Moon Knight episode 5 review: The MCU is not built for this

Perhaps it’s too much of a generalization to say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is designed for children, but it’s definitely designed in a way that is not intended to exclude them. Even with the MCU’s light geopolitics and frequent friendly gestures towards the military-industrial complex, the franchise at the end of the day is carefully designed to remain firmly family-friendly, with mostly bloodless violence and nothing too scary or intense. For the most part, it’s fine. The MCU could undoubtedly be better without its fixation on cartoon heroes as paramilitary agents and every step away from it (as Shang-Chi) is appreciated. But sometimes the focus on storytelling in four quadrants collides with the ambition of history in a given MCU installment – like this week’s Moon Knights illustrates.

“Asylum” is among the darkest, most intimately devastating stories Marvel Studios has ever told. It’s an episode about a man’s split mind that is finally shattered as he revisits the most traumatic moments of his life. These are stuffy, awful things, delivered with a light touch that might be also light. The horror is often undermined with moments of humor and a reluctance to center this horror on the screen.

This is frustrating in an episode as crucial and internal as “Asylum.” “Asylum” continues where “The Tomb” left off, showing Marc Spector and Steven Grant (both played by Oscar Isaac) apparently trapped in a psychiatric ward run by “Dr. Harrow” (Ethan Hawke) trying to convince Marc that the events in Moon Knights so far, a fiction has been devised by Marc’s brain as a coping mechanism. The Taweret (pronounced by Anotonia Salib), a fertility goddess resembling a hippopotamus, offers Marc and Steven another option: They are dead and are currently being judged in the desert after death known as Duat.

Steven Grant looks sad in front of the Taweret in Marvel Studios' Moon Knight

Photo: Marvel Studios

According to the Taweret, Steven and Marc’s hearts must be weighed against the weight of judgment to determine whether they will remain trapped in the sand of Duat, or continue to a reed-filled paradise. The balance of weight, however, is changing as it was when Harrow tried to use his own powers to weigh the two men’s guilt. Steven and Marc must work together and – to quote David Lynch – fix their hearts or die.

With this directive, “Asylum” takes its form, with Marc and Steven wandering the halls of the asylum to revisit their common past. Each door along its white corridors hides a memory, and when visiting these rooms, Moon Knights‘s writers fill almost all gaps in the show’s backstory so far. Viewers are shown how Marc took responsibility for his brother’s death in childhood, how the death caused his mother to become abusive and resort to alcoholism, and how Marc invented the Steven Grant persona and patterned it after his favorite movie to help him resist the abuse. . As Marc gets older, the wall between himself and Steven gets taller, and Marc bears all the pain. Eventually, he is fired from military service and into a mercenary career, while Steven comes to live in ignorance.

It’s all based on the origins of the Moon Knights, when Spector’s crew is hired to plunder an archaeological site. His commander has other ideas and starts slaughtering everyone – including Layla’s father. Fatally wounded by the attempt to defend the archaeologists, Spector climbs to a statue of Khonshu deep inside the site and hears the moon god praying for his allegiance in return for a new life.

Moon Knight was born in the Disney Plus series Moon Knight

Photo: Marvel Studios

Tonally, “Asylum” swings wildly between the fairy tale feeling from “The Tomb” (Marc and Steven fight against sand zombies) and dark psychological horror. (The zombies are all the people Marc has killed in his mercenary life.) In this, Moon Knights feels trapped between two masters: the challenging, morally gray story of a man dealing with mental illness and his own ability to horror, and the action movie Marvel Studios, which the whole family can watch.

These two things are not mutually exclusive – something that has been lost in the modern 80s tributes of shows like Stranger Things that’s how 80s classics like it ONE delivered stories where the real fun is paired with real terror, danger and inner turmoil, all of which were difficult for children (both on screen and among the audience) to process. Under the Marvel formula, however, every edge is sanded off. Did you know that Marc Spector is a Jew? His family sits shiva twice in this episode and he tears a kippah off in anxiety, but none of this informs his character or his perspective. Critics could build headlines around Moon Knight as Marvel Studios’ “first Jewish hero,” but what does that mean? In this context not much. As with the sex scene in Eternal, the sense of commitment to something meaningfully lacking. Where is the story potential in an allegedly passionate relationship when it is reduced to a static shot of two expressionless people lying together, inclined and almost inactive?

This lack of commitment to a story’s greatest emotions remains confusing, especially considering it Moon Knights so far only minimally linked to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (In the most obvious MCU reference in the episode, the Taweret says obliquely that Duat is just “an” afterlife, noting that Ancestral Plane, as seen in Black Pantheris beautiful.) Under the current MCU structure, Moon Knights‘s largest holdings have been diluted down to the goal of expanding the horizons of the broader Marvel Studios project just as little. The effort towards representation and the interest in darker, more complex material can be commendable. But the series should be more focused on serving the primary purpose of storytelling: to make us feel something.

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