Each Episode Of Moon Knight Has Shifted Genres With Ease

After dominating the box office year-in and year-out since 2008 — and now almost on a quarterly basis, as their movie output has increased exponentially — it's almost unfair how smooth the transition has been for Marvel Studios from movies to streaming television. I wouldn't go so far as to say that all (or even most!) of their Disney+ shows have been home runs from a quality point-of-view, mind you. For all their proven track records on the big screen in carefully calibrating each movie to function as crowd-pleasing hits, finding success in adapting traditional two-hour chunks of story into longform narratives has proven somewhat elusive. Taking full advantage of everything that such a completely different medium affords storytellers, as opposed to resorting to the tired cliché of making stretched-out "six-hour movies," means flexing slightly different creative muscles. With that said, there's very little arguing with the overall popularity of shows like "WandaVision," "Loki," and even "Hawkeye."

But when it comes to Marvel Disney+ shows that have shown just what the superhero studio is capable of when let loose from the constraints of four-quadrant filmmaking, few would've pointed to "Moon Knight" as the one to do so most effectively and in such style. "WandaVision," after all, had genre shifts and varying expressions of form built in to its very premise, swapping distinct television eras through the decades with every episode as a loving homage to serials. "Loki" similarly enjoyed free rein, thanks to its multiverse-hopping, mystery-driven storyline that never could've thrived as its own movie.

Of all these previous efforts, however, "Moon Knight" just might be the first one to pull this off with the most amount of flair, storytelling prowess, and genuinely story-driven motivations. Look no further than the sneakily simple fact that, so far, all three episodes of the Oscar Isaac-starring series have shifted genres with ease.

This article contains spoilers for episodes 1-3 of "Moon Knight."

Superhero horror

Ever since "Moon Knight" was first announced (and especially with Oscar Isaac in the lead role), anticipation for the relatively little-known comic book character steeped in Egyptian mythology has remained high — particularly because of the opportunity to dig into the comic book character's horror roots. The early returns have been quite promising on the front, bringing us right into the fractured headspace of Steven Grant (and eventually Marc Spector) from the very first episode.

Traditionally speaking, the idea of perspective has always remained a constant in the horror genre. Putting us firmly in the shoes of the hapless protagonist, countless stories have thrust them into a terrifying world that they may not have even known existed. The profound identity crisis that Steven suffers from early in the first episode clearly and loudly calls back to this time-honored trope, making the meek "gift shop-ist" terrified of his own literal shadow. Every time Steven blacks out, we're purposefully kept at a distance from what his alter ego, Marc Spector, has been doing in the meantime. At best, this causes Steven to wake up days later without his knowledge, missing an important date with a coworker and leaving him utterly confused. At worst, he suddenly finds himself in the middle of a fight for his life, having just escaped from some of Arthur Harrow's (Ethan Hawke) cult-like followers of Ammit and forced to kill others with his bare, bloodied hands.

By keeping us squarely in the perspective of Steven Grant until the episode's concluding moments, director Mohamed Diab uses the limits of revealed information to keep both Steven and viewers mostly in the dark. The horror imagery that results from this disorienting choice, from the opening seconds of Harrow subjecting himself to a form of self-flagellation by walking around in broken glass to the disgraced Egyptian god Khonshu (F. Murray Abraham) cornering Steven in his apartment hallway, allows the series premiere to embrace the scares in a way that none of the Marvel movies (yet, at least?) have been able to accomplish.

Moon Knight embraces the mystery (among other things)

After Marc Spector finally gets the chance to take control of their shared body in the premiere's dramatic ending and save him and Steven from certain death in the British Museum, viewers may not have expected the next episode to begin on a relatively more subdued note that, essentially, has Steven reverting back to square one. When he can't prove that he had a very valid reason to run for his life the previous night and trash entire sections of the museum, poor Steven loses his job and resigns himself to yet more aimlessness in his already-dissatisfied life ... until he remembers that the carefully hidden items he finds in his apartment (items belonging to Marc) could point him towards some much-needed answers.

In this episode, the horror and mystery of it all feels naturally intertwined with one another. Steven's quest for answers leads him to a certain storage locker where he finally gets to confront Marc face-to-face (in a manner of speaking, at least), though not without yet another creepy and unsettling encounter with Khonshu that drives a half-mad Steven into the arms of Layla (May Calamawy). Though she obviously doesn't know anything about Marc's dissociative identity disorder condition and mistakes Steven for her husband Marc, their tense meeting gives Steven even more questions along with the few answers she provides about just what seems to be going on.

Kidnapped and brought to Arthur Harrow once again, the admittedly overlong exposition dump at least provides further clarity into the role that Arthur, the former jilted avatar for Khonshu and now hellbent on releasing the god Ammit onto the world, plays in the overarching story that has found Steven, Marc, and Layla all swept up into it together. Though plenty of action unfolds once Steven and Layla attempt to make their escape, it's telling that the penultimate and best scene of the episode follows the conventions of many a mystery-thriller before it where words, not fists, matter most. In the lasting image from this episode, we get Steven and Marc finally blowing off steam with an all-out argument over their tortured circumstances.

It wouldn't be accurate to call "Moon Knight" a mystery series at its core, but episode 2's ability to nimbly jump from genre to genre points to an innate grasp of serialized storytelling.

Indiana Jones, Rick O'Connell, and ... Marc Spector?

When a mythology-heavy series like "Moon Knight" essentially opens an episode with a sweeping shot of desert sands, following a fanatical group of individuals hunting for lost relics, a few very obvious (but no less intentional) influences will inevitably come to mind. The tone of the series has been described on numerous occasions as taking its cues from action/adventure classics like "Indiana Jones." Episode 3 takes this to even greater lengths, focusing almost exclusively on proficient (and profoundly tired) Khonshu avatar Marc Spector as he attempts to find the tomb of Ammit before Harrow can unleash destruction on a global scale. His estranged wife and relic-hunter in her own right, Layla, joins him on this journey in Cairo, lending a tangible sense that Marvel is attempting to recapture the chemistry-filled joys of the Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz-led "The Mummy" films from the late 1990s and early 2000s.

In a welcomed change from the MCU at large, however, comparisons to well-known pop culture items like "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "The Mummy," and even some brief inklings of the "Jason Bourne" movies only add even more flavors to the ongoing storyline in "Moon Knight." Importantly, the character-focused arc of Steven and Marc (and who knows how many other possible identities residing within their body) remains front and center, with episode 3 even finding time to briefly take a detour from the ongoing, MacGuffin-heavy plot and touch on Marc and Layla's doomed marriage. It fell apart, as we learn, mostly as a result of Marc's inability to communicate with his wife and be open with her about everything she ought to know about him. Future episodes would benefit from leaning far more into their romance, assuming creator Jeremy Slater is really as committed as he seems to embracing similar dynamics with Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood or Rick O'Connell and Evelyn Carnahan.

In effect, all these various styles and formalistic approaches in just the first three episodes of "Moon Knight" point to an incredibly encouraging end result. Should this new series manage to infuse the remaining episodes with as much attention to detail and confidence in its own storytelling as these early ones have, we may be looking at Marvel's absolute best streaming series to date.

"Moon Knight" airs new episodes Wednesdays on Disney+.