'Moon Knight' Review: Marvel's Latest is Weird, Hilarious and Wildly Entertaining
Moon Knight mixes action with comedy and horror.
Richard TrenholmFormer Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
There's a lot going on in Steven Grant's head. The hapless hero of
Plus series Moon Knight discovers not only that a violent vigilante occasionally invades his brain, but also that there's a grumpy Egyptian lunar deity stomping around in there too. And with a bizarro combination of action, comedy, horror and general weirdness -- think The Bourne Identity meets The Mummy meets 12 Monkeys -- it's fair to say there's a lot going on in Moon Knight.
With episode 1 streaming on Disney Plus now, and new episodes following each Wednesday, Moon Knight is enough of a mishmash that it probably shouldn't work at all. Yet Moon Knight eclipses expectations to be wildly entertaining.
Oscar Isaac plays Grant, a mild-mannered milquetoast who works in a London museum. He's a pretty regular guy by day, although at bedtime he shackles himself to a bed surrounded by sand (to show up footprints if he takes off sleepwalking, obviously). But his nocturnal ramblings are more than just your average somnambulist shambling. One morning, Steven wakes to find himself in the mountains of Europe -- in the middle of a shootout.
Then things get really freaky. A ruthless mercenary and a bizarre cult crash into his life, and suddenly Steven's knowledge of Egyptian mythology comes to life as he finds himself embroiled in a war between ancient gods.
Marvel sent the first four episodes of Moon Knight to critics, and it says something that I burned through them all in one go and can't wait to see what happens next. Moon Knight is weird, wild and so much fun.
It's become a cliche to say each new Marvel thing is nothing like any Marvel thing you've seen before. OK, Falcon and the Winter Soldier and more recently Hawkeye were pretty straightforward action/adventure shows, but WandaVision and Loki charted new levels of bonkers. So is Moon Knight unlike any previous Marvel story? Yes and no. It's an escalating spiral of weirdness, as delightfully odd and surprising and unique as WandaVision and Loki both were. So yes, it's unlike anything Marvel has done before. Especially as there's almost no mention of anything or anyone from the wider MCU, which is unimaginably restrained by Marvel standards. In fact, easily the weakest part of these early episodes is when the show gets into the type of thing you'd most expect from a Marvel blockbuster with some underwhelming and familiar CG creatures.
There's a big action scene in episode 1 that puts a fresh twist on a familiar action scene, playing out as a complement to (and perhaps a gentle send-up of) the showpiece car chases in Hawkeye, Falcon and Winter Soldier and indeed any movie with a breathless chase sequence. There's some fantastic editing in this chase sequence that raises the stakes of both danger and comedy with each playfully absurd cut. This sequence encapsulates what the series is all about: It's funny, it's exciting, and it aims to take you from familiar Marvel territory to something unexpected.
The series even segues into horror territory, from a terrifying corridor stalked by a skull-headed monster to a sinister scene in which the extras in the background are revealed to not be what they seem. It's amazing how many shifts in tone this first episode contains, assorted genres overlapping like the personalities at war in Steven's head. But what's more amazing is how well it works. The writing, the direction, the visuals, even the show-stopping editing all pull together to make Moon Knight such a singular experience. And it's all anchored by Isaac's deft performance, navigating these different tones with complete assurance.
Isaac shows a real talent for comedy, both physical and verbal. His British accent helps -- it may not be the most accurate London accent ever (I'm British, FYI), but the "bruvs" and "bollocks" and one well-placed "wagwan" are good for a laugh. Some viewers may not get it -- Isaac referenced British comedies and comedians like The Office and Peter Sellers -- and some superhero fans may not like a show that barely has any superhero elements. But in playing flip sides of the main character, Isaac carries the show on his shoulders, and makes it look easy.
His nemesis is Ethan Hawke as Arthur Harrow, a chillingly serene villain who mirrors Steven Grant's chaotic persona(s). Harrow is another Marvel villain you can't helping thinking has a point, kind of, and Hawke's magnetism is a big part of that. Isaac and Hawke, two big-screen heavyweights, are key to making Moon Knight's wackiness stick.
But while it's a singular experience, Moon Knight also recalls two previous comic book adaptations that adapted Marvel comics but aren't technically part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As quirkily unique as it is, Moon Knight might remind you of Venom and Legion.
Like Venom, Moon Knight involves a Hollywood A-lister being bullied into violence by an irascible voice in his head. There's less gloopy gore, but it's also smarter and funnier than Venom, with better villains. But while the godly voice in Moon Knight's head is often entertaining, there's only one Venom.
Meanwhile, the fractured personalities and surreal tone recall Legion, an FX show adapted from the X-Men comics by Noah Hawley which ran three seasons from 2017 to 2019. Legion was a trippy treat, an audacious and eye-popping riot of mind-fuckery. Moon Knight isn't as confrontationally crazy as Legion -- the cinematography is the usual Marvel muddiness compared with Legion's kaleidoscopic visuals. But there are strong indications that as the series progresses it will zoom off into further reaches of insanity. I can't wait.
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