Friday 8 April 2022

Chaos and confusion in Moon Knight

Marvel Studios' Moon Knight is the House of M's answer to DC's Batman and an unknown quantity to this true believer.

Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe and comic book doyen, embarks on a mystery tour in the pale moonlight.

Guest post by Nick Smith

When I think of Moon Knight, I think of a dark avenger lurking in the shadows of New York’s rooftop water towers, occasionally switching identities to no-nonsense merc Marc Spector. I don’t think of goofy comedy and double-decker London buses.

But that’s what we get with Marvel Studios' new series and, thanks mainly to Oscar Isaac’s (Star Wars, Ex Machina) charisma, the results are intriguing and enjoyable to watch.

Originated by Doug Moench and Don Perlin, the character of Moon Knight’s been kicking nocturnal butt for decades. Show creator Jeremy Slater faced a challenge – how to make him stand out in a crowd of DC and Marvel superhero shows? So although the amount of humour is surprising, it’s understandable. It also makes the darker elements of the show – tireless jackals, a life-draining bad guy – more palatable to a family audience.

By daring to focus on powers instead of glowers and comedy over brutality, Moon Knight stands a better chance of sticking in the consciousness of viewers unfamiliar with his comics.

The first two episodes are packed with information. We meet Steven Grant, a sleepwalking shop assistant in a museum. We’re left to wonder whether the voice he hears is a sign of mental illness, or if he’s a ‘sleeper identity’ for Spector the mercenary. We also meet Arthur Harrow, a mysterious cult leader played with long-haired earnest by Ethan Hawke. Then there’s the skull-beaked god Khonshu, voiced by F. Murray Abraham. Khonshu offers Steven venomous advice to fend off any threats.

The show focuses on these three characters, although May Calamawy pops up as Marc’s abandoned wife Layla El-Faouly. For most of the time, Isaac plays Steven as scared, confused and beaten down. This turns the key to unlock Moon Knight’s potential. We get a glimpse of what it’s like to have a mental disorder.

Those without such a challenge don’t have the education or experience to empathise fully. And why would they want to think like a lunatic? It’s much safer and more entertaining to watch one go through the unpredictable motions on TV.

Steven Grant questions his sanity, struggling to survive in an unsettling and sometimes frightening environment. He is belittled and fired by his boss, patronized by colleagues, given a pamphlet and sent on his way.

Moon Knight isn’t the first hero to have his mental faculties questioned.

Much has been made of Bruce Wayne dressing up as a bat and coping with childhood trauma. Bruce Banner has serious anger management issues. However, Isaac gives Grant such vulnerability that the audience is left desperate for the hero within him to take over.

It’s a great way to depict the internal struggle for control that real sufferers of dissociative identity disorder go through.

Underlying this crisis of personality, there are references to Egyptian mythology that highlight obscure gods and give Moon Knight’s story an epic scope. Cue oodles of CGI, from pyramids to Khonshu’s skeletal form to the Knight himself, depicted in an almost-seamless blend of digital and live-action filmmaking as he tumbles over distinctly British roofs.

London itself is given an old-world charm, especially when we encounter a gaggle of Harrow’s cult members. A parade of chirping chimney sweeps would not seem out of place. But there are enough contemporary touches, like a human statue and a bus ride, to anchor us in reality.

All these elements lead to convoluted results. Luckily this is Isaac’s show so we’re in good hands, whatever accent he’s using. He is an exceptional actor leading us through a meticulously paced adventure that keeps us wondering what will happen next.

Even in a landscape with a multitude of comic book-inspired viewing options, a carefully crafted show like this only comes along once in a blue moon.

New episodes of Marvel Studios' Moon Knight premiere every Wednesday exclusively on Disney+.

Are you watching Marvel Studios' Moon Knight on Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

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