Moon Knight review: Oscar Isaac is having the time of his life in comedic Marvel series on Disney+

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Oscar Isaac stars as Marc Spector in a Marvel comics adaptation that proves less The Dark Knight, and more The Lark Knight

After The Rise of Skywalker, Oscar Isaac seemed exhausted. You would be, in fairness, after three movies and five years inside the Star Wars machine, but of the franchise leads Isaac appeared particularly ready to return to the independent films where he first made his name. In interviews, he expressed a wish to make more “handmade movies” with people that inspired him, joking he’d only return to Star Wars if he needed another house. One particular scene of Isaac’s from The Rise of Skywalker – “Somehow, Palpatine returned” – went viral, a meme that seemed to capture an acute blend of frustration and exhaustion; even if people were reading a layer into the performance that wasn’t there, Isaac’s been open about the corporate obstacles that at times tempered his enjoyment of Star Wars, and made a starring role in Marvel’s Moon Knight seem an unlikely choice.

What quickly becomes apparent across Moon Knight, though, is that Isaac has channelled all of that (perceived) frustration into this role. It’s a post “somehow, Palpatine returned” performance, Isaac clearly deciding that if he’s going to take on another big franchise role, he’s going to have as much fun as he possibly humanly can doing it. That much-mocked British accent (which is, in fairness to Isaac, much less grating in context than it was in the trailers) is the most obvious tell: a mockney affect, with a cadence audibly inspired by Karl Pilkington and Russells Kane and Brand, that always indicates he’s not taking things completely seriously.

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Moon Knight’s opening two episodes focus, for the most part, on the character’s British guise Steven Grant. The central conceit here is that Grant has a form of dissociative identity disorder (never named as such here, and arguably not treated perhaps as sensitively as it should be), meaning the down-on-his-luck museum gift shop employee doesn’t realise he’s been moonlighting as a superhero. The series is cleverly structured, hitting on a neat way to introduce the world to a character they’re largely unlikely to be familiar with – Moon Knight is about introducing the character to himself as much as it is about introducing him to the audience.

Tonally, then, it’s big and broad – the baseline is very much set by Oscar Isaac’s performance, who’s clearly having the time of his life with that bewildered (and bewildering) accent. It is, if you like, much less The Dark Knight and much more The Lark Knight: there’s a lot of jokes and a lot of levity, with Isaac clearly quite comfortable as a comic lead. Steven Grant is visibly out of his depth in a Marvel movie – this, with occasional but notable exceptions, looks and feels closer to a big-screen outing than something like Hawkeye did – and Moon Knight has a lot of fun with that fish out of water juxtaposition.

Steven Grant comes face to face with Marc Spector in Moon Knight (Credit: Disney+)Steven Grant comes face to face with Marc Spector in Moon Knight (Credit: Disney+)
Steven Grant comes face to face with Marc Spector in Moon Knight (Credit: Disney+) | Disney+

There’s going to be quite a vocal contingent of Marvel fans who won’t take well to it. Not because it isn’t good – there’s genuine joy to be had in watching Isaac mugging his way through fight scenes and elaborate stunts – but because it’s quite contrary to what a lot of people will have built Moon Knight up to be in their heads. Moon Knight is, by some margin, better than Hawkeye and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and while it’s not as immediately novel as WandaVision or as charming as Loki, it has obvious potential to outpace them both. However, anyone expecting this Disney+ series to be of a piece with Netflix series like Daredevil, or Noah Hawley’s abstract X-Men drama Legion, is only going to be disappointed.

It’s not that Moon Knight isn’t, in its own way, breaking new ground for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. There’s something genuinely refreshing about its continuity-light approach, its willingness to be much more standalone and distinct (helped, as Marvel always is, by filtering its basic storyline through a new aesthetic, in this case ancient Egyptian mythology – Steven Grant’s other identity is Marc Spector, onetime mercenary and now unwilling patron of Khonshu, the Egyptian God of Vengeance). Isaac was right, too, that putting a Peter Sellers-esque character into a Marvel story is something they’ve not done before – it’s a change of pace that comes at the right time, less a new idea and more a welcome refresh of an old one.

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How well does Moon Knight’s promised character study work, though? Two episodes is too few to judge, really, but it at least starts well: Steven Grant is well-defined and quickly charming (though the show maybe needs to borrow a little more from Doctor Who’s Human Nature as it goes along), and encouragingly Ethan Hawke’s villain Arthur Harrow has a big role too, a legitimate co-star rather than just a supporting role. Isaac is also actually clearly on set for most of Moon Knight, which gives the series a more substantial feel if nothing else (though an early acknowledgement that Egyptian God Khonshu can choose anyone as his Moon Knight avatar feels like it might be setting up Isaac for a later out – Moon Knight might appear in future MCU films, but will Marc Spector?)

Ultimately, there’s plenty to like here. Maybe not what some quarters were hoping to like, and a lot of your appreciation of Moon Knight is going to come down to how much patience you have for Oscar Isaac pissing about, but this slightly lighter adventure-serial vibe makes for a perfectly pleasant and entertaining superhero outing.

Moon Knight begins on Disney+ on Wednesday March 30, with new episodes released weekly. I’ve seen the first two episodes of an eventual six before writing this review.

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