In a lot of ways, the first episode of Moon Knight is everything I’ve wanted from a Marvel Cinematic Universe show since they kicked off on Disney Plus with WandaVision a little over a year ago. It introduces us to a new character in an interesting situation, one that is conceivably set in the MCU but not beholden to it. In fact, outside of some subtle clues for eagle-eyed fans, the first episode of Moon Knight barely indicates that it’s set in the same world as Eternals or Doctor Strange. Maybe The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, thanks to the common thread of “Europe.”
But what does Moon Knight present us with? Well, like its protagonist, that’s messy. Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac) is the definition of milquetoast. A demure, mawkish museum gift shop employee in London, Grant speaks with a nasally accent and walks with a perpetual hunch. He loves Egyptian history and talking about it, which unfortunately doesn’t fall under his job. And he’s got what he thinks is a sleep disorder. Because of this, he chains his ankle to his bed, tapes his door (which is locked with multiple deadbolts and chains), and surrounds his bed with sand, all to keep his unconscious body from wandering out at night or at least let him know if he tried. Unfortunately for Steven, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
As with a lot of modern shows, Moon Knight’s writers are keeping their cards close to their chest. If you’re a fan of the Marvel Comics character created by Doug Moench and Don Perlin, you may have an idea of what’s going on, but the adaptation here is a loose one — in the comic books, this character is never introduced to us as Steven Grant, and when he is, he’s a very different person.
That’s not to say it’s bad that Moon Knight is starting off in parts unknown to comic fans. As one of Marvel’s lesser-known characters (one that has plenty of dated baggage in need of updating), Moon Knight has a lot of flexibility to make something new here for the character’s MCU introduction, and the result is fascinating. Part Memento, part Night at the Museum, the first episode of Moon Knight follows Steven Grant as he discovers that he is not the only one in control of his body, and that a vision of a supernatural entity that only he can see is following him.
The bulk of Moon Knight’s premiere is a fun 45-minute escapade with Steven winking in and out of consciousness as he and whoever he’s sharing his mind with hold a tug-of-war over his body after Steven wakes up with a dislocated jaw somewhere in Europe. Here Steven meets the series’ villain, Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke), a cult leader who claims to serve the Egyptian god Ammit, a crocodile-faced being associated with judgment, and thus he (rudely) makes judging people his whole (lethal) thing.
Arthur wants a scarab artifact that Steven inexplicably has, and the person sharing his body doesn’t want him to give it up. As the two fight for control, Steven finds his consciousness winking in and out to find himself in increasingly impossible situations — mercenaries dead around him, a gun in his hand, escaping in a cupcake truck driving backward, that sort of thing.
All told, it feels like a solid first act to a pretty fun movie, but that also means it feels incomplete. There’s nothing wrong with a show withholding some explanation, especially when viewers know up front that at six episodes in length, they won’t be waiting long. But Moon Knight doesn’t particularly give audiences much to wait for. How much the premiere will have its hooks in you largely depends on how compelling you find Oscar Isaac’s performance as the lead(s). Luckily, he’s excellent — fully embracing the physical comedy and bewilderment of Steven’s situation even as he makes one of the strangest choices (that accent!) seen thus far in a Marvel production.
Unfortunately, he’s more or less the only reason to watch so far. Outside of a handful of friendly but distant co-workers and an army of goons trying to kill him, Steven doesn’t seriously interact with anyone not in his own head, which means that Isaac has to bench what’s arguably his greatest talent — his palpable and unmatched person-to-person charisma.
In fact, the most intrigue Moon Knight is able to gin up during this first episode is in its final moments, when Steven Grant finally yields control and Oscar Isaac becomes someone else. We won’t get to meet him until next week, though. Let’s hope he doesn’t disappoint.
Moon Knight’s first episode is now streaming on Disney Plus, with new episodes premiering on Wednesdays.