The chaotic superhero film performance has been around for decades. It peaked with Willem Dafoe’s committed performance as the Green Goblin in 2002’s Spider-Man and extended to the protagonist with Tom Hardy’s passionate performance as journalist Eddie Brock in 2018’s Venom. A decade and change into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and this overwhelming sea of superhero IP, it’s more challenging than ever to create a superhero film or television show that’s singular. As the genre has evolved, some accomplished actors have begun to embrace the chaos like Dafoe did twenty years ago with performances that challenge the norms with performances that go far beyond being hot, having a nice body, and saying things like “avengers assemble” or making snappy pop culture references. Robert Pattinson, an actor known for his bombastic performances, brought emo energy and exemplary mouth acting to his performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman in The Batman. On Moon Knight, the latest television series entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Disney Plus, Oscar Isaac, an actor with natural irresistible charisma and a subtle performance style, is unleashing absolute chaos with an indescribable energy and unbelievable level of commitment.
Isaac plays Steven Grant, a meek British man who works at a museum gift shop. Steven Grant is gentle but manic. He is a humble, mumbling, chronically fatigued Brit who thinks that having a chain on his bed is a red flag, says things like “later gator,” and owns a one-finned fish. He wears oversized clothes in muted, sad colors. Essentially, he is the last person anyone would expect to be the avatar for the Egyptian moon god Khonshu. But alas, he is. In episode two of Moon Knight, Steven runs through the halls of a storage unit facility, being chased by Khonshu. He’s whimpering in his weird high pitched non-specific British accent which is more of a combination of all of the British accents in Love Actually than a real British accent. His eyes are wide, his forehead sweaty, his mouth as wide as possible. Steven Grant is terrified, but Oscar Isaac is having the time of his life. Isaac puts his absolute all into routine action scenes by filling them with existential dread, confusion, and anxiety through inventive facial expressions and body language making it one of the most interesting performances in MCU history only two episodes in because it’s actually interesting.
Behind Steven Grant – or more accurately behind the mirrors Steven Grant looks into – is Marc Spector, an alternate personality. Marc is the polar opposite of Steven: confident, controlled, violent, and aware of the Egyptian god avatar thing. Marc has the kind of personality that would be expected from a guy who looks like Oscar Isaac, and the type of personality expected of a Marvel character. Somehow, against all odds (the odds being Isaac’s face) Isaac pulls off both Marc and Steven, effectively playing a freaking loser and the stoic, mysterious hero. Playing two characters in one is an art, and a challenge not many actors accept. Lindsay Lohan did it best in 1998’s The Parent Trap in one of the greatest performances ever captured on a camera. On Moon Knight, Isaac is channeling Lohan.
The MCU is not completely absent of notable performances: Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany worked their way to deserved Emmy nominations for their performances on WandaVision. Tom Hiddleston shook the entire franchise up with a performance so good that his character, Loki, was brought back from the dead several times and then got his own TV show. Jake Gyllenhaal gave a frenzied charisma to Spider-Man: Far From Home’s tech villian Mysterio. Chaos and disorder is exactly what the MCU – which has exhausted itself with its sameness – needs right now. With his unpredictable, in-depth and slightly deranged performance on Moon Knight, Oscar Isaac is elevating MCU heroes to a new, actually interesting level.