Title: Moon Knight (2022) Creator: Jeremy Slater, Doug Moench (character) Stars: Oscar Isaac, Ethan Hawke, May Calamawy
I feel the best way to prepare to watch a TV series about a sleep-deprived superhero who struggles to balance life as a person with life as a hero is through being as overworked and sleep-deprived as possible.
This makes me grumpy and hard to impress – which should balance my need to love this series. I have struggled with mental health issues myself, and Moon Knight is one of the few heroes who has tackled it head-on in the comic canon, something that has earned it a place in my heart.
As a society, we are not all that good at discussing mental health issues – which makes Disney and Marvel’s choice to adapt Moon Knight, a comic series where these themes have always been at the core, either brave or arrogant. The show’s creator Jeremy Slater describes the hero like this:
“Moon Knight is certainly a hero unlike anything we’ve seen in the MCU before. He’s a brutal, uncompromising warrior…but he’s also a man at war with his own mind. I think the character’s struggles with his mental health allowed us to create a truly compelling character study while still delivering all the action and humor that Marvel fans have come to expect.”
This gives me hope that it was a brave choice.
Moon Knight follows the sleep-deprived Steven as he is thrust into a world of Egyptian deities, cults and occultism. Finding out that he is not the only consciousness in his mind, Steven reluctantly comes to grips with both being the Moon Knight, the avatar of an Egyptian god, and sharing his body with Marc Spector, a former mercenary.
From the first musical chords, I am drawn into the series; this is not a universe that greets me with the flavor of the month. Instead, we are given energy, character depth and a character introduction that lets us see the human before the hero. Honestly, that’s how I want it. I, like most others, can be teased by big muscles and bigger explosions, but characters with personality and relationships make me fall in love with a TV series.
Moon Knight is among the best Marvel Cinematic Universe content I have seen: it is not only a story that centers around the hero and the villain – More than anything, the world of Moon Knight feels like a living, breathing place, and people react like you, and I would do. Even that half-awake-half-dreaming state is portrayed. Oscar Isaac is utterly convincing as the sleep-deprived Steven and the hardened mercenary Marc.
Telling a person with a multiple personality disorder, “I know this is very HR to say, but you are not alone,” must be one of the best puns in Marvel Cinematic Universe history. Besides jokes like this, Steven is aware of his mental challenges and tries to deal with them. This is part of his life, and he takes responsibility for his situation. Steven’s mental illness is portrayed with respect, and they don’t go away the moment it becomes an inconvenience for the story. Neither are they played for cheap laughs, unlike the portrayal of many other fictional characters with mental illness.
After the four episodes I had access to for this review, it is clear what Disney is going for with Moon Knight. It feels epic yet grounded in a way that has largely been missing from the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far. The true marvel is how they managed to balance these two opposites in a series with literal gods walking the Earth, and I am reminded of the best parts of Doctor Strange – but better, more thoughtful, and lovingly handled by both writers and cast.
Part of what creates this feeling of groundedness is the costume design. Steven looks naturally rumpled, complete with washed-out clothes. As Marc, he wears his clothes to help hide his identity and well… the Moon Knight is awash in symbolism befitting the avatar of an ancient Egyptian deity. The quality of costume design also goes for Ethan Hawke’s cult leader villain Arthur Harrow – blood-red monk robes and sandals.
Ethan Hawke plays his chilling role with depth and charisma, which Moon Knight needs – No hero is better than their villain. This might be twice as important in this series, as both Steven and Arthur are servants of their gods – two very human and very fallible gods – not immune to being outwitted by their own worshippers.
There is so much more about Moon Knight, from the gorgeous sets and location to the strong Egyptian influences seen in everything from the tomblike apartments to the rooftop fights above Cairo. Of note, too, is the strong and genuinely portrayed Layla El-Faouly (played by May Calamawy).
But honestly, you should see it all for yourself. The moon is rising in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I will be howling for more.