When Edwin Hubble demonstrated that the universe was expanding, he couldn’t have known that a century later the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be expanding even faster. But it is: there are a dozen planned MCU movies, including Spider-Man 4, Deadpool 3, Captain America 4 and Guardians of the Leatherette Spacesuits 5, only one of which I made up.
Prof Brian Cox tells me that, at the current rate of expansion, if there aren’t already more Guardians of the Galaxy than there are galaxies, there will be before you have finished reading this article. In fact, the situation is even more worrying than his calculations suggest: the next Benedict Cumberbatch vehicle, which will be released this spring, is called Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. It posits not one but many universes, all growing faster than the retail prices index.
Into this inflationary gallimaufry of intergalactic flapdoodle comes Moon Knight (Disney+), a TV spin-off developed by the Marvel boss, Kevin Feige. Since 2018, Feige has been astutely plundering the Marvel database for obscure characters whose backstories can be fluffed for TV series. The results, such as WandaVision and What If …?, have been more rewarding than anyone who sat through Avengers: Age of Ultron might have imagined possible. Moon Knight is as witty and philosophically interesting as the first two. We may not need another hero, but, if we did, better Moon Knight than Dark Knight.
Moon Knight made his first appearance in the comic Werewolf by Night in 1975. His backstory is uncannily similar to mine. The son of a rabbi, Marc Spector was a CIA-agent-cum-mercenary who was mortally wounded, then brought back to life by Khonshu to battle the bird-skulled Egyptian moon god’s no less freaky nemesis, Ammit. She, as you may recall from your primary school ancient Egypt project, has a hippo’s hindquarters, a lion’s forequarters and the head of a crocodile, making her, if not a looker in the conventional sense, quite the formidable foe.
So that is Moon Knight, a nocturnal warrior battling evil for us schmoes, while sporting impressive abs and a cape so voluminous he would get it caught in his bicycle spokes if he didn’t tuck it into his posing pouch. (Just one of the reasons why he doesn’t cycle to work.)
In Jeremy Slater’s TV retool, though, there is a twist. Every morning, Moon Knight wakes up in the body of a mild-mannered museum gift shop assistant called Steven Grant. Each night, before retiring, Grant chains one ankle to his bedframe and puts tape across his front door so he can check later if he managed to slip his restraints during the night.
Why such precautions? He doesn’t know, because he has dissociative identity disorder. He has no memory of being a mercenary, nor of his role in the historic struggle between ancient Egyptian deities. Each day, before his first coffee, he wakes up to an existential crisis akin to those of The Metamorphosis’s Gregor Samsa, Phil Connors in Groundhog Day and Leonard Shelby in Memento.
Oscar Isaac has great fun with the role, playing Grant as if Indiana Jones were tragicomically trapped in the body of Some Mothers do ’Ave ’Em’s Frank Spencer. His accent and bodily tics were reportedly inspired by Karl Pilkington of An Idiot Abroad. He ends phone calls to his mum with “Laters, gators” and so is temperamentally unsuited to the demands of the first episode, namely holding on to a mechanical flying scarab beetle that Ammit’s lickspittles covet, not to mention eluding parkouring CGI dogs in the museum and gun-toting men in black bent on shoving him and his cupcake van over the precipice of a corniche. That said, Grant’s veganism, presented here as typifying his wimpishness, is a misstep: every vegan I know would go fist of Khonshu on the ass of any barista who put cow milk in their cortado.
One night, during a museum inventory check, Ethan Hawke appears to Grant, sucking in his cheeks and doing that thing where he stares implacably. Hawke has even more fun with role – Arthur Harrow, Moon Knight’s leading foe and the top Ammit lickspittle – than Isaac does with his. “Consider this,” says Harrow, staring through every-day-is-a-bad-hair-day locks. “If Ammit had been freed, she would have prevented Hitler, the destruction of Europe, the Armenian genocide, Pol Pot.” Whatevs, say the eyes of Grant. But the very suggestion that the liberation of Ammit would bring justice to a world overrun by little men overcompensating for big problems seems, as Guardian leader writers tell us, far-fetched.
While it remains to be seen whether Konshu’s righteous warriors will defeat Ammit’s and whether Grant will realise his supposed destiny by the finale, one thing seems certain. The Marvel Cinematic Universe will continue to expand. Only She-Hulk, coming later this year on Disney+, may be able to halt it – and I bet even she won’t have the upper-body strength.