Although it didn’t seem possible after the ambitious nature of 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe actually hit new heights in 2021, releasing four live-action TV shows starring legacy characters like Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) on Disney+ in addition to releasing four feature films. While the commercial and critical success of the shows is a boon for Disney+, the real test will come this year, as the programs Marvel has on deck for 2022 follow characters who didn’t appear in any of the Avengers films (though a few will still feature some familiar faces along the way). We’re truly entering a new age of heroes and villains.
First up is “Moon Knight,” which will premiere Wednesday, March 30. Helmed primarily by Egyptian director and screenwriter Mohamed Diab, the series stars Oscar Isaac as Steven Grant, a mild-mannered man working in a museum gift shop in London while living with dissociative identity disorder. Unable to differentiate between what he believes is his waking life and dreams, he does not fully comprehend the depths of his splintered mental state. But he soon learns that he shares his body with a mercenary named Marc Spector. “What I love most about this thing is that it’s an exploration of a mind that doesn’t know itself,” Isaac told Empire magazine. “A human being that doesn’t know his own brain. I found that really moving: what the mind is capable of as far as survival.”
“Moon Knight,” which is billed as a limited series and also stars Ethan Hawke as antagonist Arthur Harrow, is unlike any of the Marvel shows we’ve seen before. And Steven/Marc is unlikely to be like any of the characters we have come to know and love over the years. So before you watch the show, these are the five things you should know about “Moon Knight.”
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1. “Moon Knight” is diverging from the comics
Based on the logline and trailers, it appears that “Moon Knight” will take a different path from the one the character walked on the page. In the comics, Marc Spector is the man front and center, sharing his body with Steven Grant, a millionaire playboy, and a street-smart cab driver named Jake Lockley. It appears the writers have taken some liberties regarding the latter two.
First, Steven is not — at least as far as we can tell — a fancy millionaire in the show. Second, Jake is missing entirely from the trailer and the press materials. Now, his absence here could mean very little in the long run — let’s not forget that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) died in “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) and now has an ongoing Disney+ show through a bit of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey magic, or that Andrew Garfield lied for months about appearing in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” What I’m saying is, we should not blindly assume that Jake Lockley won’t also appear in “Moon Knight.” However, it’s possible the show is only going to focus on Marc and Steven (or the writers might be saving Jake for a possible second season, if one should come to fruition).
2. The Asgardians aren’t the only MCU gods anymore
“Moon Knight” will introduce viewers to the Egyptian god Khonshu, who in the MCU is known as the god of the moon and the protector of “travelers in the night.” He is actually glimpsed in the trailers for the show, dressed in all white, holding a staff, and with a large bird skull for a head (the character will be voiced by F. Murray Abraham). You’ll also notice that Steven finds himself drawn to the Egyptian exhibit at the museum for reasons that aren’t clear to him. But thanks to the comics, we know what’s up.
On the page, Marc is left for dead in Egypt and resurrected by the vengeful god, who then forces him to be his human avatar on Earth, thus turning Marc into the vigilante Moon Knight. From that moment on, Marc is regularly subjected to the god’s whims. The fact that he also suffers from dissociative identity disorder makes this even more complicated. And based on the trailers Disney+ has released for “Moon Knight,” it appears that the show will likely follow this same path for the character, and that Khonshu will cause similar problems in Steven/Marc’s life.
3. Arthur Harrow isn’t your typical Marvel villain
“Moon Knight” features an atypical hero, one who is struggling with mental illness in a way that affects and directs the entire story. Naturally, this also creates space for a rather unconventional antagonist. “There are countless stories of mentally ill villains, but we have a mentally ill hero, and that’s fascinating because we’ve now inverted the whole process,” Hawke told reporters during a press conference promoting the show. “As the antagonist, I can’t be crazy because the hero is crazy, so I have to find a sane lunatic, or a sane malevolent force.”
“Mohamed was really embracing his mental illness as a way to create an unreliable narrator,” Hawke continued. “Once you’ve broken the prism of reality, you realize that everything the audience is seeing is from a skewed point of view, and that’s really interesting for the villain. That was our riddle. We came up with somebody who was trying to save the world and who, in his mind, is Saint Harrow. He thinks he’s gonna be part of the great solution.”
4. “Moon Knight” is not afraid to get weird
Because “Moon Knight” is a limited series that will stream on Disney+, the pressure to perform well is a little lighter than it would have been if Steven/Marc’s story had been told as a movie à la Captain America or Thor. “There was a lot of room to try stuff because there wasn’t the pressure that we got to make sure we make however many hundreds of millions of dollars on the opening weekend,” Isaac revealed in a chat with Jared Leto as part of Variety’s “Actors on Actors” series. “We could make it very point-of-view. We could make very weird decisions.”
According to Diab, the show is a blend of several different genres. “You have horror, you have action, you have comedy, and you have very serious drama, but you never feel like, ‘Okay, this is not going well.’ It all blends in a very good way.”
“I think with Steven, in particular, there’s a sense of humor in there that’s different from what we’ve seen,” adds Isaac. “Marvel, in particular, has done such an amazing job at combining action and comedy in such a great way. I thought with Steven, there was a chance to do different comedy than we’ve seen. He’s someone that doesn’t know he’s being funny. That was really exciting. And then, we got to find the counterpoint of that with Marc, in some ways leaning into a bit of the stereotype of the tortured, dark vigilante guy, but what makes him so special is that he has this Englishman living inside of him.”
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5. This is a street-level origin story by way of in-depth character study
Last year’s “Hawkeye” was a pleasant surprise for a number of reasons, the main one being Hailee Steinfeld’s seamless introduction as archer Kate Bishop. But what truly set the show apart from a lot of the rest of the MCU was its scaled-down nature. The narrative was focused on the relationships between people rather than world-ending threats. While we still don’t know what, exactly, will transpire in “Moon Knight,” it appears to be similar in nature to “Hawkeye,” as the show serves as the origin story for a brand new character.
In an interview with Empire, Isaac also said that “Moon Knight” is the “first legitimate Marvel character study since ‘Iron Man.’” Now, you can argue the point if you want (“The Punisher” was a fascinating character study and is now part of the MCU if “Daredevil” is being considered official canon), but the comment also seems to further cement the idea that the show will utilize character-driven storytelling over large scale, plot-based superheroics.
6. It’s more violent than the rest of the MCU
Despite tackling numerous complex topics like racism, trauma, tyranny and the cost of freedom, the MCU has remained remarkably PG-13 in terms of onscreen brutality and violence. But that’s all about to change. In an interview with Empire, Marvel boss Kevin Feige said the boundaries of what the MCU can do are shifting. “There are moments [in the series] when Moon Knight is wailing on another character, and it is loud and brutal, and the knee-jerk reaction is, ‘We’re gonna pull back on this, right?’ No. We’re not pulling back. There’s a tonal shift. This is a different thing. This is ‘Moon Knight.’”
This wouldn’t be the first time Marvel embraced darkness and brutality in its storytelling. The shows Marvel produced with Netflix, but especially “Daredevil” and “The Punisher,” were known for the ways in which they relentlessly depicted violence. And now that characters from those series are being fully integrated into the rest of the MCU (and now that the shows are streaming on Disney+ as well), it’s not entirely surprising that the MCU would embrace this tonal shift in some of its new properties, especially for a show that is also about a vigilante.
“Moon Knight” premieres Wednesday, March 30 on Disney+.
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