‘Moon Knight’ Review: A new look for the MCU

This is a non-spoiler review for the first four episodes of Marvel Studios’ latest Disney Plus series Moon Knight. Check out our CineGeek meter rating for Moon Knight below.

After watching the first 4 episodes of the series, I can say confidently that this is among the best projects Marvel has ever put out, certainly from the past three years.. The series marks Marvel’s first step into the dark side as they brilliantly venture into issues of mental health, violence, brutality, and horror. The series feels totally disconnected to the greater MCU, which may be a concern or a negative for some fans but works perfectly in service of Moon Knight. Being self-contained allows the show to focus on developing the main characters in a way no MCU series has been able to before it.

The series provides us with a totally unique iteration of the character, differing from any of the previous comic book iterations. The themes of the story are heavily inspired by Jeff Lemire’s game-changing run, where he put the emphasis on portraying Marc Spector’s DID first and foremost. Lemire truly changed how mental illness was addressed in comics, putting Marc Spector’s Dissociative Identity Disorder first and foremost by focusing  the story on Marc dealing with this broken mind more than anything else. The show seeks to combine the mental health aspects of Lemire’s Moon Knight with the classic crime-fighting Moon Knight.

The show follows Steven Grant, a gift shop employee at a museum who is trying to navigate his way through a normal life in London. Hthinks he’s dealing with a sleeping disorder, when in reality his other personality Marc Spector takes control whenever he sleeps. Marc is a mercenary who is working for the Egyptian god of the Moon, Khonshu. Marc takes up the mantle of Moon Knight to prevent the main villain of the series, Arthur Harrow (portrayed by Ethan Hawke) from unleashing an Egyptian boogeyman, the demon goddess Ammit. From just the very first moments of the series, you know you’re in for something special, as it starts off from a direction no other MCU series has done before. The very first scene of the series feels jarring and unexpected, where no line is spoken, instantly giving you the darker tone, focus andintroducing the villain of the series. The direction, acting, and cinematography of the series are also in great show here. This scene for me was Moon Knight telling me to strap in as I was in for something special.

Action? Mental Health? Religion? Mr.Knight or Moon Knight?

To answer the questions which fans have been asking over social media, Yes, the action is great, surprisingly brutal, certainly the most violent and bloody from any previous Marvel Studios project. Yes, Moon Knight’s mental health is given great importance, being a central part of the show, I dive into how Marc/Steven’s DID is portrayed later on. Yes, in the first four episodes there are subtle nods made to his Jewish origins, including him living in a primarily Jewish are of London, the main villain of the series being a nazi-sympathizer and some smaller details. But the director of the series Mohamed Diab promises fans to wait for episode 5 and 6 to see more of Marc’s Jewish side, with his parents set to appear. As much as I love Mr.Knight, Moon Knight will always be my pick, he’s just much more of a bad ass character.

What is Moon Knight, if not craziness persevering?

Moon Knight is a dark, violent, Egyptian mythology themed, psychological thriller series. The series never feels like a superhero series, focusing instead more on the mental struggles of Steven Grant and Marc Spector with their Dissociative Identity Disorder. The series also doesn’t fall into the same problem as every other Disney Plus series. Where the previous Disney Plus series would wait till the later half to introduce the main villain, Moon Knight introduces us to Ethan Hawke’s Arthur Harrow from its very first moments. This allows the audience to be as interested and immersed in the villain’s motivations and beliefs as they are in the heroes’. May Calamawy’s Layla also has a massive role to play in the series, being a main focus from the second she’s introduced. The character is also one of the best additions to the MCU in recent times, showing great female empowerment with her amazing skills as a fighter and archaeologist.

Acting?

