Spoiler alert: this article is for people watching Moon Knight on Disney+. Do not read unless you have seen episode one.
Not this again …
Another series about a former mercenary with dissociative identity disorder serving as the conduit for a justice-seeking Egyptian moon god? They really have run out of ideas over at Marvel, haven’t they?
I jest, of course. After the hugely enjoyable but relatively straightforward escapades of Hawkeye last year comes Moon Knight, an altogether different animal, quite unlike anything we’ve seen so far from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Often reductively referred to as Marvel’s answer to Batman and among the more niche end of the comics, this opener had a lot of heavy lifting to do to establish the character and the world in which he lives.
Interesting, then, that the first character we met was the big baddie – so often saved for late on in the season, as per WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Solider, Loki and Hawkeye. We got a glimpse of his powers later on in the Alpine town square, but quite why he was putting glass in his sandals will have to wait for another episode.
Next, to our hero, Steven Grant, who clearly suffers from some sort of disruptive sleep disorder, to the point that he straps himself in to bed each night and puts tape over his doorframe so that he can tell in the morning if he was out sleepwalking.
He works in a central London gift shop, and when he arrived at work, I was less interested in the fact that his boss, Donna, bullies him and more concerned with how much that job must pay, given that he lives in a huge flat in an area of central London reminiscent of Covent Garden (it was actually Budapest, dressed up). I settled on the idea that he comes from money, or had some money squirrelled away from his mercenary days, and moved on.
I especially enjoyed the scenes of Steven trying to escape Khonshu’s clutches in his apartment block, and the tonal switch from almost farcical comedy to genuine horror was impressive. The closing moments of the episode, with Steven alone in an empty museum save for a rampaging hell hound, were equally jumpy.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate Oscar Isaac’s performance in this series opener. In what was almost a one-man show, the success of this first episode boiled down to whether you believe the professionally good-looking, charismatic A-lister as a slightly pathetic, friendless mess of a man. And I did, completely. I even stopped thinking about his ropey accent as the episode went on, although I had to laugh when Layla bellowed “What is with this accent?” down the phone, and I still can’t quite get Paul Rudd in Forgetting Sarah Marshall out of my head when I hear Steven talk. (Apparently Isaac based his accent on Ricky Gervais’s sidekick Karl Pilkington). It will be interesting to see if Isaac is equally as convincing as the more conventional hero-type Marc Spector.
Notes and other business
Bob Dylan’s Every Grain of Sand was playing over Arthur Harrow’s glass-in-the-sandals introduction, while Engelbert Humperdinck’s A Man Without Love welcomed Steven to the episode and was reprised as he woke from his “dream”. The lyrics of each song are perhaps a little on the nose – the former a William Blake-esque ode to faith and spirituality, the latter, with its line “Every day I wake up, then I start to break up” – but they quickly tell us a great deal about each character.
I am willing to be corrected, but I couldn’t spot any glaring Easter eggs or references to the wider MCU. In fact, I couldn’t even place this in the timeline. Unremarkable for the first episode of a new character’s series, perhaps, but given MCU boss Kevin Feige’s comments about Moon Knight sticking around to cross over into other films and series, that will definitely change before the season is out. Tie-ins with Doctor Strange, given that it’s the next Marvel film on the slate, and Blade seem most likely.
Wham!’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go was an inspired song choice during the Alpine car chase, at first seeming like an incongruous piece of music to be playing, taking on more meaning when the action cut to Steven waking from his apparent nightmare back in London.
The list of missed calls on Marc’s phone featured just two names – Layla and Duchamp. Layla, we heard on the phone and have seen in the trailers. We will see whether right-hand man Duchamp will make an appearance.
Budapest’s Museum of Fine Arts doubled for the London museum where Grant works.
F Murray Abraham, best known for his Oscar-winning performance as Antonio Salieri in 1984’s Amadeus, provides the voice inside Steven’s head. Abraham and Isaac appeared together in 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.
What did you think? Did you enjoy Oscar Isaac’s performance? Have you forgiven the accent? Have your say below …
• This article was amended on 31 March 2022 to remove references to “the National Gallery” as Steven Grant’s place of work.