Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Moon Knight’s Bright Spots Break Through Cloudy Weather

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Much like its technically dual protagonists, Moon Knight is a show with two drastically different personalities. Here it is comedy, here an action movie. Here it is a character study, here it is a supernatural mystery. And like the internal battle between Steven and Marc, Moon Knight is trying to figure out how best to balance the best of both sides while eliminating their worst.

Through two episodes, it has been every bit as difficult as the battle between the two personalities at the show’s center.

Steven with a gun in Moon Knight

I am of the opinion that the first episode was borderline bad. If not for Oscar Isaac’s irresistible charisma, I might not have kept watching. The episode jumped from scene to scene with little structure, trying to create the same confusion and mystery that Steven felt, and I can admire the purpose and attempt. The problem is that we had no previous context. Things just happened with no idea why we should care. Yes, we all had a good idea that Steven’s gaps in his memory were Moon Knight related, but they just made me want to see that instead of Steven’s boring life.

Even when the episode ends with the Moon Knight reveal, well, if you walked in with no idea who Moon Knight is, that reveal means little.

Unfortunately, Steven’s life was also boring. He was a bland loser archetype, which was incredibly difficult to believe when you have Oscar freaking Isaac on screen. Watching him talk to his mom, work a boring job, and do normal stuff was not very interesting when we know the really interesting things are happening off-screen. Plus everything happened so fast that Steven typically fails to have much of a reaction besides witty confusion. Oscar Isaac does the best he can with the material but it all felt a bit flat.

If we really had a chance to see the impact everything was having on him, this would all work better. It is not until episode 2 that we start to see some real emotional fallout and reaction to everything this character goes through. It is no coincidence that the second episode drastically improves on the first, even if there are still flaws to work out.

Just having the episode focused around the mystery of Moon Knight and Khonshu made things more interesting. The dynamic between Steven, Marc, and the Egyptian god who gave them powers takes center stage and, well, it is a hell of a fun dynamic. Khonshu, in particular, is an absolute delight. The Venom influence is immediately obvious, and for the better, as Khonshu spends most of the episode as a voice/vision encouraging violent murder but reveals a bit of a protective streak towards the end of the episode.

Marc’s emergence also helps balance out and accentuate the good things about Steven. Their differences create some really fun moments, such as Steven summoning a Moon Knight suit that is literally a fancy suit with a Deadpool-inspired mask, or the mirror scene after he gives up control to Marc. Steven’s conversation with Arthur also reveals a strong moral foundation beneath his meekness and desperate desire to escape the situation.

Yes, taking a stand against preemptive murder is not exactly a high bar to clear, but Steven standing up to the pressure and danger placed upon him is meaningful.

Moon Knight suit reveal

Marc himself has still yet to define himself, but we have some strong hints for Moon Knight to follow up on. Namely, the seeming hint that Steven is simply a personality created by Marc to escape…something. The chain of events seems to track as Marc being near death, being saved by Khonshu, finding the scarab he and Arthur have fought over, and Marc abandoning his wife and former life to escape into Steven’s as a way to hide. The second episode ends with Marc/Steven in Egypt, where we will presumably receive more answers. I’m happy to say that I want to learn more. I did not feel very invested at all after the first episode.

And there is no question that this is going to be the main conflict of the season. Arthur and his attempts to free a murderous Egyptian god of Minority Report justice may provide a backdrop, but he will most likely be nothing more than a stock-issue Marvel obstacle to the content that matters, which is Marc and Steven. Well, with a dose of Khonshu as well.

I do worry about whether a larger cast will help take the pressure off one character to carry everything. Layla made a fairly good first impression as Marc’s estranged wife. Hopefully, she will still be around and be a vehicle through which we learn more about Marc.

Through two episodes, I cannot say I expect Moon Knight to match up to the level WandaVision or Loki did. Those shows both had an immediate spark and creativity that captured me (and many others) from episode one. To be fair, those two shows were some of the best entertainment of the past couple of years and a high bar for anyone to match.

Moon Knight has some promise to build upon. Here is hoping they realize it.

Images Courtesy of Marvel Studios

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