Once again, Marvel has proven that they aren’t the most successful franchise in history by accident. With each entry into their massive (and ever-expanding) canon, they continue to flex their influence by releasing increasingly risky characters and stories that somehow still fit their brand.
A world entirely translated by generations of television.
Multiple Spider-Men from the past 20 years of film franchises.
A giant purple titan who wields an all-powerful gauntlet.
No matter how (doctor) strange their continuity becomes, Marvel somehow manages to make it work. (Yes, there are franchises that are better than others… but the percentage of quality in their cinematic storytelling is surprisingly high, especially considering how long they’ve been doing this.)
Now, here comes what is arguably the most insane story of all: Moon Knight.
Streaming on Disney+, Moon Knight tells the story of Steven Grant, a mild-mannered gift shop employee who is struggling with bizarre dreams. Every night, he fears falling asleep as he finds himself transported to exotic locations and dangerous situations. As his dreams begin to blur with reality, Steven discovers his inner mercenary (literally) as an alternate persona known as Marc Spector battles for control of his body. Fierce and ferocious, Spector is under the servitude of the Egyptian god, Khonshu, who demands that he fight on his behalf. As Steven/Marc begin to unravel their complicated relationship, so too must they defend themselves against a mysterious Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke), an acolye of the goddess Ammit.
Moon Knight is ridiculous on almost every level… but it’s also ridiculously fun
Spearheaded by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, Moon Knight is stylish and well-executed. Billed as a ‘horror comedy’, the series is a wild blend of the terrifying and goofy. Known for their work on Synchronic and She Dies Tomorrow, Moorehead and Benson have a background in psychological horror and the put those talents to work here. Flashing hallways, demonic jackals and psychological breakdowns all work together create an unsettling atmosphere of terror. However, the best example of their horror influence comes through the depiction of Khonshu. Voiced by F. Murray Abraham, Khonshu’s bird skull and long, bony physique pushes the boundaries of what Marvel has offered by creating an intimating ghostly figure that ominously follows Spector/Grant. (Note to parents, while it keeps to its PG rating, this image may intimidate younger ones so use caution.)
At the same time though, Knight is also genuinely funny. Although the series features Marvel’s trademark silliness (such as a car chase in a cupcake truck), much of the credit here falls on a stellar performance by Isaac who is absolutely erratic as the psychologically-divided hero. From the Coen Brothers to Star Wars, Isaacs has always been willing to balance his independent work with big franchises.
But his performance in Moon Knight is truly unique.
As Marc Spector, Isaac is allow to engage his dark side. A mercenary indebted to Khonshu, Spector remains calm, collected and often brutal. However, as Steven Grant, Isaac is practically bouncing off the walls with erratic energy. Armed with a British accent and high anxiety, Grant is constantly in motion as he attempts to figure out what’s taking place around—and within—him. Together, Spector/Grant have a tension reminiscent of the Hulk & Banner as both men battle for control of the same person. When you add in the demanding demonic voice of Khonshu, Disney has invariably created an ‘Odd Throuple’ with each persona attempting to dominate the other. (In fact, the relationship between these characters echoes Sony’s recent
rom-com superhero franchise Venom which features a similar silliness between Eddie Brock and his alien symbiote.)
At its heart, Moon Knight feels interested in addressing the nature of justice. Whereas Spector is more than prepared to exact vengeance and violence when called upon, Grant has a gentler approach. To Grant, violence is never the answer and there is always a better way to solve his problems. However, Spector’s strength is often required in order to defeat the baddies that go bump in the night. There is a tension between their styles that creates some interesting conversations about the definition of justice and what sorts of methods are required. (Admittedly, Knight often favours Spector’s brutality as necessary yet, as the series progresses, one gets the sense that Grant’s humility will become important to Spector’s growth.)
Held in juxtaposition to this internal battle is the villainous Harrow who believes that the sins of man require judgment. Committed to the goddess Ammit, Harrow believes that humanity can be judged for actions that they haven’t yet been committed if there is darkness in their hearts. Whether it’s an elderly woman or infants, Harrow is relentless in his belief that those who (may) create suffering should be eliminated before they have the chance to do so.
When held up against Spector/Grant, the series creates some space for what it truly means to create a safe space for others. To Harrow, man’s sins are inevitable and therefore justifiably erased. For Grant, man cannot be blamed until the actions come to life and then invited to change. Finally, Spector argues that those who threaten peace are justifiably stopped by any means necessary. Between the three of voices, the series highlights the breadth of opinions on justice and tries to hold them all in tension together.
How Moon Knight fits in with Marvel continuity is not yet known. Set in its own space and time, Knight very much feels like a standalone series. (Although, it’s fair to say that we know that’s not the case. Nothing in Marvel ever exits on its own.) However, anchored by a phenomenal performance by Isaac, Knight manages to carve itself its own corner of the Marvel Universe. Once again, Marvel has taken an insane premise and created something infinitely watchable and engaging.
Somehow, they’ve managed to let this Knight shine.
Moon Knight begins streaming on Disney+ on Thursday, March 31st, 2022.