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The ‘Moon Knight’ Trailer Showcases a New, Darker Direction for the MCU

Marvel mastered TV by building on established story lines and familiar characters, but the ominous ‘Moon Knight’ seems to signal a shift in streaming strategy

Disney Plus/Ringer illustration

On Monday night, in the midst of the Los Angeles Rams’ blowout win over the Arizona Cardinals, Marvel Studios debuted a new trailer for Moon Knight. And though Kyler Murray and the Cardinals couldn’t prevent the NFL’s Super Wild-Card Weekend from ending with a fizzle, Marvel provided the first extended look at what’s already shaping up to be one of its darkest and most distinctive projects to date.

Stewarded by head writer Jeremy Slater and a directing team composed of Egyptian moviemaker Mohamed Diab and the collaborative duo of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, Moon Knight is set to be the first MCU project of 2022 when it premieres on Disney+ on March 30. After Marvel Studios ended a busy 2021 with the releases of Spider-Man: No Way Home and the season finale of Hawkeye, two projects that relied on the nostalgic returns of beloved heroes and villains alike, the studio begins a new year with a new hero. In Moon Knight’s first trailer, however, our hero doesn’t even know who he is—and he doesn’t look like much of a hero yet, either.

The two-minute preview begins by introducing a man ostensibly named Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac), who has insomnia. But as he chains himself to his bed every night and starts seeing disturbing visions, it becomes clear that he suffers from much more than a lack of sleep. “I have a sleeping disorder,” he says in a phone call to a service called Staying Awake. “I can’t tell the difference between my waking life and dreams.”

With an unsettling remix of Kid Cudi’s “Day ’N’ Nite” looping in the trailer’s background, we witness how Steven’s life is haunted by glimpses of a mysterious masked figure cloaked in white; he sees him in mirrors, around dark corners, and even in an elderly woman just trying to enter an elevator. Midway through the trailer, Steven receives a phone call from a woman named Layla, who reveals to him that his name might not even be Steven at all. “Oh my god, you’re alive,” she tells him when he picks up the call. “What’s wrong with you, Marc?”

Our first look at Moon Knight doesn’t reveal much of the series’ plot. Instead, it dedicates the vast majority of its time to establishing Isaac’s Steven Grant as he discovers that he has dissociative identity disorder. While Steven is a mild-mannered gift-shop employee at a museum, he shares a body with a former soldier and mercenary named Marc Spector—as well as the vicious vigilante Moon Knight, who serves as an avatar for the Egyptian moon god Khonshu. (In the comics, Spector has another identity as well: Jake Lockley, a cab driver.) After being teased as a mere figment of Steven’s imagination, Moon Knight is seen in full as he beats a spooky-looking creature to a pulp on the floor of a public bathroom to end the trailer:

Screenshot via Marvel Studios

Aside from introducing the show’s lead and some of his many personalities (not to mention Isaac’s eyebrow-raising British accent), the preview also provides an extended look at Ethan Hawke’s villainous Arthur Harrow, a scientist in the comics who appears here as a mysterious man with long, flowing hair who’s worshipped as if he were a messianic leader. Aware of Marc’s disorder and the voices flooding his thoughts, Harrow advises him to “embrace the chaos.” Given that Harrow has a rather minor presence in the comics, and that Hawke has cited David Koresh as inspiration for the character, it’s possible that Harrow is being merged with the more popular villain Sun King, a cult-like leader who embodies the teachings of the Sun God Ra.

The six-episode series will mark the live-action debut of Moon Knight, a character who first appeared in the comics in the 1970s when he made a guest spot within the pages of Werewolf by Night. (While a Marvel Werewolf title may seem a little random at first glance—because it is—it won’t be the last time you see it; Gael García Bernal is reportedly set to star in an upcoming Halloween special based on the series.) As another vigilante who preys on the criminal underworld at night without the aid of superpowers, Moon Knight has drawn comparisons to DC’s Dark Knight. The Marvel hero even shares Batman’s affinity for wearing cowls and long capes. But Moon Knight’s multiple identities and his ties to Egyptian gods have made him a unique and intriguing figure in the comics, where he often works alone aside from the occasional team-up with the Avengers or the Heroes for Hire.

Some fans who are familiar with the likes of Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Captain America may not know much more about Moon Knight than the disoriented Grant does. In that sense, Moon Knight signals something of a shift in strategy for Marvel Studios as it enters its second year of streaming television. Last year, Marvel started and solidified its transition to streaming by leveraging the histories and profiles of already-established heroes such as Wanda Maximoff, Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes, Loki, and Hawkeye. That approach provided a clear link to the studio’s blockbuster films while also offering the chance to spend more time with characters who played lesser roles in the Infinity Saga. Now, Moon Knight leads a slate of series that will introduce new faces to the MCU, with Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk to follow on Disney+ later this year.

By basing each of these upcoming shows on a more obscure title character (at least compared to the likes of Loki and ex-Avengers), Marvel Studios returns to its roots in crafting origin stories. Dipping deeper into its superhero library is a bit of a heat check for Marvel’s small-screen efforts after a fine first year. Of course, when one is trying to build an audience for characters that casual comic-book fans may not know well, it helps to have about 120 million streaming subscribers. And it doesn’t hurt to cast recognizable stars such as Isaac and Hawke, both of whom were once rumored to be in the running for the role of Doctor Strange.

Beyond the novelty of its leading vigilante, Moon Knight also offers a darker, potentially scarier tone than we’re used to getting on screen during the Disney-owned Marvel era. As evidenced by the trailer’s alternation between a lovely-looking old woman and glimpses of a shadowy Khonshu staring down Steven in a dark hallway, Moon Knight will weave in horror elements—just as WandaVision and What If …? did in small doses in 2021 and as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Blade will later this year. After a brief release hiatus imposed by the pandemic—which also delayed the start of Moon Knight’s globe-trotting production—Marvel is continuing to broaden its lineup of superheroes. And with that expansion comes a wider array of narrative genres, from sitcoms to sci-fi adventures to Christmas stories.

By making Moon Knight, Marvel is dipping its toes deeper into the realms of the supernatural and fantasy, with the arrivals of Blade and the Black Knight promising more to come. And Moon Knight’s creative team seems well chosen to meet the challenge, given Benson and Moorhead’s horror chops, Diab’s track record of depicting serious subject matter, and Slater’s bona fides as the creator of the offbeat, gritty, and mature The Umbrella Academy. (The less said about Slater’s having cowritten the screenplay for 2015 flop Fantastic Four, the better; the final product reportedly didn’t reflect his vision for the film.)

We still don’t know how Moon Knight will integrate its titular protagonist into the greater MCU, or just how dark a Disney+ show—even one that deals with a violent vigilante with mental illness—can get. (Vincent D’Onofrio, who recently reprised his Daredevil role as Kingpin in Hawkeye, recently said that the Netflix version of the villain was “too hardcore” for Disney.) With Isaac and Hawke headlining the cast and a strong first trailer to support it, though, Moon Knight may represent a promising new direction for Marvel Studios as it looks to sustain its success in its post–Infinity Saga era behind heroes with fresh faces and capes.