1 out of 5
Created by: Jeremy Slater
covers season 1
Moon Knight is not a horrible show, but it’s a disappointing one, and that disappointment embellishes its negative qualities such that it becomes rather horrible, making my viewing time vacillate between disinterest and outright dislike.
That disappointment isn’t from any expectations related to the source material – I have no investment in Moon Knight as a comic book character. Nor is it due to the hype that this would be a more “adult” Marvel show, as I wasn’t really believing that in the slightest; I suspected it would still boil down to quips and cartoony action.
Rather, two things added some promise to this series, one external, and one suggested by the show itself. The external aspect is that, to my knowledge, Moon Knight hasn’t been led in to by any MCU movie / series up to this point, something which I feel has very much limited every other Disney+ series thus far, as it gives us some preconditions for how characters should behave, and what the tone of the show should be. Moon Knight was completely fresh – the plot and cast did not need to be defined by whatever happened before (excepting, I guess, plans we don’t know yet about future MCU phases, but that feels less directly impactful).
As far as what’s actually part of the show: Steve Grant (Oscar Isaac) is a hapless museum gift shop attendant, unaware that he shares a split personality with mercenary Marc Spector, a persona that’s locked away until needed for dirty deeds by the Egyptian god he serves, Khonshu. Setting aside the “…What now?” bit of that, that’s good TV show stuff, providing for a good way to cross back and forth between antics and action, and giving an actor a platform to flex and play two roles at once.
There was also a lot of to-do up front about setting – Egypt – being very important to one of the series’ directors, Mohamed Diab, and while I wasn’t hanging my hat on that, I liked that coded within that and the pitch for a more mature show, that perhaps this could be slightly more grounded, overall. (While Eternals was ultimately a failure, the effort to do that was there, and I am in favor of that trend – it seems a good way to evolve the MCU.)
But: if it’s not already clear, not only does none of this potential make it to the screen, what’s there is also presented in a puzzlingly tonally flat and visually uninteresting manner, compounded by lazy writing conventions, and a story that hardly gives us an In to our lead in order to make the core concept compelling.
Marc Spector – Moon Knight – is out to… do… something for Khonshu, and that something is putting him at odds with cult leader Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) and… And… And I don’t know. There are MacGuffins; there are world-ending mentions; there are battles with demons and Indiana Jones-esque cavern traversals, but whatever the point of these are, I really was never sure. Spector’s deal with Khonshu involves exacting vengeance for crimes – so he’s a vigilante type – but Moon Knight is not some episodic adventure along those lines, rather the over-arching “plot” mentioned above, which subtracts any sense of reason for MK to appear, except he’s in a cool, invulnerable suit. I guess. Maybe we should limit that to “cool,” because power sets are also not exactly clarified, nor is the animosity between Spector and Khonshu necessarily built up or explained so much as just told to us – they hate one another – meaning out comes Moonie whenever there’s an action setpiece, and then it’s over. Is there a limitation to this? No idea. There are no stakes.
I’d even hesitate on the “cool” descriptor, as that’s where the visual flatness comes into play. Neither Diab or co-directors Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead have much sense of space in their scenes, and there’s an odd discrepancy in the way moments are scored and angled versus what’s actually on screen: that things are presented in some “awesome” manner, but whatever our focus is, or what’s actually awesome is very unclear. The Moon Knight costume is very, very digital against the flat brown palette of the majority of the show, and Khonshu – visible only to Spector / Grant – is, similarly, just way too floaty and CG. Both of these key elements have no weight, and are set in scenes without – as mentioned – any real focus. The editing in most episodes is odd, cutting away to reactions at immersion breaking times, and placing characters positionally in scenes in ways that don’t serve the narrative at the moment very well – people hardly feel like they’re really interacting.
And to the split persona of Grant and Spector. Initially, when Grant is unaware of Spector, this is represented by having the former wake up and things around him have changed. That’s fun; that’s valid. Later, when we’re let in on the existence of the latter, the switches happen more regularly, and some edits are employed to match that pace. This gets repetitive quickly, and, unfortunately, it’s overused even within the relatively short period of time it’s employed. Still, I can’t fault the show for milking it – it’s a fun way to toss the hapless Grant into danger.
But once we’re past this… it’s lazy. Grant “talks” to Spector in reflections, and, wouldn’t ya know it, every goddamned surface is apparently reflective. This ends up looking really cheesy, but also starts to underline how little work the script, in general does – much space is filled up by pointless chatter between Grant and Spector – and also how poorly defined Steven Grant is: he’s just an accent. When there was more need to maintain a divide between the two characters, it’s less noticeable, but once the wall is removed and they’re constantly in the same scene, Grant is just one-dimensional sniveling, and Spector is one-dimensional demanding, and the show’s forced conflict of one character preventing the other from “taking control” feels similarly lazily applied – it’s not organic, but just used as a delaying tactic to create tension.
To keep count: we have a lack of stakes, unclear motivations in the story, settings that are not focused or visually compelling, CG elements that don’t sit well in the scenes, an empty lead character, and an ultimately pointless central conceit.
That’s enough knocks. Moon Knight is not outright bad, perhaps, but it hangs out consistently below middling, and drags itself down further by just being disappointing.