Moon Knight is the kind of character that sounds truly fascinating for adaptation. With themes of identity and strange mythology, there are plenty of avenues to explore with such a unique superhero vigilante. Unfortunately, Moon Knight falls under the Marvel banner and that means he is going to be subjected to the uniformity that has made the Marvel Cinematic Universe the most popular movie franchise in the history of cinema.
That does come with some legitimate benefits. The main one is Oscar Isaac as the titular hero. Isaac is an always welcome presence on the screen and it is clear that Marvel wanted to land an actor with strong charisma outside of his acting roles. And since Moon Knight will see lead character Steven Grant go through different personalities as the show progresses, it is important that the lead actor be versatile but not too outside the box for wide audiences. Isaac fits into that notch quite well and easily showcases why he will be the reason a lot of people stick with the show.
Another part of the Marvel formula that works in Moon Knight is the ability to distill such a bizarre character and his lore down to easily digestible ideas. The first episode presents some horror moments and a whole lot of background for the mystic aspects of the show, and though it means cutting corners off the weirder ideas, it does mean that the series is able to jump into the fray pretty quickly. There is a conceptual action scene that is burdened by the Marvel cutesy factor – Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” plays while Steven makes an escape in a cupcake truck – but offers a really concise and intriguing look into the main character.
Unfortunately, there is very little to Moon Knight that doesn’t feel like the same Marvel product recycled and given a new paint job. Cinematography, tone, and pacing all line up perfectly with the Marvel machine. There’s no reason for Marvel not to subject all their characters to this approach since it’s proven to work, but it becomes disheartening for certain characters that are truly out there. Moon Knight has evolved over the years to be one of the most fascinating and eclectic characters in the Marvel canon, but it seems like his Disney+ series doesn’t want to do more than lightly dip its toes into that potentiality. Hopefully, the show will become more psychedelic and introspective as it progresses, but the weak villain plot is already in the making and it’s doubtful the show is going to pull the most interesting elements from comic runs like Jeff Lemire’s definitive work on the character.
Still, there is something to Moon Knight that shows promise. The hero’s costumes all feel like they are fighting to make sense in the Marvel universe where every costume looks like a motorcycle outfit. Although the first episode only gives us a tease of the full outfit, we should be seeing a good amount of it in the coming episodes. And it will be interesting to see how the show handles other personas of the character like the fan-favorite Mr. Knight. There is potential here to be mined, but after the disappointment of WandaVision and the rote nature of What If…? – radically weird shows that devolved into the usual Marvel Cinematic Universe fare – there is no precedent for being overly excited that Moon Knight will get legitimately wild.
But, Moon Knight is unremarkably fine in its initial outing. There are the usual issues we’re seeing with modern prestige streaming series – the most obvious one being, “Why isn’t this a movie?” – but it does not seem to be as laborious as The Falcon and the Winter Soldier or as milquetoast as Hawkeye. The idea that Marvel will actually get weird with this new phase of superheroes has been pretty well dashed upon the rocks, but we will take any deviation from the norm we can get, no matter how slight it might actually be. If Moon Knight does prove that it is willing to be as twisted as its source material, we could see something genuinely special in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But, we won’t hold our breath.