The acting in the series is just stellar across the board, with Oscar Isaac giving us an Emmy prospective performance, portraying both Marc Spector and Steven Grant as really quite different but also partially similar to each other. Giving the identities a great duality and making each identity instantly recognizable as different from the other. Ethan Hawke gives a truly terrifying performance in the role of Arthur Harrow, never being the bad guy, but rather being someone who thinks what he’s doing is the true path and bettering the world for others. He portrays the character in a way that feels like he’s trying to guide Marc/Steven to his ideologies, because he recognizes Marc/Steven as being mentally broken. Although you can also pick up on those sinister intentions in Hawke’s character, altogether this gives us one of the best Marvel villains to date, certainly the best on Disney+. May Calamawy also gives a great emotional performance, bringing out great depth in her character and excellently portraying her confusion and frustrations with Marc/Steven’s DID. Her personal relationship with Marc is also front and center in the series with her excellently portraying her struggle with love and also being hurt. F. Murray Abraham’s Khonshu lays out the main lore of the series and provides an enjoyable and humorous dynamic to Khonshu and Steven/Marc’s relationship, as he tries to prevent Arthur Harrow from achieving his goals, however, he cannot directly interfere as he needs Marc/Steven to follow his instructions, so a great humorous and frustrated dynamic is created between the two.

Are we even in the MCU?

The Series is a definitely nothing like what we’ve been accustomed to in the MCU before. The series is dark, brutal at times, straight horror at others, and really plays off more like a psychological thriller. This truly is a stepping stone into a greater form of storytelling in the MCU. Which keeps you hooked to the series based on its own characters and events, rather than having to rely on returning characters, easter eggs or cameos. The Series also does very well to use humor in a unique way for the MCU, where it never feels forced but it rather relies on the absurd moments caused by the supernatural and the frustrations of Marc and Steven’s identity swapping. This aids the series in feeling more mature and distances itself from any past criticism on MCU projects, be it unfounded or true. The series really features no reference to the MCU other than the opening Marvel Studios logo or one mention of a specific city.

A true spectacle

Another area Moon Knight excels at is direction and cinematography, personally I felt that this was the best we’ve got in the MCU for a while now. With stunning shots and truly wonderful stylistic direction, effectively portraying the theme for each specific episode extremely well. Mohamed Diab also brings on great Egyptian representation and sets a perfect Indiana Jones vibe for his episodes, making ideas of Egyptian Mythology which an average director may portray cartoonishly, into something interesting and dark. Though even in this case it can come of as cartoonish in one or two instances, I would’ve also liked if there had been more Egyptian characters in the series. With Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead truly tapping into their horror roots for the series, making it feel gripping and messing with the audiences mind in many ways, especially in the 4th episode with terrifying sequences which could be straight out of a horror movie. The direction and writing of the series masterfully never make it clear if something is real or not, so that the audience is kept guessing if what we’re seeing is even real or just in Marc’s broken mind. Marc/Steven is portrayed as a sort of unreliable narrator, in which we don’t know if what we’re seeing from his perspective is true or if what he’s saying is true or not.

Why it just works?

What the series does especially well is balancing all these dark, psychological, Egyptian, comedic and horror tones into a single narrative. Where the series paces itself perfectly, with the cinematic feel and pacing of the series, to the point of where it could also be an excellent Full-length feature. However, the series expertly makes use of each and every one of those extra seconds. The series makes sure to retain its main focus, even with all the Egyptian gods, jackals and other enemies, on our main four characters Marc Spector, Steven Grant, Layla El-Faouly and Arthur Harrow. Marc and Steven’s relationship is the driving force of the series, with the DID being represented as something Marc and Steven have to work through, understanding each other, while the actual Moon Knight persona is more of a sort of necessary boogeyman in their minds, who they have to unleash to fight dangers but are also ethically hesitant in doing so. The series does extremely well in asking the important questions. The series also has great emotional weight, with the Layla character, being the one person who knew the old Marc Spector, who has a personal relationship with him.

Sit amongst the Egyptian Ennead

A main focus of the series is Egyptian gods, whose decisions and rulings provide us with the basic plot of the series. The series does an incredible job in including various aspects of the Egyptian mythos and its Pantheon of Gods. Whether they are present in their true form, as thoughts, as a voice in the head or their as their avatars, they are front and center in the series. Something else which is extremely amazing to see is Egyptian talent brought front and center into the series with Producer Director Mohamed Diab giving us truly amazing Egyptian representation, giving us a look at the culture, people, beauty and music of the region.

Too Supernatural?

