The suggestion that a new film or series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe breaks fresh ground for the franchise gets thrown around a lot in the lead-up to each project’s release. While it’s been true for some — such as WandaVision or Thor: Ragnarok, which each pushed the boundaries of the MCU in bold and different ways — most additions haven’t strayed too far from the thematic center of Marvel’s movieverse.
Given how reliably entertaining the MCU has been so far, that’s fine — but when the studio does take some risks, the results have made a great storytelling universe even better.
That’s where Moon Knight comes in.
Moon Knight, led by head writer and executive producer Jeremy Slater (The Umbrella Academy, Death Note), casts Oscar Isaac as Steven Grant, a mild-mannered museum gift-shop cashier whose world begins to fall apart — sometimes literally — when he discovers that he’s suffering from dissociative identity disorder. This would be troubling enough on its own, but he soon learns that his alternate persona is a mercenary, Marc Spector, who’s pledged himself to an ancient Egyptian god with an affinity for meting out violent justice. Soon, Steven finds himself on a globe-hopping adventure to prevent a charismatic cult leader played by Ethan Hawke from resurrecting another, even more dangerous deity.
Sure, a lot is going on in the Disney+ series, but that’s intentional. In fact, it’s all part of the fun. Much like the aforementioned WandaVision, Moon Knight leans into the frantic, fascinating mysteries at the heart of its story. Where WandaVision took a quirky, surreal approach to exploring its lead character’s psychological struggles, though, Moon Knight goes all-in on escalating tension and scares to depict Steven’s experiences and his perception of the world around him.
Ominous clues, a chorus of voices in his head, and visions of terrifying entities work together to turn Steven’s seemingly deteriorating sanity into a nightmarish journey for the character. The end result is the the scariest MCU project to date, and the closest the franchise has come to outright horror.
Moon Knight also delivers one of the MCU’s most brutal series so far. While the series doesn’t reach the same blood-spattered level of violence as Marvel’s no-longer-canon Netflix shows, it comes pretty close on a few occasions — to the point where it becomes a little surprising to see it on a Disney-branded platform. The frequency and duration of the action sequences in Moon Knight are less than the average episode of Daredevil, and the camera never lingers too long on the gory aftermath of all that violence, but the implied brutality is shockingly potent. The series’ titular, spectre-like figure pummels, stabs, and slices villains in intense, but largely bloodless, brawls that still pack a visceral punch without the typical gore.
In the lead role, Isaac does a phenomenal job of juggling the multiple distinct identities at play within Steven’s (or is it Marc’s?) mind. Isaac’s a phenomenal actor, so his ability to do so doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but it’s still a joy to see him bumbling his way through Steven’s life, only to suddenly become a thoroughly believable, ice-cold killer when Marc takes control. He’s as fun to watch in this series as any of Isaac’s other roles, and that’s saying a lot for an actor who’s often the most memorable part of any project he appears in.
On the flip side, Hawke delivers a wonderfully creepy performance as the season’s primary villain. Part charismatic cult leader, part sympathetic counterpoint to Isaac’s protagonist, Hawke’s Arthur Harrow never quite hits the level of the top-tier MCU villains, but the quiet threat he poses provides a nice contrast to Isaac’s hero, who seems to revel in violence in comparison.
After getting a look at the first four episodes of the series’ six-episode season, it feels safe to suggest that Moon Knight delivers a standout story that pushes the MCU in some new, refreshing directions. With its more mature tone and horror elements, Moon Knight is unlike any other MCU project so far, and its talented star ensures that wherever the show is headed is worth watching.
Marvel’s Moon Knight premieres March 30 on Disney+ streaming service.