Sunday, May 29, 2022

‘Moon Knight’ Review: Oscar Isaac Carries an Impressively Daring, Mind-Bending Adventure

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

Marvel Studios’ latest series Moon Knight has come to a close after the conclusion of the sixth episode in a darkly entertaining, mind-bending adventure. The show sees the introduction of Oscar Isaac as Marc Spector, a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder who moonlights as the ruthless avatar of Khonshu. Despite the challenges it faced as a complete newcomer to the sprawling world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Moon Knight has rightfully earned its place as one of the franchise’s most impressive, daring, and enjoyable television offerings yet (and honestly, future entries will be hard-pressed to orchestrate a launch at this level of precision).

Since early 2021, Marvel Studios has released an array of Disney+ shows focused on various iconic figures from the MCU. However, Moon Knight is the streaming service’s first series that launched a brand-new character not previously seen in any other films or shows. Following the seismic shakeups in Avengers: Endgame, we’ve reached a point where cycling new faces into the MCU is a necessary risk in order to cement the future of the franchise. And while many have been able to ease their way in alongside seasoned vets as they gradually work their way into the spotlight, the complexity of Marc Spector’s life needed to be unraveled independently.

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Isaac’s recent notoriety across heavy-hitters like Star Wars and Dune set him up as the perfect recognizable, desirable candidate to take on the daunting task of selling audiences on Moon Knight. But beyond his star power, the true recipe to the success of Marc Spector’s live-action counterpart actually comes from Isaac’s mastery of his trade — to put it simply, he’s an incredible actor. Isaac has become a household name through blockbusters, but much of his career has been built upon a monumental repertoire of other projects as well. His real passion for his work comes out in his character studies (something that can recently be seen in his roles in The Card Counter and Scenes from a Marriage). And thus Moon Knight was essentially the perfect storm for Isaac, allowing him to marry his big screen persona with his knack for digging very deeply into the psyche of a character.

Marvel Studios

What’s perhaps most remarkable about Isaac’s performance is the fact that his role went far beyond simply making audiences like Marc Spector. Rather, he had to juggle Marc alongside his polar opposite alter — the soft, mild-mannered Steven Grant. Isaac found a way, over the course of just six episodes, to establish a sweeping emotional connection for audiences with both characters. This broadened the scope of the show’s accessibility beyond that of comic fans, as casual Marvel viewers were then given the opportunity to become genuinely invested in this new hero as well.

The initial reveal of Steven Grant’s British accent was met with a mixed audience response, but the decision was ultimately a stroke of genius that only served to elevate Isaac’s performance by allowing audiences to even further buy into the distinction between Marc and his alter. This also upped the entertainment factor found in Marc and Steven’s “separate body” interactions. By the time the finale rolled around, the two had reached a point of harmonious synchronicity that allowed them to switch back and forth at breakneck speeds during regular conversation and battle alike — which was mesmerizing to watch Isaac perform.

Comic readers spent much of the series picking up on the various breadcrumbs strewn about that pointedly hinted at the existence of Marc’s other alter: Jake Lockley. His long-awaited arrival in the finale’s credits scene was the show’s ultimate “mic drop moment,” leaving audiences with a giddy sense of euphoria over the future possibilities that may now still lie ahead for Marc, Steven, and the Spanish-speaking alter that appears to be the darkest side of him yet. The state of Marc Spector’s mind has been explored time and time again in different ways across Moon Knight’s history in the comics, and the show’s careful approach to bringing this character to life was, all in all, a narrative accomplishment. Moon Knight managed to pull off the feat of translating a complicated, psychedelic, mystifying plot into a digestible format for viewers.

Csaba Aknay/Marvel Studios
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Moon Knight also touts a small but strong supporting cast. F. Murray Abraham’s voice acting manages to tap into the fascinating eccentricity of Khonshu, giving him depth beyond that of an ominous, towering god. Ethan Hawke, meanwhile, plays a formidable antagonist that contrasts well against Isaac’s performance by carrying a quietly dangerous air of mystery along with him each step of the way. And of course there’s the exciting growth of May Calamawy’s Layla El-Faouly as she pivots from a resourceful, strong-willed wife to a fierce, dazzling Egyptian superhero. (We can all agree that her “temporary” avatar deal with Taweret needs to be permanent so we can see her suit up again … right?)

Given the nature of this layered origin story, the series couldn’t necessarily rely on back-to-back thrilling adrenaline from fights against villains alone. Even so, viewers remained riveted regardless — a testament to the integrity of Isaac’s performance. But in the moments when he did suit up as Khonshu’s vigilante, Moon Knight went full throttle. Some may balk over the increasingly abundant exploitation of CGI in the film and television industry, but it goes without saying that the manner in which Moon Knight’s costume was brought to life is easily the most visually mouth-watering suit up to be found in the entirety of the MCU. However, as a smaller television property, the show certainly did have CGI and visual limitations in general, so we can only hope that the continuation of Marc Spector’s story will eventually be given the Marvel film treatment it deserves with a budget and resources that can tap into the full potential of this character.

Marvel has yet to confirm what the future holds for Oscar Isaac as Marc Spector, but after the indisputable success of Moon Knight, this certainly can’t be the last time that we’ve seen him at work as the Fist of Khonshu.

All six episodes of Moon Knight are now streaming exclusively on Disney+.

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