This article contains spoilers for Marvel’s Moon Knight.
Moon Knight Episode 1
Moon Knight is Marvel Studios’ biggest gamble yet on Disney+. Yes, it’s the first one of these pricey series to be led by a character completely new to the MCU, but that character is also a complex and often downright impenetrable one, beloved by his Marvel Comics fans and occasionally mocked by those who consider him to be Marvel’s much less cool version of Batman.
Well, we get precisely zero Batman vibes in this first episode of the new Disney+ show, where we meet the painfully uncool Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac in his element), a timid British museum gift shop employee who thinks he has a sleep disorder. Steven ties himself to his bed every night and seals the door so he can check that he hasn’t been wandering the streets of London during his slumber. He’s still exhausted, though, and regularly gets into hot water at work for being late and having ideas above his station.
Steven is passionate about ancient Egypt, and seems to be by all accounts a lovely man on the verge of starting a romance with a beautiful co-worker who he doesn’t even remember asking out. At one point, Steven voices his concerns aloud: “If I’m going to have a girlfriend at some point, obviously I can’t have ankle restraints on my bed, can I? That’s the definition of a red flag,” which got my first big laugh. If there had been a documentary crew filming me, I would have looked straight to camera.
Of course, it’s not long before Steven finds himself out of bed and into trouble. Having traveled some way while attempting forty winks, he’s suddenly in imminent danger. He appears to have been on a mission to steal a golden scarab from the possession of one Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke, clearly having the time of his life), a deadly cult leader who is dishing out mortal punishments on behalf of the Egyptian goddess Ammit. She can apparently tell if your misdeeds outweigh your good ones. And if those misdeeds happen to be part of some muddy future that hasn’t transpired yet? Yeah, she’ll nip those right in the bud.
Harrow is established as our bad guy when he passes judgement on a couple of his followers using a mysterious cane and a tattoo of some scales, and it comes across as quite silly despite Hawke’s enigmatic scenery chewing, even before the disturbing sequence descends into slapstick. In fact, there’s a lot of really cool stuff in this episode that ends up a little smudged by either its underwhelming CG or Isaac’s quirky central performance as the flappable Steven, which is unfortunate.
This is also the point in the episode where things inevitably get confusing, as a panicking Steven flips back and forth between his own identity and that of Marc Spector, a mercenary who seems to be working with the Egyptian moon god Khonshu. Moon Knight fans who were curious about how the MCU would handle Spector’s brutal fighting style will probably be a bit miffed to discover that this first episode mostly uses cuts between these two identities to skip past Marc’s bloodier moments rather than put them on full display, keeping such battles as Disney-friendly as possible.
The back half of the episode concerns itself with helping Steven start to understand that his meagre life has been a sham by way of his reflected interactions with Marc, during which time he is stalked by Khonshu. Not for nothing, I love the way Khonshu has been designed for the series, he really does look perfect! Casting F. Murray Abraham as the voice of the moon god is a masterstroke.
Steven also learns that a woman called Layla (we can probably assume that this is the MCU’s version of Marlene from the comics) has been looking for Marc for a long time, before the villainous Harrow gives Steven a quiet, exposition-y talk on Ammit and how if she was around she would have totally just killed baby Hitler/Pol Pot/whatever, just like the Thanos-strangling Rhodey! Hoo boy.
Eventually we get to see some brief, fully suited-up Moon Knight action when Steven allows the Marc identity to take over his body to school one of Harrow’s conjured jackals, and some museum facilities end up looking pretty much like an average public toilet in the UK. Probably better, if we include UK music festivals.
“The Goldfish Problem” is a pretty solid introduction to the world of Moon Knight, but it does feel like the internet’s daddy has been granted “Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean”-level performance freedom when it comes to the portrayal of Steven specifically, and your mileage may vary on how well it all works for you. Although Isaac’s British accent is likely a rollercoaster for anyone who lives in the UK – sometimes he sounds bang on the money and others not – hints are dropped that we will get more of American Marc in the next episode.
There are perceivable limits to telling a Moon Knight story, no matter the medium, and there are usually three main options available when approaching one: you can put him in the midst of the Marvel Universe at street level, you can delve into the Egyptian mythology of it all, and you can attempt a study of his mental health journey. It is a brave writer who attempts all three, because that’s a lot of angles to incorporate! Here, the writing team have picked options two and three, but it’s still so much to wrangle, and perhaps juggling it all given the constraints of a six-episode series was challenging. Regardless, it’s hard not to imagine what a more slow-burn version of this series might have offered us over at Netflix.
I will say it is refreshing to watch an ambitious Marvel show that isn’t filled with Easter eggs (for comics fans, there’s a quick glimpse of the name “Duchamp” on Marc’s flip phone) or in-universe call-backs: Moon Knight doesn’t have to concern itself with dropping breadcrumbs, and can just get on with telling its own story from the ground up. The MCU version of Steven Grant is admittedly quite irritating, but at least he’s a very different protagonist for us to root for. I’m interested to find out how much of Steven’s gentle, good heart might be at odds with Marc’s mercenary brutality later on.