A fresh feeling Episode 1 sees Moon Knight set up a lot of questions, but also potential for some really interesting character dynamics.
This review contains mild spoilers for episode 1 of Moon Knight: “The Goldfish Problem”.
Fourteen years into a franchise that spans the big and small screen, it’s impressive that Marvel can still deliver something unexpectedly fresh-feeling; something that feels quite unlike anything that’s come before it. While the concept of ‘normal guy by day, masked vigilante by night’ is by no means a new one, Moon Knight seems to be playing with the concept of normal guy some of the time, another guy the rest of the time, and a masked vigilante when possessed to be so. It’s a really intriguing premise, and the first episode sows some exciting seeds that could see our hero’s internal battle become as exciting as his external ones.
Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac) works in the gift shop of The National Gallery in London, and harbours some not-so-secret ideas of being a tour guide. He leaves his mum detailed voicemails every night, eats meals with a living statue, and has sleep issues severe enough that he resorts to the use of ankle restraints, tape markers on the double chained front door, and a ring of sand around the bed to ensure he stays put. It’s pretty safe to assume there’s more to “Steven with a ‘v’” than meets the eye.
When he ‘wakes’ in a mountainside village with no recollection of how he got there, he happens upon a man named Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke), a self-appointed decider of the fates for the enraptured townsfolk, under the guise of the Egyptian deity Ammit. When Steven finds himself in possession of something Harrow needs, the booming voice in his head won’t let him simply hand it over, and this becomes a choice that will undoubtedly lead Steven on a journey that’s a bit more exciting that a tour through the Gallery’s quiet halls.
In the Moon Knight comics, Steven Grant is one of the identities adopted by mercenary Marc Spector, as a result of his Dissociative Identity Disorder. This first episode gives hints that the series may be travelling down a similar route: with Steven hearing voices and them calling him a ‘parasite’, Isaac’s… quirky (and questionably convincing) English accent choice, and a stylistically impressive sequence where he has a conversation with his American-accented reflection in which he’s encouraged to ‘give up control’. It’s a bold choice, throwing a complex character dynamic into a show that appears to be playing with time and reality, but a clever one. It’s quite prudent to assume that the tangled web of Egyptian gods and monsters, of good vs. evil, will overlap well with the exploration of ‘Steven’s’ tangled psyche as the series progresses, and one can only hope that the nuances of DID are treated with sensitivity, if in fact directly addressed at all.
The always charismatic Isaac is on great form and gives a really engaging performance, the somewhat dodgy accent aside. Steven’s uncertainty is writ on his face so clearly and he sells the vulnerable moments as well as the outright comedic ones. Steven is an excellent vehicle into this new world as his naivete is in line with that of the audience, and his surprises and confusion can be developed in a manner that feels natural and not contrived.
Moon Knight arrives guns blazing, setting up a personal mystery within our ‘hero’ as well as a mystery in the broader context of our presumed villain, and trusting the audience to follow along. There’s hints of horror-noir, thriller and psychological drama during this first episode, and it’s a really intriguing mix, especially when combined with the otherworldly nature of the forces at play. It’s admittedly slightly bonkers, but feels fresh and not alienating. There’s no reference to anything from the MCU’s back catalogue so far, and Moon Knight feels like something that can be enjoyed as both a stand-alone show for sceptics, and as a way of weaning back into the fold from fans’ superhero fatigue. It’s exciting and intriguing and could be something quite special, if it delivers on its genre-bending promise and does right by its character’s neurodivergent nature.
Overall, the first episode of Moon Knight is a fresh, fun, tonally balanced and intriguing introduction to a show that could diverge into any number of genre-directions. There’s obviously a lot of plot-related questions still up in the air: mainly, what’s with the suit, why is there a scary pigeon demon hovering nearby, and who is the man in the mirror? Hopefully the next episode delivers some contextual information as well as some more fun. (Although, it might be hard to top a cupcake delivery van chase soundtracked by Wham.)
Moon Knight ‘s Episode will be available to watch on Disney Plus on Wednesday, March 30, 2022.