When it was first announced Oscar Isaac would be plying the lead in the Disney+ streaming series Moon Knight, I’ll admit, I was a little perplexed. Look, I like Moon Knight well enough. I wouldn’t call myself a Moon Knight aficionado, but I do own Moon Knight #1. (But, sadly, not his first appearance in Werewolf by Night, which, if you happen to now own, congrats, you are a rich person.) I was perplexed because Oscar Isaac seems like an actor who can kind of do anything he wants at this point, but also seems to wind up in a lot of stuff that doesn’t take full use of his talents. Remember, he’s been in Marvel properties before, unrecognizable as Apocalypse in X-Men: Apocalypse. A movie where they had hired one of the most charming actors of a generation to kind of grunt stoically for two hours. It’s still baffling. It’s clear early on in Moon Knight that this is the opposite of X-Men: Apocalypse. Moon Knight truly is the Oscar Isaac Power Hour.
So much of Moon Knight rests on Isaac’s shoulders as he, by sheer force of will, transforms what could have easily been a very confusing, disjointed show into something truly remarkable. In other words: Oscar Isaac is going for it. And, at least in the first four episodes, he doesn’t just go for it, he gets there. It now makes total sense why Isaac wanted to play Moon Knight. Isaac hasn’t been allowed to be this good since Inside Llewyn Davis.
To be fair, even with Isaac being a force of nature, the plot is still tricky to explain. It doesn’t necessarily feel confusing while watching it – well, some parts are, by design; I’ll get to that – but anytime I try to write what the plot is, or say it out loud it, I sound like a crazy person. Anyway, let’s try. So, Isaac plays Steven, a mild mannered man with a high pitched British accent who works in a museum gift shop. Unfortunately for Steven, when he’s sleeping, he’s prone to losing control of his body and waking up in very strange places, not having any clue how he got there. Oh, and when he looks in the mirror he see’s a different version of himself, named Mark, and Mark is usually very unhappy with Steven. Oh yes and sometimes Mark has complete control over the body, something that gets more and more prominent as the series goes on. And an Egyptian god, voiced by F. Murray Abraham, follows him around and is also usually annoyed with Steven. And I almost forgot, sometimes where there’s a lot of danger, he turns into Moon Knight.
Now, Moon Knight himself isn’t a third identity, no more than Batman is still Bruce Wayne under the cape. It’s a fancy suit that just magically appears and offers protection. But, sometimes Steven is Moon Knight (he’s very new at this aspect of his life) and mostly Mark is Moon Knight. When Mark is Moon Knight, he’s wearing a cape. When it’s Steven he’s wearing a suit and tie. See, just re-reading all this, it’s a miracle this show works. (It does.) I think one of the nifty tricks of Moon Knight is long stretches of exposition can just be skipped because Steven “blacked out.” And his confusion mirrors our confusion, while saving us from something dull.
Ethan Hawke plays Arthur Harrow, a man obsessed with awakening a new god that will bring doom. Steven, unbeknownst to himself at the time, has information that can lead to the location of this god, setting off a globetrotting trip that people will compare to Raiders of the Lost Ark, but feels more like The Mummy from 1999 (If there’s any doubt, I mean that as a compliment). As the episodes go on, Steven and Mark get more pronounced in their determination to stay in control. But, also, they each realize their own weaknesses and give up control to the other when their life depends on it. Steven and Mark are joined in this adventure by Layla (May Calamawy), Mark’s ex-wife. After some confusion over the existence of Steven at all, Layla starts to like Steven as her relationship with Mark becomes more and more complicated.
I’ve enjoyed the Marvel Disney+ shows to date, with more enthusiasm for some over the others. But Moon Knight is the first to feel like its own thing. The other have a sense of, well, here’s what happened between the movies. And look, those were pretty fun. And let Marvel deal with some complicated plot points, like variants, that would be difficult to explain in a couple lines of exposition. But Moon Knight doesn’t feel like that. And yes, for people who watch the MCU to see how things all feel connected in the bigger universe, this show doesn’t seem to care about that at all. So those people might be disappointed, but I found it refreshing. Plus, there’s so much already going on in Moon Knight, there was no part of me thinking, “I wonder what Thor is doing.”
Again, Moon Knight lives or dies with its star. An actor even slightly less engaged with this material would be a disaster. But that is not the case with Oscar Isaac. He saw a project that would allow him not to chew scenery, but go ahead and eat that scenery then wash it down with a tasty Mello Yello. Again, Oscar Isaac is going for it. And drags us along with him to our benefit. Moon Knight truly is The Oscar Isaac Power Hour we’ve all been waiting for.
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