Moon Knight doesn’t look or feel like anything Marvel has done before. Then again, it shouldn’t. It’s not a familiar story, and it deals with much more complicated issues. The same tone, the Marvel vibe, so to speak, wouldn’t have exactly fit. But one thing remains — Moon Knight might be darker, and different, but it’s still wholly captivating in a way Marvel has managed to achieve more often than not.
A lot of that is due to a very good, tight script, that even when it veers, seems very much aware of the story it’s trying to tell, and a keen sense of how to bring this story to viewers in a visual way. However, it has to be said that most of it rests on Oscar Isaac‘s shoulders, and a less capable actor would have a hard time with all Moon Knight requires of him.
Isaac, however, shines. It’s not exactly a surprise — he’s proven time and time again he’s more than a capable actor — but it’s still somewhat of a revelation for someone who, in his biggest role before this, as Poe Dameron in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, had very little to do other than stand around and look pretty — not a hard thing for Isaac. He’s convincing in every single second, whether as Steven Grant or Marc Spector, or even Moon Knight. When the character is struggling, you feel it, and when the character is thriving, you want to cheer for him.
More importantly, and something I wasn’t exactly sure the show could do with a character like Spector, there’s something about the character as played by Isaac that is inherently likable. We always want to root for our heroes, particularly on superhero-type shows, and it’s a relief to be able to root for Moon Knight, above all things.
Isaac, is, however, not the only standout in a show that, at times, particularly in the beginning, feels more like a showcase for his acting talents than anything else. And no, we’re not talking about a capable Ethan Hawke who, at times, manages to be chilling, but never quite steals the spotlight from Isaac. Instead, it’s May Calamawy‘s Layla El-Faouly who gets to go toe to toe with our titular character, and at times, even manages to command attention over Isaac.
Layla isn’t like other “strong female characters” in the Marvel mold, and she also isn’t particularly interested in breaking the mold, either. Instead, Layla just is, in a way that even when it’s hard to relate to the things she’s doing, makes it easy to still relate to her. And her vulnerability and strength all come together to make her someone very hard to root against.
Her presence also does something crucial: It grounds Isaac’s character in interactions with someone outside of himself. This is particularly important in a show where so much of the acting is Isaac playing off himself. There are other characters interacting with Isaac, of course, but no one who clicks as well as Layla — no one who matters as much.
The fact that the two of them work so well together helps a plot that could have easily become too muddled stay one step above confusing. As it stands, the only thing that might be marginally complicated about the background is some people’s lack of knowledge of the culture the show is exploring, something easily fixable. The comic book world is much more complicated than the world of Egyptian deities, and it’s kinda shocking how much more a lot of people know about fictional universes than real cultures.
Moon Knight isn’t exactly here to teach us — or preach about anything. Instead, it’s here to present a story that feels very self-contained. But it’s an interesting story, that never wavers from its focus and yet manages to send big messages, just as it allows its characters tiny moments of growth and introspection.
There was no place in Moon Knight for a lot of what we love about Marvel. The story didn’t need it, and the character especially didn’t. But Isaac doesn’t need quips — though, like any human, he might sometimes react to stress with a bad joke or two — to make Steven Grant or Marc Spector work. And he especially doesn’t need them to make the dynamics between these two characters inhabiting one body to work.
Moon Knight is a triumph, unlike any other Marvel has had because it proves that though the studio’s tried and true formula might have worked for a long time, there’s more there to be explored. There are different ways of telling a good story. We all knew this, of course, but Marvel’s resistance to change had been one of its defining characteristics in the past. No longer.
It’s a brand new world for Marvel, and Moon Knight, Oscar Isaac, and the team behind this show should get a lot of credit for what comes next. For now, though, there’s a lot to enjoy in a show that deserves our singular focus — and praise.
Moon Knight premieres this Wednesday, March 30th, on Disney+. New episodes are available every Wednesday.