It's Great That Moon Knight Gets To Be Gross

Let's face it: by this point, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is so expansive, it has genres of its own represented within the superhero genre. "WandaVision" is a tragic romance, Tom Holland's Spider-Man films are coming-of-age stories, and "Thor: Ragnarok" is a road trip buddy comedy. The massive franchise also clearly has fans covered on sci-fi, fantasy, and war stories. But what about horror? 14 years into its reign, and the MCU proper (aka, not "Venom") is still surprisingly light on horror elements. That's why it's so great to see "Moon Knight" get gross.

"Moon Knight" was described as a sort of Marvel dark horse even before it hit Disney+; the word "weird" pops up again and again in coverage of the series, and its standalone conceit bucks the franchise's long tradition of symbiosis. Yet it became clear early on to me that "Moon Knight" isn't just weird: it's great, grody, lightly gory fun in the tradition of films like "Indiana Jones" and "The Mummy."

This show gets gnarly in the best way

Our first clue that "Moon Knight" would be delightfully gross should've been the moment Ethan Hawke's cult leader character Arthur Harrow stepped into a pair of glass-shard-filled shoes. In the very first scene of the series, he enjoys a drink, then rather lovingly crushes the glass in a piece of cloth atop a table, as if he's enjoying a DIY project. He then puts the shattered contents into a pair of slip-on shoes and heads out on his merry way, glass presumably stabbing his feet with every step. It's a scene that technically features no blood, but it's also one that makes squeamish members of the audience want to crawl out of our skin. The glass-in-shoes technique, here used as a religious form of mortification of the flesh, was also shown in Rose Glass' "Saint Maud" last year. In that case, it was played as a moment of outright teeth-gritting terror.

Arthur's act of masochistic devotion sets the tone for "Moon Knight," but the series doesn't reach its full adventure-horror potential until episode four. In "The Tomb," Marc and Steven (Oscar Isaac) descend into Ammit's tomb with Marc's wife, Layla (May Calamawy). Pretty soon after they arrive, they find a sarcophagus with what Steven describes as "little chunks of meaty bits" around it. Neat! As they trek further in, they're met with streaks of blood, shards of bones, and a pile of ominous ingredients including shedded snake skins.

The action centerpiece of this episode is like something straight out of 1999's "The Mummy." An undead creature called a Heka Priest makes a mad dash for Steven and Layla, and everything that ensues is the kind of epic, vaguely gross adventure that family blockbusters used to be made of. Steven tries to squish it (and actually says "I squished it" as if he's dealing with a bug, bless him), but when Layla finds herself in a dark hallway, another bony hand starts to reach for her from a hole in the wall. This Heka Priest grabs her from behind in a moment that borders on a genuine jump scare.

Before the scene's over, Layla will have yanked off its forearm and rammed a lit flare through its eye socket. It's a harrowing, breathless sequence that instantly solidifies Layla as one of the MCU's best badasses. Meanwhile, Steven is yanking open the rotten jaw of Alexander the Great's mummified corpse, all while comically muttering, "Sorry, Mr. Great. Sorry. I couldn't be more sorry."

It follows a tradition of adventure horror

The tomb scene may be nothing to blink at for experienced gorehounds, but it's still a delightful step up for a studio that's so widely known for toning its content down — Disney recently made headlines for removing (then restoring) blood from the edit of another Disney+ series. My issues with the MCU have always revolved around its unwillingness to reflect the texture of real life, its polished shininess that does away with anything that isn't especially global IP-friendly. So the fact that you can almost smell the rot in the tomb of Ammit, and that you can hear the crunch of poor Mr. Great's jaw, is a small but thrilling win in my book.

Why, though, is "Moon Knight" able to get freaky and gross when so few other Marvel properties are? Perhaps because there's a precedent for family-friendly, blockbuster stories that put archaelogy at the forefront. In 1981, PG-rated "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark" tumbled into theaters and became a point of obsession for people of all ages. It was a moneymaker that appealed not just to adults, but to kids, and it didn't sacrifice a single jump scare, bloodstain, or rotting skeleton to do so. "The Mummy" followed in 1999, and neither a tongue-severing scene nor a horde of people-eating beetles could stop the swashbuckler from appealing to viewers of all ages.

It's great that "Moon Knight" gets to be gross. The series' edgier moments are a reminder that the PG-13 rating didn't even exist when the first "Indiana Jones" came out, but that it was still a foundational source of thrills for an entire generation regardless of its scary, gross-out moments. Sure, you may not want your family to see Steven Grant put his hand down a corpse's throat, but I may not want to see superheroes promote the U.S. military. We all get to pick and choose what we consume and what we enjoy. I, for one, am thrilled to see Marvel showing its nastier side. By finally embracing the tradition of adventure-horror, "Moon Knight" has become the rare Marvel project that elicits gasps not just for IP-reliant crossovers and Easter eggs, but for a few genuine thrills and chills of its own.