One of my main fears for the series was that it was leaning in to heavily into the supernatural side, however, I am delighted to say that it never feels that way. I would even go on to say that the series feels much more grounded in reality than most MCU projects. The series tackles Egyptian mythology in a way in which it all feels real, the adult tone of the series allows it to feel like real life. Oscar Isaac, the directors and writers do an incredible job in making it all feel real, where none of it feels too fictional. Instead, the beautiful cinematography fills you with wonder and awe, while still feeling natural. Though the use of the vfx in the first 2 episodes can be really distracting.

Dissociative Identity Disorder

The series marks a really long way the industry has come with the representation of DID. With many Hollywood projects portraying it as either a plot-twist or some villainous presence. Moon Knight does very well in addressing those issues, still not capturing every aspect of the disorder correctly, with the DID being partially linked to supernatural elements, but truly marking a step forward in the representation of the disease. The series makes it clear that DID is something within Marc which he has developed and gives us a sense of the shattered state of mind Marc is in, to the point that Marc is now losing control of his own body. Steven is the polar opposite of Marc in some ways and The series expertly portrays the conflict between these two ideologies with an outstanding creative choice, using Mirrors. The set design is done in a way that there is always a reflective surface somewhere near Marc/Steven, so that the personality which is not dominant always exists as a reflection of the other. This works greatly in metaphorical terms, but also serves the storytelling beautifully as it allows for great conversations and arguments between the two personalities. By the end of the first four episodes you realize the duality that the series portrays with one personality never being more important than the other. Even with Marc being the mercenary and Steven only being a gift shop employee, the series makes it so that they are both equally important in their own unique way. This creates an interesting struggle in which only one personality can be the primary handler of the body at a time and only they can control when the 2 personalities swap between each other. So when the skills of the other are needed they have to surrender control to the other, but they are both unwilling since they both want to be the primary handler of the body themselves, with both having their own obligations against the other. This variation of skill also pays homage to the original Moon Knight comics where Marc didn’t have DID, instead adopting different personas for specific situations and areas.

Specific Highs

Just the way Egyptian mythology, culture and music is used in the series is extremely heartening and adds a great touch to the series. The cinematography is just brilliant with it feeling cinematic all the way through, never feeling like it’s restrained by the television format, instead it feels like an extended Feature where the series makes use of each an every second of the extended runtime. Egyptian composer Hesham Nazih‘s score is also extremely amazing, giving the series a unique identity. Perfectly, reflecting the Egyptian focus of the series and providing a mysterious tone to the series. How the series leaves you questioning everything you’ve seen is also amazing, which leaves the questioning what they’ve seen and what they will see, keeping you gripped in. Oscar Isaac’s performance deserves its own Oscar, his brilliant performance is what carries the entire story and dilemma of the series. May Calamawy is just truly amazing I can’t even emphasize how great her character is and how great she portrays her, she is bound to be a fan-favorite by the end.

Summary

To end it off as someone who had been a Moon Knight fan for ages this series is a home-run for the perfect Moon Knight series, bringing together all the various iterations of the character into one, encompassing the mental struggle with the bad-ass action and the usefulness of each of Marc’s personalities. The series also dives deeper into Egyptian mythology than most Moon Knight comics would dare to. This also allows it to encourage wonder and see in the viewer. I fell that the series is a great stepping point for the MCU into its darker side, and to follow into more mature projects. The series is also expertfully crafted in a way that it perfectly blends the dark and gritty Marvel street-level themes with the insane concepts and ideas of Egyptian mythology and Mental illness. It’s truly the craziness of the Moon Knight comics, come to life. The series can also be just downright terrifying at times, truly leaning into its darker side, constantly gripping you to the screen. I genuinely found myself screaming and jumping back at times, also greatly genre bending, merging adventure hero themes, with psychological horror.

In my opinion we truly need more projects like this in the MCU, this is what the Disney Plus shows should’ve been, allowing Marvel to deep dive into new concepts with all the time they need. Moon Knight delivers something special for the MCU to build on to explore even further be it in the form of more seasons, a movie or even a team-up movie in the form of a Midnight Suns team.

Stay tuned for a breakdown and Spoiler review for the first episode dropping on thecinegeek tomorrow at 1 am ET. With weekly breakdowns and spoiler reviews dropping right after the episode.

Moon Knight starts streaming Exclusively on Disney Plus March 30

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