Moon Knight came to an end this week, and it marks perhaps the clearest iteration yet of what the MCU will be on television versus theatrical films. Ever since the debut of WandaVision, the MCU series on Disney+ have had pacing issues, and Moon Knight is no different with its slow burn beginning that led to a rushed finale, but Moon Knight is also the most cleanly structured series Marvel has put together yet. With six hour-long episodes, Moon Knight is divided into a clear three-act structure, mimicking the narrative flow of a film but with expanded space for story and character development. That is where the only real issue the show has set in, as Moon Knight never quite balanced itself across those six episodes. The beginning was slow, the ending was rushed, Layla (May Calamawy) didn’t get a proper set up for her hero moment, but it did do a good job presenting a proper character study of Marc Spector and Steven Grant, the two-in-one character played by Oscar Isaac.
What Moon Knight does well, it does really well, expanding the world of the MCU without ever feeling heavy or clunky, this despite a bipedal hippo goddess showing up to drop exposition on Marc and Steven in one of the more surreal things the MCU has done recently. Moon Knight is not afraid of its own weirdness, and yet it retains its grounded feeling, even as ancient gods battle on a metaphysical plane in the Egyptian desert. Head writer Jeremy Slater and director Mohamed Diab, who directed four of the six episodes including the final two, don’t shy from the strange but they keep it grounded in the internal conflict of Steven and Marc, two personalities sharing one body. Oscar Isaac does an amazing job playing these two characters, so good, in fact, that it is legitimately devastating when Steven discovers he isn’t “real” but is a defense mechanism Marc created as a child to protect himself from abuse.
The weirder Moon Knight gets, the more satisfying it is, so that the image of the Eyptian gods Khonshu and Ammit fighting as giant animal kaijus in the background while their human avatars duke it out on the streets of Cairo is one of the most thrillingly odd sights in the MCU to date. That marriage of mythology and street-level violence works well for Moon Knight, I just wish these six episodes made a little more room for Layla and her reveal as an avatar and superhero (she might be Scarlet Scarab, a deep cut from the comics, but it’s purposefully left vague in the show). It should feel like a much bigger moment when Layla suits up, especially since Marc was trying to keep her out of this mess with the gods, and we should have a better idea—or ANY idea—what it means for her to be the avatar of Tawaret, the hippo goddess, but we don’t. We come to understand what it means for Marc to be the “fist of Khonshu”, and for Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) to be the “voice of Ammit”, but what is Layla? The…“sword arms of Tawaret”?
While Marvel hasn’t yet nailed down their formula over six hours of televisual storytelling, they’re definitely getting closer. And I wonder when they do perfect it, if we’ll see anything as charmingly weird as Moon Knight again. It’s not perfect, and Layla deserves a little better, but Moon Knight takes some swings and isn’t afraid to get funky and macabre—the episodes in the psychiatric ward are outstanding (Legion fans are probably incensed this is getting more attention by orders of magnitude, and Moon Knight definitely owes a debt to Legion). It’s refreshing that a Marvel thing doesn’t duck the dubious morality of a hero, Steven’s appalled reaction to Marc’s mercenary activities is perfectly calibrated, as is the clear burden of guilt Marc carries (and the apparent lack of guilt Jake Lockley possesses). Moon Knight might be a little uneven, and its slow start and strange mythology might not appeal to everyone, but it is one of the most interesting and emotionally grounded stories in the MCU. And weird. This is EASILY one of the weirdest things Marvel has ever done.
Moon Knight is now streaming all episodes on Disney+.