The MCU got a little bigger when Moon Knight dropped on Disney Plus the other night. It stars Oscar Issac as Steven Grant- an ill at ease museum gift shop worker who’s uncomfortable in his own skin. That’s not where the story starts though. There’s things in this episode I liked and the show doesn’t do anything to disqualify itself in episode one; but it’s presented like an acid trip. Maybe they were going for Inception here.
The episode description says “Steven Grant learns that he may be a superhero, but may also share a body with a ruthless mercenary.” MCU shows on Disney so far are banking hard on the episode description- so this approach has me using these as my guide to what’s intended and then assessing if the story I see justifies it. Loki had episode descriptions doing more explaining than the show itself, so I’ve found it helpful checking these in the MCU shows I watch.
Moon Knight Episode 1 starts with a pretty cringey and slow sequence where we see a shadowy, long haired wizard-like figure (Ethan Hawke) filling his own shoes with broken glass and putting them on. There’s no blood though, despite these being loosely woven shoes blood would be immediately visible on.
It’s after this strangeness ends that we meet Issac’s Steven Grant. He sleeps willingly shackled into place with several different ways to indicate if he’s been sleepwalking around his bed- like a layer of sand to show footprints. Seems he solves rubik’s cubes in his sleep, too.
Oscar Issac has a pretty good British accent and is believable in his role as an uptight Martin Freeman-y museum gift shop clerk. Steven seems sort of charming in the time we see him at work. He’s pretty flakey but a hit with the ladies anyway- except his boss, who hates him. Steven is absolutely a neurotic and insecure guy, yet he aspires to be a tour guide at the museum – despite seemingly being spotty at communicating.
On the other hand, Steven is highly job focused and spends some of his free time studying up on Ancient Egypt, which is a big part of what goes on in the museum he works at.
Walking around he encounters our pal Ethan Hawke again. Hawke’s preaching to a decent sized crowd on the street and seems to have to have the power of life and death. When he takes people by both hands he sort of trips a little and sees into their hearts, apparently. His swinging cane is the only real indication there’s anything going on. After a moment though, the tattoo on his arm sort of tips off what the forces inside Hawke have determined for someone, appearing one way to indicate innocence and another if the person is guilty….of some kind of lack of pure-heartedness.
Steven has already heard voices a couple of times by the 8 minute mark and he’s also sleep deprived and quirky. Seems to have a classic case of suspecting hes a werewolf. It’s filmed in a way that made it hard to assess the shows location. About half of everyone sounds pretty British, the rest of the people are a mix of Americans and other accents. Everyone dresses pretty modern. It could be a city in south america or Europe….or not. Steering wheels are on the American side of cars, though.
After getting a lot of info visually in just a few minutes we have found out that Steven isn’t always in control. He swipes a very Egyptian looking talisman from Ethan Hawke and wants to return it, but can’t. He’s not able to control his body completely.
Then he sort of phases out and comes back- seemingly seconds later – with all his problems solved via what appears to be the application of martial arts. Moments later he phases in and out of a car chase. He’s hearing a voice in his head complaining about how stupid he is, for about the third time in the 20 minutes of story til now.
Steven sort of gives in to the voice and seems to be collaborating with it. He’s driving his minivan like a champ when he’s cut off anyway- but then a timber-slide or some uncanny force of nature bails him out. He then wakes up at home in bed again; again apparently willfully shackled to a wooden beam near his bed. Seemingly he’s relieved to be sure this is a dream and he’s sealed in at home.
And so it goes. We’re led to believe this is a daily thing. So as best as I can describe Steven’s life is like a Monty Python skit where Bourne Identity and The Hulk merge. Throw in the taunting inner voice not unlike Venom? Steven’s got a lot going on. The most shocking thing about this show is Oscar Issac is able to continue to deliver a pretty good performance as a man with the personality of C-3PO.
It’s a pretty reliable bet that Steven could lose an entire weekend at any time. We find out pretty fast Oscar Issac can sell rapid emotional changes and perpetual shock quite well.
