Julien Neaves, Editor
Previously on Red Mango Reviews, I was declaring Hawkeye as the best MCU Disney+ series. Yes, I know most people would say WadnaVision or Loki but I don’t mind being an outlier. Well, it took some divine intervention (get it? you get it) but the newest series Moon Knight has taken over the number one spot.
Now right out the gate the show had a few things going against it. The main character was not an A-lister in comics and, unlike the other Disney+ series, had not previously been introduced in the MCU films. The show had no connection to the wider MCU universe other than a few deep cut references. And even for comic fans major changes were made to the protagonist. Oh, and the show not only had to tell an origin story but a deliver a complete tale in just six episodes. But Moon Knight not only rose to meet the challenges, it soared above them. With a double, nay, TRIPLE SPOILER ALERT here’s my Season 1 review:
I have long been a fan of the work of Oscar Isaac, from his breakout turn in Ex Machina to his solid showing in the Star Wars sequel showing. But if he doesn’t win a bunch of awards for his role (or should I say, roles) as Marc Spector/Steven Grant/Moon Knight/Mr Knight then that would be a crime because he is mind blowing here. Like Tatiana Maslany (who we’ll be meeting as Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk later this year) did with the clones in Orphan Black, Isaac delivers two roles that are so different and fleshed out that if you closed your eyes you could easily forget it’s the same actor. With Marc we have a haunted, cocky, self-assured mercenary and with Steven we have a socially awkward, lovelorn weakling who cannot rise above his lowly job selling merch in a museum. They are as different as night and day, and if seeing the switch between the alternates was not fun enough we get to see them later interacting with each other. Moving seamlessly from slapstick comedy to heartbreaking pathos, from romantic lead to action superhero, Isaac delivers the best performance of the MCU Disney+ series.
Now the comic book Moon Knight character is a complex one with his multiple personas both civilian and superhero. And if the series went the route of being slavishly faithful to the source material they would probably have to spend six episodes just explaining and setting up everything. So while there were some liberties taken it helped to tighten the story and make it work for a limited series without sacrificing too much. And the suit, both Moon Knight and Mr Knight, look dang cool and the transformation scenes freaking epic. Isaac, who does double duty as an executive producer, clearly has a passion for the character and I think he and his team did a commendable job translating him from page to screen.
Now let’s move to the small and very talented main cast that supported our white-robed hero. Ethan Hawke as cult leader Arthur Harrow makes the MCU’s early days of lacklustre villains feel like a distant memory. He gives such a strong, committed performance that is absolutely terrifying in its quiet subtlety. This is no power mad megalomaniac or technologically powered bad guy on a mission of vengeance. No, this is a man on a mission for god, only his god is the Egyptian goddess Ammit whose justice, like an ancient form of Minority Report, judges you before you commit any sins. And speaking of gods, could veteran actor F. Murray Abraham be any more entertaining as skeletal Egyptian moon god Khonshu? He is equal parts sarcastic wit, godly condescension and manipulation. And we see some of that manipulation in play not only with Marc/Steven but Marc’s wife and Steven’s love interest (yeah, it’s a weird love triangle) Layla El-Faouly, played by the charismatic May Calamawy. I do love me a powerful female character and she holds her own both with the fisticuffs and the more tender moments.
Before going into the series I knew about Moon Knight’s Egyptian connections but I didn’t expect how hard the series would be leaning into that, from the music to the visuals to the characters to the locations, including visually striking depictions of the Egyptian afterlife. With all these gods and avatars we truly took a deep dive into the lore and I found it quite fascinating. But I, and I suspect no other viewer, was prepared for the introduction of Taweret, the hippo-headed Egyptian goddess of childbirth and fertility with her girly, high pitched voice. Of all the deities introduced she is my favourite (sorry Khonshu) and brought a refreshing lightness to this dark tale.
And what a dark tale it is, darker than its previous Disney+ MCU series but not as adult as the Netflix MCU-adjacent series (Daredevil, The Punisher et cetera). We had Darrow and his followers ripping people’s souls out of their bodies, monstrous creatures and creepy dead sand people, and even the skeletal Khonshu lurking in the shadows and scaring the piss out of poor Steven. But even darker than that was the revelation of the trauma that created the Steven Grant alternate identity. We have the first blow of child death (Marc’s brother) and the second blow of physical child abuse which made for a difficult watch. Yeah, they went there but these sensitive themes were treated with such care and respect and depth that it truly elevated the series beyond just another superhero show. Good on you Moon Knight.
One of the main themes of the series is balance. Darrow is all about balance, though in a twisted way. Marc and Steven must find balance in order to escape the afterlife. And balance is also one of the best aspects of the series as well. With flavours of Indiana Jones and The Mummy (1999) the comedic, horror and superhero tones were all finely balanced, as well as the rich character development and the pulse-pounding action sequences. Whether Moon Knight was punching the living daylights out of an Egyptian wolf creature, beating up multiple baddies, throwing his crescent darts or soaring through the night I felt like cheering each time. Even Mr Knight gets in a few hits here and there, though it was mixed with comedy. Heck, the fourth and fifth episodes don’t even have the Moon Knight or Mr Knight suits, but by this point we are so invested in Marc and Steven’s story that it was not even a big deal. And tell me you didn’t tear up when Steven turned into sand in the Duat? That was rough. No pun intended.
And now on the finale episode, and yeah, I have to take a point off here as it felt just a bit rushed. I mean, Layla went from rejecting Khonshu’s offer to become an avatar to “temporarily” bonding with Taweret to becoming the superhero the Scarlet Scarab, all in one episode? Now the suit looked good (the wings reminded me somewhat of Wonder Woman’s gold outfit in Wonder Woman 1984) and she was kickass in it but we could have used more build up. But I have no complaints about the action set piece with her and the Knights versus Darrow and his followers. Great time there. And even giant Ammit versus giant Khonshu could have looked hokey but it was decent. Like Gods of Egypt, only not awful. And the post-credits scene? Shut the front, side and back doors. Now they had been teasing third alternate Jake Lockley for some time but his bloody introduction was simply brilliant. And of course Khonshu that dirty birdie was still manipulating Marc/Steven. He cleans up well though.
So yeah, epic series through and through, and I need more Moon Knight in my life. Now it is unclear if we are getting a second season, as it was supposed to be a limited series and the powers that be were planning to submit it for a limited series Emmy. And then they changed the social media handle from “series finale” to “season finale”. And then Isaac said there are no plans for a second season. And then director Mohamed Diab said he is in the dark about it. But second season or not (I hope we get one though) I can put good money that this not the last we have seen of this complex and intriguing character.
Editor Jules’s Score: 9 out of 10
So what did you think of Moon Knight? And how would you rank it among the other Disney+ MCU series? And you can check out more for the small screen universe below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.