Thursday, May 30, 2024

Moon Knight Continues To Struggle With Tone

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After last week’s Mummy-inspired jaunt through the desert yet again took Moon Knight in a different direction, I wondered if this would be a one-off shift in tone (as the first three episodes had been) or if they would go full-on in this direction. For the first, let’s say, 30 minutes or so, “The Tomb” very much continued its Mummyfied jaunt in search of Ammit.

Then its wildest shift in tone yet occurred. Along with said shift came the largest feeling yet that Moon Knight has wasted too much time without deciding what it wants to be. I really want to like this show, but with two episodes left, I highly doubt I am going to get there.

Marc and Layla from Moon Knight's 4th episode

Let’s go ahead and talk about that ending sequence in the assuredly fake mental institution. I can see why people are excited about it. The entire sequence was such a jarring moment opening up a number of possibilities and theories for fans to sink their teeth into. I tend to think they will go the theorized route of this place being a resting home for the gods, and probably the place where all those imprisoned gods in the episode’s opening reside. We may finally be entering a moment of meaningful answers.

I just wish the actual sequence itself felt more interesting. Instead, it felt like yet another example of Moon Knight’s clunky attempts to be mysterious where it is instead just incoherent. Moon Knight’s first episode had this same problem, where it tried to be interesting by being confusing and did not do enough to make me care about why it was confusing.

It is also yet another example of Moon Knight, much like its protagonists, being a worse version of something else instead of settling on its own identity.

For those of you who think that maybe I just don’t like this kind of story, may I point you to Legion. This ending sequence was so blatantly Legion in that I cannot imagine anyone convincingly denying it. The mental institution, the split personalities, the antagonist at its core, all of this was done years ago in Legion. I loved the hell out of Legion, so I am all in for stories like this.

The problem with being so heavily inspired by other media, though, is that you risk being a less interesting version of the story you are inspired by. Moon Knight’s institution scene just felt like a less interesting version of something Legion did much better. After a fun Mummy-like setup last week, this week’s tomb raiding adventure was just a clumsy knock-off of what The Mummy or Indiana Jones made iconic.

(Though I will give full marks to Harrow’s Indy-like execution of Marc when Marc thought to fight a room full of gunmen with an ax.)

This is the larger problem facing Moon Knight as it enters the last two episodes of the season. It has spent so much time refusing to settle on a tone that now it has to decide on one, and it will be hard to make it feel coherent or earned. I can appreciate the ambitious concepts at play here, but it feels like either Marvel or the showrunners did not go all-in on it, or were too unsure about fully exploring said concepts.

The tomb hunt leading up to the discovery of Alexander the Great and Ammit’s prison figure showcase this same issue. After last week’s episode had fun with its Indiana Jones/Mummy atmosphere, Moon Knight felt weirdly restrained while continuing the race to Ammit this week. This half-hearted, rushed tone was set immediately with the opening scene featuring Layla and the machine gun jeep. Rather than make Layla look capable, the scene made the flunkies in the jeep look incompetent and the entire scene awkward.

It did not get that much better moving forward. The internal logic connecting every scene felt off, as if they were checking off a bullet point list of events without sketching out a proper flow. Plus it just plays into so many worn-out tropes that seem to only exist because they are tropes. For example, Steven and Layla’s sudden romantic interest, which comes completely out of nowhere. It seemingly only exists to give Moon Knight a version of a love triangle.

I hope this all comes together in the last couple of episodes. If we assume that Marc/Steven is now trapped in some sort of home/prison for the gods, and there is some larger political struggle between the gods that they can tip the balance of, Moon Knight may finally start piecing together the puzzle that will retroactively improve the rest of the season. If they at least commit to how damn surreal this ending sequence was, it will provide sorely missing direction for the series.

Is it possible my brain is just too focused on the absurd excellence two hours of Better Call Saul provided this week, and I might be holding Moon Knight to an unfairly high standard? Maybe, but it does not change the fact that this show is less of a compelling puzzle of mysteries and more of a muddled collection of ideas that do not fit together.

Here’s hoping Moon Knight can figure itself out in the endgame.

Images Courtesy of Marvel Studios

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