Marvel’s Moon Knight is good, not great

Perhaps not since Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins has there been a more cartoonishly broad British accent than Oscar Isaac’s in the latest Marvel TV series Moon Knight. He is introduced to us as Steven Grant, a mild-mannered London gift shop employee who says things like “bloody ‘el!”, and – to a guy outside his flat still selling the old brushes and brooms – “still sellin’ the ol’ brushes and bwooms?” He also sleeps strapped to a bed, surrounded by a moat of smooth, unbroken sand.

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The voice is certainly a bold creative choice from Isaac, one that may prove off-putting for some, but it works surprisingly well as part of Moon Knight’s rompishly light and playful early episodes. Created by Jeremy Slater, best known for his work on Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, the six-part series offers a loose take on one of Marvel’s lesser-known heroes: Marc Spector, a mercenary with dissociative identity disorder – meaning he has multiple personalities – who has made a deal with Khonshu, Egyptian god of the Moon, in exchange for superpowers.

One of these personalities is the oblivious Steven Grant, who – despite his efforts – keeps waking up in strange places with no memory of how he got there. He is late for work. He misses dates. He wakes up in other countries, perplexed at why people are shooting at him. He is a hapless loser in the body of a badass superhero.

It’s a fun idea, and considering that Oscar Isaac looks like handsome Hollywood actor Oscar Isaac, he does an endearing job of selling the awkward physicality of a nerdy, unremarkable guy hilariously out of his depth. There is something almost farcical about him trying to keep up with it all, which is complimented by the first episode’s wittily-constructed action sequences: one moment a scared Steven is surrounded by bad guys, the next they’re all dead at his feet. In general though, despite the efforts of Egyptian director Mohamed Diab, who has made efforts to give the show a sense of dynamism and unease, Moon Knight possesses the kind of deadeningly neutral visual aesthetic that underpins most Marvel projects.

In a recent interview with Empire magazine about the series, Slater said that he wanted to tell a “dark, complex story” mixed with “big, fun, supernatural Amblin-style magic,” referring to Steven Spielberg’s production company. The latter is certainly reflected in the goofiness of Moon Knight’s stakes, as well as the show’s villain. His name is Arthur Harrow, a cult leader played by Ethan Hawke who wants to resurrect the Egyptian god Ammit so that they can rid the world of anyone whose heart is impure (including children). It’s a good old-fashioned evil plan, with a long-haired Hawke almost gliding into scenes to spout some hippy preacher nonsense about how Ammit could have stopped Hitler or prevented the Armenian genocide. Oh, and he also has a tattoo of some scales on his arm, which move about on his skin as he takes people’s hands and delivers judgements on the moral purity of their soul, committing them to death if the judgement is bad. Cancel culture really has gone too far this time.

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