Marvel going deep within its well of characters to craft compelling movies or television shows produces a track record comparatively more successful than expected (see Guardians of the Galaxy). However the recent trend of the current spate of TV shows under the Marvel Cinematic Universe reveals a troubling statistic – Marvel is exploring these characters with a longer runtime (in hindsight, a good thing), but fails in sticking the landing (in hindsight a very bad thing).
Doug Moench’s Moon Knight is one of those deep cut characters which has only become a cult favorite. Moon Knight’s design over the years, along with his stories dealing with his violent vigilantism and the exploration of mental illness through the comic book lens produces a very interesting character. His recent runs of the character which the show seems inspired by, are also very unique takes on the character, but the mutability of the character ensures that all these takes can be valid.
This is why the TV show version of Moon Knight being a proto Indiana Jones adventure story through the sand dunes and pyramids of Egypt, dealing with supernatural elements like the pantheon of Egyptian gods, is a different take. That wouldn’t be a problem per se. These adventure elements are some of the better parts of the show itself. Episode 4’s romp through an Egyptian pyramid and the horror elements within it are some of the best aspects of this entire show. While we are dealing with the good aspects Oscar Issac is brilliant as Marc Spector/Steven Grant. He manages to distinguish the characters far better than even the script demanded, and his is the reason why the fifth episode, arguably the strongest one of the show, is such an exquisite character study. It also manages to deal with Spector’s mental trauma in a far sensitive manner than you would expect and that deserves some appreciation. Issac’s acting prowess deserves a shout-out, but May Calamawy as Layla is also a strong supporting character. Loosely based on Marlene Aurane in the comics, May is one of the few original characters in the MCU who manages to stand beside as an organic addition in the MCU and enhance the story instead of completely taking over it. This is why the promotion of Layla into a full fledged hero at the end of the episode makes sense and is cathartic as a result.
The primary problem with the show is its screenplay, which doesn’t have enough meat to be a six-episode show. The first two episodes detailing the fish out of water aspect of Steven Grant in hindsight feel a tad bit too long. The adventure aspect of the story begins in the third episode, while the end of the fourth episode suddenly shifts the genre into a psychological thriller like Legion. Unlike Hawley’s Legion Moon Knight never really goes for it. Juggling a diverse group of genres is fascinating and the actors are all game for the job. The secondary issue is for the title character there is surprisingly very little of Moon Knight in this show. All of this manage to make the final episode feel a bit rushed. The third criticism would be Ethan Hawke as the villain Arthur Harrow, who has a very creepy entrance into the show but other than having a compelling presence with a gravelly tone of voice akin to Vincent D’onofrio’s Kingpin, doesn’t have much to do throughout other than look menacing and use his staff to hit the ground and utilize the powers of the staff.
Moon Knight is still a unique addition to the MCU in terms of visuals and the character design, the action when present is well choreographed. Oscar Issac makes a strong case for his character to be introduced into the movies sooner rather than later, while May Calamawy’s Layla makes a compelling argument as the strongest original character in the MCU by far. The show itself still struggles with the MCU’s inability to craft a television series or just a movie split into six parts. Moon Knight doesn’t make a convincing argument of it just being an MCU movie. This is one of the cases where it is a movie with runtime slaved off would have actually worked in its favour. Two movie stars like Oscar Issac and Ethan Hawke as the two principal characters of the show and the marvel humour more or less intact throughout Moon Knight would have been a perfect two-hour film. As a six-episode miniseries, it is a bit unwieldy, with huge pacing issues, but Issac and Calamawy ensure that you are hooked throughout.
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.