*Note: This review for episode 1 of Moon Knight is entirely spoiler-free, as it was screened in advance of its March 30th release. The piece may, however, contain spoilers for previous Disney+ TV shows.*
When was the last time you got *this* excited after seeing a TV series pilot and immediately wanted to see what happened next? For me, it was WandaVision. Its sitcom parodies were so brilliantly done I wanted to be even more bewildered by the series’ desire to break free from the shackles of the MCU formula…only for it to bathe in it from episodes four onward. Rarely have I seen such a brilliant introduction go in a downward spiral once it started to overexplain things instead of relying on the audience’s intelligence. But Marvel Studios could be excused because this was their first series, and they wanted to test the waters to see if audiences would wish for more mind-bending or conventional stuff.
We had both. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Hawkeye, while enjoyable, were conventional (and contained some of the worst-directed action sequences in any MCU title thus far), and What If…? was a disaster. Thankfully, Loki showed that Marvel could make great television if they went beyond conventional structures and out-of-the-box fun and creative ways. Its action sequences were sophistically choreographed, plus the acting and writing were brilliant. And it also managed to (beautifully) set up the next phase of MCU titles without it ever feeling like it was a worn-out “sequel set-up” or pure exposition. The dialogue scene between Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), and Kang/He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) was riveting and had me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. After that, I was completely mind-blown by season two’s tease of a timeline-shifting multiversal war.
Time will tell if the second season will deliver on that promise, but it was what I wanted to see from Marvel TV; something so vastly different from its films that we cannot experience on the big screen because of how unique they are. It looks like Marvel Studios’ first 2022 series, Moon Knight, will fall into that category, though it is too early to tell if it will revert to conventional MCU and overexplain everything at some point in time. I certainly hope not because its first episode, directed by Mohamed Diab and written by Jeremy Slater, is legitimately one of the best TV pilots I’ve ever seen. Rarely is a TV show this riveting and exhilirating from the start, but Moon Knight completely grabs you right from its opening scene and never, ever lets you go. Simply put: it’s spectacular. So is this the future of Marvel TV? If yes, we’re in for one heck of a treat.
To talk specifics about the first episode’s plot would mean spoiling all the fun this series offers. I’ll get into spoiler territory next week when the second episode premieres (which I haven’t seen, even though I was offered four episodes in advance), but let’s just say that it defied all of my pre-conceived expectations and blew them out of the water. The trailer also does an outstanding job at hiding the show’s main plot (and the primary framing device), but it’s as mind-bending as you think it’s going to be (and more). Throughout the entire episode, it’s pretty hard to question everything going on since you have no idea if what’s unfolding in front of you is real or a complete figment of Steven Grant (or Marc Spector? Who’s Marc?) (Oscar Isaac)’s imagination.
One sequence in particular [it’s in the trailer, relax], where Grant holds a gun while driving a truck, represents precisely the structure-defying style the show will adopt in subsequent episodes. You may not want to watch the rest if you’re not on board after this scene. But if you’re, like me, bemused and highly invested in the episode’s fast pace, relentless and highly kinetic action, and ever-shifting tone that brilliantly represent Steven/Marc (?)’s dividing personalities, then the rest will likely be as bonkers (in all the right ways) as what we’ve seen in the first episode.
One would hope since Marc Spector is such a complex character. He suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), which means he lives with multiple identities. M. Night Shyamalan’s Split contains an excellent example of DID, but Moon Knight puts us smack-bang inside Steven/Marc’s perspective, which makes us question the fabric of their reality as the episode goes along. And as both personalities, he is electrifying, already establishing himself as one of the more complex characters of the MCU. Six episodes will allow us to truly peer through his deceitful mind, which will likely make subsequent episodes even more engaging and exciting since we have no idea what’s real and isn’t. He also shares chilling chemistry with Ethan Hawke’s Arthur Harrow. We don’t know much about his character yet, but Hawke’s comparison with cult leader David Koresh was correct.
Aesthetically, Moon Knight is already one of the best-looking MCU projects by a mile. Gregory Middleton’s cinematography is superb, with inventive use of light and shadow for Marc’s (or Steven’s) discernment of reality to feel even more anxiety-inducing. Its editing is also extremely tight, which exacerbates the sense of dread permeating during the episode. The “Contact Lens” scene as Steven travels an elevator in pure fear as he sees visions of Khonshu (amazing F. Murray Abraham) and tries to save face by explaining to a bystander that he lost his contact lens is a great example. It’s a visually striking moment and hopefully gives us the next look at better-lit MCU projects that will take more creative swings in how they film their projects from now on.
Those looking for an action-packed first episode may be disappointed, but once the action hits, it hits hard. Diab and Middleton have created a new style of Marvel action through their smooth camerawork, letting us see everything unfold with meticulous detail and never shying away from being extremely brutal. Of course, it’s not as brutal as, say, Daredevil, but it’s gritty enough for us to know that the creators did mean business when they said it would be “dark and brutal.” The humor contains none of the “snark” or usual quips from the MCU that have grown tired over the years but is way more sophisticated than any other MCU title yet. Instead, it’s as funny as some of The Batman’s humor; highly subtle yet terrifically effective and much better use of humor than an MCU character stopping mid-battle to make a joke.
Moon Knight is a refreshing change of pace from everything that came before the MCU and gives a more daring vision of its hero than any other film and series they’ve done thus far. It sounds like a broken record when you hear someone saying that X MCU project is the BEST MCU PROJECT EVER! until they say the same thing with the next one. Still, I rarely say this and have been largely unimpressed with Phase Four, save for Loki, Shang-Chi, Eternals, and No Way Home, which I loved. But the first episode of Moon Knight gives me hope for a bolder and more boundary-pushing vision of the MCU going forward instead of the usual antics we’re expecting from its ever-growing franchise. If the rest of the series is just as incredible as its first episode was, then Moon Knight will be the best MCU series on Disney+ yet, without a doubt. Let’s just hope it won’t “jump the shark” as WandaVision did, but from what I’ve heard from other critics who have seen episodes two through four, it only gets better from here.
The first episode of Moon Knight premieres on March 30th on Disney+.