You know how Tom Cruise is well-known for his signature (and very athletic) onscreen running? I would like us to make Oscar Isaac’s athletic jumping an equally recognizable characteristic of the Moon Knight star. Right out of the gate in this third episode of the Disney+ series, Isaac’s jumping skills are on full display. And for that we are very thankful.
If Tom Cruise immediately came to mind while watching these thrilling moments at the top of episode three, it is because, after fights between the titular caped hero and Egyptian jackals in mirrored restrooms and nighttime streets, we now finally get an unobstructed, daytime brawl. Which is to say: We get to see some actual hand-to-hand combat, with no masks, no CG and nothing to get in the way of what we’re witnessing. It’s no surprise this rooftop confrontation is a delight. As in episode one, we’re thrown right into one disorienting scene right after the next as our beloved Marc (Isaac) slips in and out of consciousness and keeps needing to find his bearings anew every time.
Yes, despite often being such a calming (if overbearing) presence, it looks like this time around Marc is just as lost as we are. Who are these men he’s fighting? What’s going on? Where are we? I mean, isn’t he usually the one in control whenever these action antics take place? Only now, while holding a bloody knife, he finds himself running through the motions of what we’ve seen from Steven: “That wasn’t me,” Steven tells him. Someone else has been in control. Does this mean we may have a third persona/personality in play? Sadly, there’s no time to dwell on such a question. Because we have some Indiana Jones stuff to do.
If episode one put us squarely within a world of horror and jump scares, and episode two slowed down enough to offer us a lesson in ethics and free will, episode three dives headfirst into what’s proving to be quite a popular genre in 2022. After Uncharted and The Lost City, Moon Knight is here to remind us there will always be some fun to be had in the realm of anthropology-driven action adventures. And yes, that does mean we will end up inside the famed pyramid of Giza by tale’s end after a quite thrilling bit of map-hunting.
But before we do, we get to learn a bit more about Layla—and crucially, her father. Keep an ear out for that, as we’re clearly being fed some important info in bits and pieces about how he died and it won’t take long before it’s all finally spelled out for us. Key word: “mercenary,” a whisper of it that makes Marc bristle (and which Harrow deliciously deploys as a coy threat). And while I won’t stop here to ask how Layla so successfully always manages to track Marc/Steven (some things are best left unexplored/unexplained), I do enjoy watching May Calamawy step so effortlessly into the Rachel Weisz (The Mummy)/Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark) role in this otherwise testosterone-driven spectacle. Seriously, how transfixing is Calamawy while she waits for a fake passport to be assembled?
If I’m sticking with fun action set pieces (see also: the one that comes later once Layla and Marc find themselves at the mercy of spoiled rich brat Anton Mogart, played by Gaspard Ulliel) and intimate character-driven talky moments (like that passport scene), it’s because I find myself less and less enamored with those other kind of scenes we keep being subject to. You know the ones. The kind that are designed to feed us all the requisite mythology that makes the bulk of Moon Knight’s narrative; those moments where Harrow or Khonshu or even the assembled gods who are set to sentence the Moon God inside Giza explain to us the god’s backstory, or Harrow’s motivations, or even Marc’s past…all of the requisite build up which will surely then play into the show’s big-picture story. So much of it is needlessly clunky.
I mean, how much exposition is too much exposition? The question is, of course, rhetorical. After all, as soon as you clock dialogue as serving (almost wholly) that purpose, you’ve already acknowledged a kind of fault. Or not a fault, really—but it’s like watching a puppeteer’s strings: Sometimes even when you see them you can suspend your disbelief and lose yourself in that puppet reality. At others times, though, they can become too distracting.
That’s sort of where I was at this episode, which, its exciting action sequences aside, struggled in explaining its intricate mythology in an engaging way. (Give me more bumbling Steven trying to pull a Valerie Cherish and calling a time-out during an ongoing battle.) Then again, the fact that the show managed to make an explanation of how stars and constellations change and shift over time both a key plot point and a propulsive narrative engine was nothing short of masterful. (Astronomy, it turns out, can be just as exciting as archeology. Who knew?).
But back to the story at hand: It turns out the other gods aren’t so keen on Khonshu and are also very easily swayed by Harrow. Which…fine, because it leads us to a fascinating impasse: What are Marc and Steven going to do now that Khonshu is banished (trapped?) and therefore not at their beck and call? And what does that mean for their own state of mind?
And here’s where Moon Knight made a valiant plea for being “more than a caped crusader” show. After all, it was always going to be a matter of time before Marc and Steven’s respective dissociations called the show up to invoke issues of mental health. (“That man is unwell,” Harrow intones, and his mock-sympathy sounds even more insidious than he’d like, earnest as it may appear to the gods assembled.) Just as WandaVision was able to thread a story of grief into a fractured ode to television history, it seems Moon Knight is going to be thrusting us into a nightmarish take on a decidedly different approach to trauma: What are Steven and Marc if not a textbook example (albeit of the Marvel variety) of someone suffering from dissociative identity disorder?
Can the show carry that weighty subject into its upcoming installments in a way that can still entertain and offer us plenty of dazzling action sequences, hopefully ones that let Isaac leap into the air several times? Only time will tell.
- Since I’ve been plucking some of my favorite lines in these recaps, let’s share the one that tickled me the most this time around: “Stop listening to that stupid pigeon.” Because, in all this, we haven’t yet talked about Khonshu’s character design which…you have to admit, does kind of look like a pigeon. A skeletal one, at that, serving you mythic mummy realness—with a cane to match, of course.
- Speaking of lines/images I won’t be able to get out of my head: Watching Gaspard Ulliel tell Oscar Isaac to kneel will live rent free in my head (though, perhaps, not take up as much real estate as that clip of Isaac letting us fans know we can definitely call him “daddy”). And since we’re on the topic of Ulliel, even here with a cameo of a part, his recent loss feels incalculable. Truly a magnetic screen presence gone too soon. (Do yourselves a favor and watch Saint Laurent if you haven’t yet if you want him in an equally imperious though decidedly queerer role.)
- I know I talked about the suit last week, but seeing Marc really take advantage of his cape was even more thrilling here (truly, the action sequences this time around were to die for). Using the cape as a shield only for it to unleash bullets on its assailants? The right kind of playfulness we enjoy.