The release of Marvel’s Moon Knight on March 30 came with both a bang and a whimper, depending on whether Oscar Isaac’s lead character had the personality of the brutal Marc Spector or the shy Steven Grant. As the first Marvel production of the year, the show’s mystery, subtle humor, and stellar acting have fans eagerly awaiting the rest of Phase 4 to come.
The first episode follows a gift shop employee at a British museum as he goes through his seemingly normal day until night falls. As he goes through his nighttime routine—though it isn’t just a simple brushing of his teeth and laying out his outfit for the following day, but rather securing the door with tape, sprinkling sand around his bed, and chaining his ankle to the bedpost—and falls asleep, viewers are thrust into a dream sequence filled with violence, villain Arthur Harrow(played by Ethan Hawke), and an illusive scarab that both mortals and gods alike are after. The following few episodes reveal that these dreams are actually an alternate reality, of sorts. Steven Grant finds out that he doesn’t just contain a duplicate personality in the ruthless mercenary Marc Spector, but is also the human avatar of Khonsu, the God of Vengeance. Essentially, it’s like the “Night at the Museum” trilogy has gone horribly wrong.
While I certainly do not have the plot all figured out—and am eagerly awaiting to see if a third or fourth personality breaks through in the coming conflicts over the hunt for the scarab—Moon Knight is a refreshing series for Marvel. Following on the heels of the incredibly successful WandaVision, the socially conscious Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the wily Loki, and the Christmas drama Hawkeye, Moon Knight is the first Marvel series that exclusively focuses on a fresh face in the Marvel Universe. Instead of basing the narrative around fan favorites from the Marvel movies and introducing new superheroes as secondary characters, Moon Knight is breaking from tradition and revolving solely around a new character. It establishes the Marvel miniseries not just as add-ons that wrap up stories from already-established names and faces, but rather as a tool that can stand on its own as a functional, exciting, and informative piece in the larger Marvel story.
And what a new character this is! Perhaps the most complex of superheroes that we’ve seen, Moon Knight is canonically a villain in the Marvel comic books but seems to be on track to staying a hero in the show. Isaac seamlessly blends the two personalities of Steven and Marc in a way that makes their dual inhabitance believable, yet also each uniquely their own. While Marc Spector is perhaps the main personality that Moon Knight will focus on for the rest of the series, Steven Grant is the epitome of what makes Marvel so lovable by superfans and casual fans alike. His good-natured spirit, genuine kindness, and bumbling humor add a touch of humanity to the figure of Moon Knight—and style, considering his version of the superhero is denoted by a three-piece suit—as well as the increasingly intense and relatively scary plot.
While it’s not exactly clear whether or not Steven is secretly just as villainous and bloodthirsty as his alter ego, the first three episodes establish him as the perfect underdog. It’s a character type that we’re seeing all too often on television now, perhaps reflecting the hope and positivity that is necessary to get through the world today. In a demeanor similar to the titular character of Ted Lasso as well as Martin Short and Steve Martin’s characters from Only Murders in the Building, Steven Grant reflects the shift of protagonists to be someone that viewers aren’t just rooting for, but relying on.
Moon Knight is also making waves for its increased representation of mental illness as well as Middle Eastern culture. While the reason for the Steven Grant/Marc Spector split hasn’t been fully revealed within the series, in the comics, he has dissociative identity disorder. Previously known as multiple personality disorder, Isaac researched the history of the mental illness as well as its causes to fully understand it and reflect it in his acting. Though he has noted in interviews that it is not an entirely accurate depiction of the disorder since it is joined with supernatural elements, it’s the first time that Marvel has truly explored a serious mental illness in its works and characters.
Additionally, Moon Knight is the first Marvel production to be set in the Arab world. With the narrative revolving around ancient Egyptian gods and cosmology, the directors and actors wanted to ensure that their depiction of the culture, peoples, and lands was accurate and different from the Hollywood stereotypes. Director and executive producer Mohamed Diab is a famed Egyptian director—and the first Arab director in the Marvel franchise—and made it his mission to show how closely intertwined the city of Cairo is with its ancient landmarks. Many of his shots are almost documentary-like in following Isaac’s character through the city center and markets.
Most notably, however, his shots of the pyramids expose their realistic location in the center of the city as just one aspect of a busy skyline, as opposed to the usual notion of the pyramids existing alone in a desert. While Marvel, and the entertainment world at large, still have a long way to go in terms of representation, Moon Knight is a nice opening into the Middle Eastern culture both past and present.
Watch Moon Knight on Disney+ with new episodes released every Wednesday. Watch the trailer for the series below.