SERIES REVIEW – Oscar Isaac plays a mercenary with a dissociative personality disorder in this action-adventure series of comedy-themed movies about warring, compelling and dangerous Egyptian deities. Although it starts off a little confusing, everything falls into place and remains unique in this great Marvel series.
Oscar Isaac has starred in Star Wars, starred in a stomach-churning HBO miniseries with recent Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, been in sci-fi films like Ex Machina and 60s film dramas like Inside Llewyn Davis. So to say he has a choice of roles is an understatement. That’s why he doesn’t seem odd for what looks to be one of the most thought-provoking MCU series, where he plays a soldier so traumatised by the war that he suffers from dissociative identity disorder, one persona being a clumsy, bumbling but likeable museum gift shop employee, the other a gruff mercenary with a dark past.
A real sucker for the hero of the new Marvel series
After the weak Loki and the strangely bland Hawk and the Winter Soldier, Disney+ returns to form with a Marvel drama that is a real madcap, to borrow the series’ own London phrase. I’ll admit – I hadn’t read the Moon Knight comics, so I didn’t know the mythology, but the TV adaptation is all the better for the fact that I knew nothing about what was in store. If you thought you were numb to all the surprises after the deluge of big-budget TV series, get ready for the new Disney Plus series. (Even more so because we’re expecting the streaming channel in the summer, and you can watch it via VPN until then.)
Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac) is a shuffling bum who works in the British Museum gift shop by day. Even his co-workers keep forgetting his name. He’s a bookworm with a particular interest in Egyptology – and this interest will come in handy for the plot of The Moon Knight, which involves angry deities making deals with mortals to avenge their perceived and real grievances.
As Isaac Steveb constantly speaks in a manner and tone that sounds like actor Rafe Spall (lame accents are always fun to catch, but to these ears, Isaac’s delivery of London is utterly convincing), at least when he’s speaking as Steven Grant. At night, though, he tapes the doors shut and handcuffs himself to the bed because he’s been having some really, really bad dreams lately. They involve another manifestation of himself, called Marc Spector, a tough mercenary soldier on some kind of weird mission for the moon god Khonshu, who talks like F Murray Abraham (because he is F Murray Abraham). The film also stars Ethan Hawke, who wears a cardigan that would give anyone nightmares, leads a cult dedicated to the god Ammit, and walks around with broken glass in his sandals.
Everything and everyone
As this suggests, the Moon Knight throws everything and everyone into his story. The action sequences are spectacular, exhilarating and often (especially in the first episodes, when Steven and Mark switch personas constantly) extremely witty. But he does it all with exuberant confidence that only a blank Disney chequebook can give.
Beyond the pyrotechnics and CGI, there’s the familiar Marvel tone, in which wry humour is deliberately silly. Therefore laugh-out-loud jokes, sudden horror, high fantasy and dangerous stick-wielding wizards and gods coexist, sometimes for a scene or two. It is not always easy to achieve this in such a way that the story outlined by the script does not suffer (a negative example of this is just in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, analysed yesterday), but here it is fortunately perfectly achieved.
Moon Knight is fascinating, clownish, geeky, self-aware, genuinely hilarious, profound without compromising the ancient Egyptian theological background. But it also touches on fascinating issues of determinism, pre-criminal justice and mental health. And yet it never becomes a moment of ignorance or boredom: on the contrary, every episode of the first season of The Moon Knight, from start to finish, is highly entertaining and engaging.
Three brilliant characters, Oscar Isaac at the top
Yet the greatest achievement of the series is Isaac’s casting and performance. When the Moon Knight wants to drift into absurdity, he is the ballast, just as believable as Steven, the tired, nameless little man with insomnia, amnesia and nightmares, as Marc, the (literally) caped action hero.
It’s a true one-man double act that very few people can pull off: it’s impossible to imagine Chris Hemsworth, for example, as the restrained little sucker. Isaac switches perfectly between the two characters, he does a flawless London accent, and even the way he argues with himself (which he does a lot) is utterly convincing.
Layla El-Faouly (May Calamawy), for her part, is the woman Steven Grant always dreamed of – ironic, given that Spector tries to stay as far away from her as possible. Layla, smart, strong and tough, will remind many of Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) from The Mummy. She sees Grant and Spector as stark opposites, one honest to the extreme, the other a brash villain. For many reasons, she likes them both, and she is the glue that helps them work together. Layla is the one who gives “Moon Knight” its action-adventure vibe.
Ethan Hawke, meanwhile, is impressive as a rare breed of supervillain. Cool and calm, Harrow does not use violence or manipulation, at least not initially. He just speaks his truth and acts on the man’s reaction. Harrow is so soft that at one point he even offers Steven Grant lentil soup when they sit down to a leisurely dinner. Harrow’s calm demeanour is misleading, however. As a devotee of another Egyptian god who punishes people for evil deeds not yet committed, he is powerful and able to unleash evil and fearsome creatures.
And the brilliant performances of the three main characters fit beautifully into the gripping story of The Moon Knight.
“Hail, glorious knight! (Thy clothes are fine, thou hast no horse.)”
The Moon Knight manages to deftly balance its intricate comic roots with a subtle, humorous story with just the right hint of geekiness. It perfectly blends many genres, and the unique mix gives the series a unique vibe that audiences will love. With Moon Knight, Marvel has not only developed the next great superhero, but also brought a brilliant and creative new streaming franchise to the table. If only the same could be said for recent MCU movies…
Direction - 8.4
Actors - 8.6
Story - 8.8
Visuals/Music/Sounds - 9.2
Ambience - 8.6
The Moon Knight manages to deftly balance its intricate comic roots with a subtle, humorous story with just the right hint of geekiness. It perfectly blends many genres, and the unique mix gives the series a unique vibe that audiences will love. With Moon Knight, Marvel has not only developed the next great superhero, but also brought a brilliant and creative new streaming franchise to the table. If only the same could be said for recent MCU movies...
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