The Show: Steven Grant and mercenary Marc Spector investigate the mysteries of the Egyptian gods from inside the same body.
Review by Tim Robins
Although not exactly a “braw bricht moonlicht nicht”, Marvel’s six-part series, Moon Knight, is not without highlights.
Moon Knight follows the Marvel formula, so it is not exactly spoiling anything to say episode six ends with a CGI fight and purple energy beams, purple being the Marvel Cinematic and Televisual Universe’s current colour of choice for evil quantum energy (Boo, hiss, dastardly quantum physics).
Moon Knight originated in Werewolf By Night, a fun comic put out by Marvel after the Comics Code Authority relinquished its ban on references to horror staples – werewolves, vampires, zombies etc. At first, Moon Knight was a fist-for-hire mercenary, sent to bring down Jack Russell – the eponymous Werewolf, making his debut in #32. Eventually, the character spun off into the first of many comics bearing his name.
Initially a shadowy character, supported by a team of assistants, later, Marc Spector adopted a variety of guises. Much of the TV series draws on writer Jeff Lemire’s two volume-run on Moon Knight, including explaining Marc Spector’s identities as “alters”, resulting from Dissociative Identity Disorder as a result of a childhood link to the Ancient Egyptian god Khonshu, thus conflating the superhero trope of having an alter-ego with having “alters”.
Over time, Moon Knight’s costume changed to incorporate mummy-like bandages – and when you unwrap the TV series, you’ll find at its heart another riff on Orientalist adventuring and Hollywood takes of The Mummy. The twist is that now the mummy is a superhero.
Caught between the machinations of ancient Egyptian gods Kohnshu and Ammit is the hapless Steven Grant who suffers from blackouts in which his body “wants to get up and walk about”.
(This echoes a terrified archeologist who sees the mummified Imhotep rise from the dead in Universal’s The Mummy (1932), and is left gibbering, “He went for a little walk”).
Much of Moon Knight is a one man, multiple- personalities-show, with Oscar Isaac taking centre stage as Grant, Spector, Mr Night and more. Much of the show’s pre-publicity has focussed on Isaac studying the English accents of Russell Brand and Karl Pilkington; and Pilkington’s chums, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. But Isaac not only adopts a hybrid accent, he also adopts Pilkington’s shtick. The effect is a mumbly, hesitant, hapless character, that turns Steven Grant into a tormented kin of Norman Wisdom and Michael Crawford.
There is a lot of impressive after-life design work in the final two episodes, particularly what I take to be the Barque of Osiris, a barge with the goddess Taweret at its helm. The set designs echo the 1930s Universal horror movies, and more recent Mummy-based action adventures, but have an authenticity of their own thanks to the work of production designer Stefania Cella.
The various gods and goddesses are convincingly rendered. Taweret, the hippo-visaged goddess of childbirth, is given an alarmingly coquettish character by the animators and voice artiste Sofia Danu. Moon Knight has a crescent shaped cape used to good effect in episode three, where he also gets to use his similarly shaped shuriken (definitely not Batarangs, although comics led fans often saw Moon Knight as Marvel’s version of Batman when he made his debut).
The Moon Knight has not been seen in previous TV or Cinematic universes, unless you count animated appearances, and you probably should, as I have no doubt TV animated shows raised interest and awareness of Marvel’s four-colour-cast among audiences.
Despite Moon Knight’s qualities, I found it hard to engage with the series. The plot elements are over familiar and the story itself is quite diversionary. Episode three focuses on a James Bond-ish antagonist, while episode four is partly spent in a faux psychiatric institute.
My interest in Moon Knight waxed and waned as the series went on. None of the twists really landed with me and Grant’s situation felt over familiar. The bigger problem was that I never warmed to Isaac’s interpretation of Grant. It’s one thing to copy an accent, it’s another to copy an entire performance. I thought it was ridiculous: more ridiculous than even a purple hippo god. And the show is downbeat or wistful enough, without the mumbling.
I did enjoy Moon Knight’s ambition, its desert locations and moments such as Konshu and Ammit fighting over an Egyptian skyline while Moon Knight punches out Harrow with the aid of another avatar – The Scarlet Scarab. Some scenes are surprisingly scary. But when it comes to enjoying Moon Knight’s cinematic qualities, I think I need to buy a bigger TV.
Dear reader a review is an opinion, not a statement of fact – other opinions are available, including yours
Further Reading or Watching
“Marvel Studios: Assembled – The Making of Moon Knight” episode will now be released on Disney+ on Wednesday 25th May 2022.
Join the likes of Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke as they reveal how Marvel Studios’ Moon Knight was painstakingly brought to life. Through insightful interviews with cast and crew, along with immersive footage from the set, ASSEMBLED pulls back the curtain on this groundbreaking series. Additionally, The Making of Moon Knight incorporates a candid “roundtable discussion” with the series’ directors.
It’s hardly surprising that with the arrival of Moon Knight on Disney+, Panini Comics has released a number of collections featuring the troubled antihero, a character who has gone through more revamps than you can shake a crescent dart at. Here’s a look at three recent, very different, releases…