The show however, is pretty choppy to watch. Steven’s a sad person. He leaves apparently unreturned voicemails to his mother that hint of Norman Bates qualities. He botches his date. They effectively made me sad. At this point I think maybe I was more annoyed than confused that the show was playing coy for 25 minutes and deliberately bringing me down. That said the immersion was good on and off.The first time I checked to see how much time was left in the story was about 12 minutes in during one of the breaks in the confusion.
By the halfway point of this story Steven is talking to himself again while feeding his goldfish. This is when he discovers by chance he has some kind of secret compartment in his apartment that has what appears to be an early 21st century cell phone and a key in it. He’s received an obsessive series of calls from someone named Layla and the interface shows us this is indeed an older cell phone. When he calls the number we can assume its Layla he speaks to and she says he has a strange accent and hangs up after calling him Marc a couple of times. At this point another voice starts addressing him and hes all over his apartment again trying to locate the source. Then things are frantic for a while. This was a lot of information of dubious reliability. I decided to turn subtitles on.
At this point Steven starts seeing a pretty cool but horrible Bird-Man Skeleton with a bizarre staff. At work he gets owned again a couple of times when he realizes something is going on. That’s when Ethan Hawke shows up again and he’s orchestrated a scenario where he can sort control the museum by filling it with his followers, revealed out of nowhere. He gets Steven to submit to his strange voodoo-ish cane-judgment and the results are “you have chaos in you.” thankfully there’s only 9 minutes left when Steven scampers away.
He has another ‘trip-like’ experience where he sees some shadows and we know there’s a supernatural element. Arthur (Ethan Hawke) then is heard, either over the public address system or on blast through Steven’s mind, telling him to return the jewelry he took earlier- confirming my suspicions that it is indeed a scarab- and that if he does this he wont be torn apart.
A Skeletal Demon Dog similar to the ones from Resident Evil then chases him to the bathroom. That’s when the games we’ve played and hints that were teased with Steven’s reflection all through this pay off; he confronts his image in the mirror. The Evil Skeletal Dog attacks the door, making steady progress taking it down. Stevens alter ego addresses him directly- he seems pretty confident in the style of Arnold’s alter ego in the 90s Total Recall. He assures Steven if he (Marc?) is ‘given control’ they will survive. Steven submits and transforms- not into the alter ego- but into a cloaked figure that easily takes out the attacking demon dog, which he overkills.
The episode ends with a quick first look at the Moon Knight outfit- which, like the show is impossible to assess right now. Perhaps the episode ending sequence confirms this is London by showing us Big Ben is part of the skyline.
I don’t know what to make of this. Oscar Issac is too good an actor to say the shows good or bad, because he almost totally wills strange things into coherence with sheer determination. The premiere wasn’t a smooth or fluid experience though. The story didn’t feel like it unfolded organically.
There was nonstop edgy-ness and weirdness, which was cool enough, but it was sort of heaped on. One or two moments had a sort of David Lynch feel, so I liked that. I’d like it if the show had more clarity going forward, maybe staying neutral more and not taking Steven’s point of view so much since it’s unreliable.
His job location is decent enough – but we also see Steven getting owned a lot. We get it- he’s a loser. Then we find out he’s got a pretty hot date- which he blows because he’s only vaguely aware of it and loses time. By the end of the episode they had at least resolved his confusion and he’s aware he’s got a Venom-like split personality. The show starts out rough, then the discomfort sort of peaks. The last ten minutes of the episode were as strange as the rest, but there was some progress made. While I was definitely confused at the end of it I didn’t find it frustrating so far.
I can’t assess Moon Knight yet. All I can say is “Episode 1 at least sold me on the idea of watching episode 2.” It also sort of felt kind of long for a 47 minute episode. We may have rushed events to get to this costume reveal so fast.
The Disney Plus Star Wars / MCU show problems continue though. Once again the episode description exceeds the information we get from the episode. It was strange to know why he was doing things before they reveal it onscreen – and I again find myself asking why they keep doing this. I can only imagine how I’d feel if I didn’t know his alter ego is an assassin going in. I found this episode ok. The way it goes from here is hard to say not having read the comics.
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Til Next time!