Engelbert Humperdinck. That’s not a name most would associate with superheroes, yet he’s the voice viewers will hear when Oscar Isaac first appears onscreen in Moon Knight, the new Disney+ series featuring one of Marvel’s most complex characters.
Humperdinck’s song, “A Man Without Love,” plays as we watch Isaac’s character, Steven Grant, wake up and get ready for his menial job at the beginning of the premiere episode. Meant to illustrate the lovelorn Grant’s sense of longing, the 1968 tune from the British crooner is an odd, albeit interesting way to introduce the lead of this latest superhero series. It’s also a taste of what’s to come in what just might be Marvel’s most unique TV program to date. Part comedy, part action-adventure, and with touches of romance and horror, Moon Knight is diverse in its storytelling, making it weird in the best ways possible.
The 6-episode miniseries begins with an introduction to Steven Grant, who is milquetoast personified. Grant works at the gift shop at the National Art Gallery in London and has a deep understanding of Egyptology. Although timid, he’d love to be a tour guide for the gallery’s extensive collection of Egyptian relics, but his boss Donna (Lucy Thackeray) finds him to be an odd duck. She’s not the only one.
Grant’s cringey vibe also extends to the audience. He ends calls to his mother by saying, “Later gators” and his closest companion is a living statue at a park that never breaks character while Grant shares the events of his day. At one point, he even ends a one-sided conversation with, “I will see you on the flip flop.” But there’s more to Grant’s dorkiness than being socially awkward and speaking with a British accent only slightly less phony sounding than the one used by Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. In fact, he has much bigger problems.
Grant frequently blacks out and wakes up in unusual places, which he dismisses as a sleep irregularity. However, he soon discovers a dream where he steals a scarab and escapes the clutches of a man named Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) is real, and he is in danger. That’s when Grant is confronted by a voice in his head that belongs to American Marc Spector (also Oscar Isaac), his mercenary alter ego that can turn into the vigilante, Moon Knight.
Spector is the Avatar of Khonshu (voiced by F. Murray Abraham), the Egyptian god of the moon. In this instance, an Avatar is not a tall blue creature from Pandora but the human representative of an Egyptian god who’s imbued with special powers. Grant learns that his blackouts are when Spector gains control of their shared body. As Moon Knight, Spector protects the vulnerable and delivers justice. His primary mission is to stop Harrow from unleashing havoc upon the world.
If that story sounds a bit far-fetched, that’s exactly what Steven Grant thinks, even exclaiming when Spector explains the situation, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” While certainly not, the story of Moon Knight does require an open mind due to its unusual, yet intriguing complexity. As any fan of his comics can attest, Marc Spector contains multitudes, not just Steven Grant. Thankfully, the Moon Knight TV series has simplified some of the comic book character’s more idiosyncratic tendencies, leading to a well-structured program that focuses primarily on the actions of four central characters: Grant/Spector, Harrow, and Layla El-Faouly (May Calamawy).
Once Spector and Grant become aware of each other, Moon Knight hits its stride. Grant is clearly in over his head, but has an endearing sweetness audiences will love. He’s also quick with an unintentional one-liner and at times hilarious in a subtle, British way. Grant is the star of the four episodes made available for review, and rightly so. He’s the most interesting character in the series but also grounds it with humility, innocence, and nerdy charm. In many ways, because he has no idea what’s going on, he’s also the audience’s Avatar.
Marc Spector couldn’t be more different from Steven Grant. Near death when Khonshu saves him, he owes a life debt he’s desperate to repay. While tough, he’s a tortured soul who is constantly fighting Grant for control, similar to Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) wrestling internally with Venom. Isaac plays both of his roles beautifully and you’ll quickly feel like you’re watching two different actors. It’s a masterful performance.
For her part, Layla El-Faouly is the woman Steven Grant has always dreamed of— which is ironic considering Spector is trying to stay as far away from her as he can. Smart, strong and tough, Layla will remind many of Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) from The Mummy. She sees Grant and Spector as polar opposites, one honest to a fault and the other a puckish rogue. For different reasons she likes them both and is the glue that helps them to work together. It’s Layla who gives “Moon Knight” its action adventure feel.
Ethan Hawke, meanwhile, is mesmerizing as he plays a rare kind of supervillain. Cool and relaxed, Harrow doesn’t use force or manipulation, at least not initially. He just speaks his truth and acts based on a person’s response. Harrow’s so mellow that at one point he even offers Steven Grant lentil soup as they calmly sit down for a meal. However, Harrow’s calm demeanor is misleading. As a devout follower of a different Egyptian god that punishes people for evil deeds they haven’t done yet, he’s powerful and can unleash vicious and terrifying creatures. (You’ll want to cover your kids’ eyes during these segments.)
Brilliant performances by the three leads wonderfully mesh with Moon Knight’s compelling story. Each of the first four episodes build off each other but also stand on their own. By the time a major twist is revealed later in the season, you’ll have a hint that it’s coming but will still be blown away.
Moon Knight manages to deftly balance its intricate comic book roots with a story that’s subtle, humorous and just the right touch of geekiness. It perfectly blends multiple genres, with a unique mashup giving the series an eccentric vibe that audiences will love. With Moon Knight, Marvel has not only developed its next great superhero but created everyone’s new streaming obsession.
Moon Knight premieres March 30th on Disney+.
Terry Terrones is a Television Critics Association and Critics Choice Association member, licensed drone pilot and aspiring hand model.
When he’s not acting as an Avatar for an Egyptian god, you can find him hiking in the mountains of Colorado. You can follow him on Twitter @terryterrones.
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