Moon Knight is an origin story for a superhero that plays out much like every superhero origin story. It has a hero coming to terms with who he is and understanding his abilities. It has a devout villain, zealous in his belief that his cause is right, but also championing a cause that’s vague enough to be dangerous on a grand scale, while also not being specific enough that it would require extra character development. The season ends in a fantastic finale filled with punching, while something very important, but also completely digitally created, is happening in the background.
Mind you, when the punching happens it’s really cool, and also acts as a culmination of the Moon Knight’s character arc, evolving his personal growth while also showing off why seeing the avatar of the Egyptian God of the Moon fight off bad guys is measurably different from seeing anyone else do the punching.
It all builds off of the foundation that is Oscar Isaac. He plays a character with dissociative identity disorder, and a large part of the storyline is how his personas discover and deal with each other. Part of what makes his delivery of all of his personas is how seamlessly he switches from one to the other, while at the same time making each of his character’s personalities meaningful in their own right.
The other part is the cinematic presentation of these exchanges, adding flair to a technique borrowed from Spider-Man (2002). When the Green Goblin was talking to himself, there was a clear separation as to who was who; there was the man talking to his reflection in the mirror, and his reflection, twisted and mad, talking back. With Moon Knight, Isaac’s reflection isn’t bound to rudimentary rules of light. His alternate personality is a like a prisoner trapped in the glass, which is not only visually striking, but it also emphasizes the relationship each personality has with each other, at least, toward the beginning of the show.
When it comes to origin stories, Moon Knight takes its main character development and more or less just extends it. The plot doesn’t want the Moon Knight to do extra stuff, because he has six episodes to work with, it just takes him longer to do it. It takes a whole episode for the Moon Knight to even appear, let alone for his multiple personalities to actually meet up. There’s a full two episodes where he’s no longer the Moon Knight, just a regular guy.
So when the hero’s not off Moon Knighting you’ll generally find him moonlighting as a museum gift shop employee, or as both male leads from The Mummy (1999), or spending an entire episode watching clip shows of his life, seeing where things went wrong. Believe it or not, the clip show episode might be the most interesting, but it’s here where the show really flexes its narrative strength, in showing off its focus on stronger character development, while really giving Oscar Isaac something to work off of.
Every hero needs a villain, and filling those shoes is Ethan Hawke as the leader of a cult that worships an Egyptian God. His ultimate goals may be highly specific to the God he worships, but there’s very little that sets that final goal apart from previous Marvel bad guys that felt that the world needed fixing, and the only proper repair would be mass genocide. What makes him interesting is the faith in his cause, as well as his guilt at the suffering that would be done by his actions.
And while there is an explanation as to why he has become the villain he is, he’s not like, let’s say, Killmonger from Black Panther (2018). He isn’t able to present an argument that could change the hero’s mind. It’s the kind of argument that somebody makes without thinking of the implications, and someone only follows through with it because they’re insane. There are a number of things that make the setting of the story, as well as the direction of the story, unique in comparison to the rest of the Marvel Universe. The Egyptian Gods give a different sense of the fantastic with plot twists and character decisions that take characters in very unexpected paths.
Speaking of which, Moon Knight is a rare turn for the MCU, as it is the first project since Dr. Strange (2016) that isn’t a sequel or built on a foundation of previous franchises. You don’t need to watch over twenty movies, several seasons of television, and periphery media disconnected from the main set of franchises to prepare you for this origin story. There’s a good time to be had here, even if it can be long winded and a bit formulaic about it.