’s really sinking the ship for me, as of now.
The amount of jokes is minimal, but the ones that are there work pretty well, for the most part. The problem is that the series can go from Steven being covered in blood and disturbed at the thought of having no control over his previous actions to a long car chase set to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham! where he’s driving a pink cupcake delivery van. There’s a massive tonal disconnect there, no matter how surreal the series is trying to present it as.
Going for a dark and gritty tone is what sold me and many others on this series, but lightening it with unnecessary, forced tonal shifts breaks what the series was supposed to be going for. This, to me, screams Disney interference. Maybe they were scared of Marvel going too far in any potential darkness or violence, which might be somewhat warranted considering this episode has the most blood of any MCU project to date. Regardless, it seems that Disney put mass appeal, brand consistency and the ability for children to watch this series and then beg their parents to buy licensed Moon Knight toys above a consistent and sensical tone.
There’s another issue with the premiere as well, which I hope won’t carry over to the rest of the series, that being its terrible visual effects. That car chase I mentioned above looks absolutely terrible. The cars look fake, the road looks fake, the people (aside from Oscar Isaac) look fake and other obstacles that get in the way are in line with the overall lackluster look of the chase.
Strangely, not all the effects are bad. There are two creatures featured heavily in the episode that look great for a TV show. This is probably due to them being mostly hidden in low light, a technique they probably should’ve used during the car chase. I’ve made my peace with the fact that these Disney+ series aren’t going to have visual effects on par with the theatrical MCU films, but the effects in Moon Knight’s premiere are easily the worst out of any of the Marvel shows that have been released in the last year and change.
Despite all of the show’s negative attributes, I don’t think Moon Knight is inherently bad, it has just not found its footing yet. Moon Knight is currently a show that's just merely okay, and definitely not a waste of the audience’s time. Reactions from those able to see up to episode four have said that it doesn’t get in the groove until its second or third week, so settling in for a fast-paced slow burn should be expected. I do think that the premiere’s ending is genuinely fantastic though; it opens the series up to a lot of questions being answered and the titular hero being more front and center. We’ll just have to wait and see if Moon Knight can make an identity for itself sooner rather than later.