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Moon Knight: Marvel's Identity Crisis

(SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Marvel’s Moon Knight)

Moon Knight is Marvel’s latest (barring the currently-airing Ms. Marvel) Disney+ exclusive series, and upon watching the debut episode, “The Goldfish Problem,” I was honestly convinced that this show had a chance at becoming my new favorite of the Disney+ Marvel series.

The pilot introduces us to mild-mannered sweetheart Steven Grant (played exceedingly well by the talented Oscar Isaac,) a nerdy museum gift shop worker who lives on his own. Believing himself to be afflicted by serious bouts of sleepwalking, Steven lives a very precautious life and goes to great lengths to keep himself in his bed at night. However, his life is soon turned upside down when he discovers his mysterious nightlife is not a result of sleepwalking but instead a second personality within him. Enter Marc Spector, a mercenary commissioned by a dishonored Egyptian moon god to stop a rogue cult leader from harnessing the power of a different dishonored Egyptian god to go all Minority Report on the Earth and kill anybody guilty of crimes not yet committed.

The first episode does a fantastic job of showing Steven’s mundane life fractured and shattered as he’s abruptly whipped away into the brutal frenzy of Marc’s violence-laden adventures. Throughout the episode, Steven will black out as Marc forces his way into control of their body. When this happens, the audience is never shown Marc’s point of view, only Steven’s when he comes back to amidst several maimed aggressors now strewn about or other scenes of violence and chaos. It’s this frantic energy that sets up a perfect hook for Steven Grant and propels the best action sequence of any Marvel Disney+ show. Seeing sheepish Steven stumble haphazardly through Marc’s mission as he blinks in and out of consciousness is not only great action but also a brilliant introduction to Steven as a character. It’s hard not to be charmed by Steven as his life escalates quickly into sheer pandemonium.

On top of the expertly directed action of the pilot episode, we’re also given our first impression of Ethan Hawke’s Arthur Harrow, the aforementioned rogue cult leader who’s after an artifact that’s come into Steven’s possession. As far as the mixed bag of MCU antagonists goes, Harrow’s pseudo-friendly yet unsettling presence lends itself to a promising villain. Unfortunately, Harrow ends up a victim of the show’s most glaring fault: an excellence that expires post-pilot.

Ultimately, I believe Moon Knight suffers from a unique phenomenon— that being that the series as a whole would most likely benefit from having every episode following the first excised from the plot and leaving “The Goldfish Problem” an entirely self-sufficient one shot. Ending on a fittingly brutal suit-up scene that gives us the debut look at the Moon Knight visage, “The Goldfish Problem” leaves us on a cliffhanger that’s only sullied by the remaining five episodes of the series.

I’m not saying that episodes two through six are bad or not at all worth watching, but the margin by which they miss in trying to reach those same heights as the pilot make their middling quality all the more obvious and their plot all the more unmemorable. The black-out gimmick that made the first episode’s action so much fun is completely retired in place of Steven learning more about Marc and Khonshu, the moon god who grants them their (sorely unexplored) superhuman abilities, through lots of expository conversation.

The story past episode one seems unsure of itself in what it wants to be. One episode it’s an Indiana Jones-esque expedition through the Egyptian pyramids, the next it’s a psychological thriller where the main character must figure out what’s real and what’s not and escape the purgatory of his mind asylum. I do believe that written well enough this kind of thematic Frankenstein’s monster can be done in an honestly interesting way but here the show fails to do so without making itself feel like a disorganized mess. It’s also prone to not delivering a lot of answers to the mysteries and questions it sets up. We’re not given a lot of concrete answers to the reality-bending mindfuckery the plot pulls.

On top of that, the show introduces us to a council of Egyptian god avatars, all of whom are presumed to have their own slew of powers much akin to Moon Knight, but when their opportunity to show off those powers comes, their fight is shown completely off-screen and we only see them laying about defeated at the end of their battle. That sort of scene always sits sourly with me, especially when these characters are supposedly big names and should have pretty substantial presences in-universe and instead they're treated without a second thought and as a result leave no lasting impression on the audience. Harrow also feels like a much less memorable character past his initial debut in episode one, feeling more and more flavorless as he becomes more generically villainous and less empathetic of an antagonist as the show goes on.

Complaining much aside, I once again must reassure you that these episodes aren’t terrible… Only very mid. The messy plot and forgettable characters are mostly carried by an all-around awesome cast and very engaging performances from the actors and actresses. Oscar Isaac does a phenomenal job portraying a character with dissociative identity disorder and is possibly Marvel’s best casting decision since RDJ. And May Calamawy plays Layla, Marc’s ex-wife and the show's partial love interest, a character who doesn’t have much impact on the plot but she does become an avatar herself during the finale which was a pleasant little twist I didn’t see coming.

At the end of the show, I was ready to write it off as an amazing pilot with a very mid series tacked on to its tail end. However, Marvel’s ace-in-the-hole really acted as Moon Knight’s lifeline here: the post-credits scene. Moon Knight leaves the audience with a chilling introduction to Marc and Steven’s third personality: Jake Lockley, a character who had been foreshadowed sporadically throughout the show and many comic fans had been expecting for a while now. The post-credits scene actually managed to briefly tap into the same caliber that made “The Goldfish Problem” so great and leaves a pleasant aftertaste that leaves me excited for a prospective second season despite the faults of the first.

It’s suffice to say that a lot of Moon Knight’s flaws are largely symptoms of Marvel’s Disney+ shows on a broader scale. The shows are formatted much differently than a traditional movie as they typically follow a six episode structure, each episode being approximately 30-60 minutes instead of a 2-3 hour movie-length runtime. This makes pacing these shows a much different beast. Even Loki, a Disney+ MCU show I regard as one of the highest tier recent MCU projects, suffers from pacing issues (*cough, cough* episode three. *cough*) Moon Knight’s excellence quickly peters out after a stellar pilot and its quality is largely bogged down by, among other issues, an inability to choose exactly what kind of story it wants to tell. Ironically, Moon Knight suffers a major identity crisis. I would still recommend giving it a watch, especially if you’re a Marvel fan or an Egyptian history nut, if not for the very beginning and the very, very end alone.

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