Skip to main content

You’d be surprised how many intersectional planes of untethered consciousness exist.

Moon Knight
(2022)

(SPOILERS) Now, this is an interesting one. Not because it’s very good – Phase IV MCU? Hah! – but because it presents its angle on the “superhero” ethos in an almost entirely unexpurgated, unsoftened way. Here is a character explicitly formed through the procedures utilised by trauma-based mind control, who has developed alters – of which he has been, and some of which he remains, unaware – and undergone training/employment in the military and private mercenary sectors (common for MKUltra candidates, per Dave McGowan’s Programmed to Kill). And then, he’s possessed by what he believes to be a god in order to carry out acts of extreme violence. So just the sort of thing that’s good, family, DisneyPlus+ viewing.

To be fair, a more uncompromising sensibility was one of the boasts from Kevin Feige, alongside showrunner Jeremy Salter and director Mohamed Diab (episodes 1, 3, 5 and 6), and there are duly lashings of blood, a surfeit of stabbings and coterie of creatures that look like Alien: Covenant rejects scuttling about the place. Another boast, on Diab’s part, was Moon Knight’s respect for Egyptian culture and depiction thereof. But since this is a superhero yarn, one that at no point shot in Egypt, applies an MCU spin to any genuine elements of Egyptian mythology, and spends most of its supposed time in the country in stereotype ancient tombs and arid deserts – rather than a normal place with normal human beings, as Diab put it – I think one can safely put that down to spin.

Along with, let’s face it the instant insulation against accusations of cultural disrespect that come with employing an Egyptian director and Egyptian-Palestinian second lead (May Calamaway). Conversely, this means you’ll find some hoop jumping to legitimise Latino actor Oscar Isaac playing a Jewish character (obviously, this approach is, by and large, deeply silly, but if you’re going down the identity politics route, you need to be consistent or bury yourself, and Disney consistently succeeds in the latter).

It seems the comics character, invented in 1975, wasn’t immediately pegged as suffering from DID/dissociative identity disorder (nor was he Jewish), but it quite quickly became a staple. This being a product of the ’70s, with the rise of profiling and serial killers (if not immediately named as such) as a phenomenon, one engineered by the CIA and its cult tentacles, along with possession as a cultural touchstone (chiefly thanks to The Exorcist – also linked to the military/CIA via its author), such ideas could probably suggest themselves to creator Doug Moench quite comfortably without anyone explicitly pouring poison in his ear, but it still seems remarkable how neatly all the elements line up.

The series ditches the playboy-philanthropist side of Steven Grant, the alter to whom we’re first introduced, on the grounds of inviting unwanted Batman/Bruce Wayne comparisons; he is now a Frank Spencer-esque uber-nerd, equipped with a decidedly strangulated London-ish accent. While of exhaustible appeal, Grant’s a reminder that Isaac can actually deliver an arresting performance, in contrast to the mostly stolid turns we’ve seen since he’s become a name actor; for the contrast, witness how utterly forgettable Steven’s “real” self, ex-military mercenary Marc Spector – who agreed to become Moon Knight, the avatar of Egyptian moon god Khonshu – is. Indeed, while Isaac’s as technically accomplished as they come (see his numerous scenes performing against himself), he lacks the magnetism of a real star player, and by the second episode, even Steven’s OTT beta-personality is wearing thin.

Really, Isaac should have brought his Steven Grant performance to a Disney remake of Condorman. Although, Calamawy’s the one who ends up with wings, when her character Layla is transformed into the Scarlet Scarab (“Are you an Egyptian superhero?” some young scruff asks her, just to remind us we can chalk that one up for the MCU fighting the good representational fight).

Despite its more outré designs and ideas, Moon Knight quickly devolves into the very familiar. Its first episode works well, carried along as we are by Steven’s wave of confusion, and the fifth, descending into Marc’s psyche, is a welcome detour (albeit, it’s clearly taking its cues from Legion, which spent whole seasons in that surrealist mode), but elsewhere there’s too often a feel of MCU autopilot.

Khonshu: I only punish those who have chosen evil.
Ammit: So do I, only I don’t give them the satisfaction of committing it.

Ethan Hawke’s Arthur Harrow is an ex-Khonshu avatar, and the main (human) antagonist. While Hawke’s a good fit for a creepy cult leader, this is, when it boils down to it, not much different to the formula tactic of making the bad guy equal and opposite to the hero (see Abomination vs Hulk, or Stane vs Iron Man, et al). Arthur is resuscitating goddess Ammit – so the ultimate adversary is of the reptilian variety – whose invidious position is based on judging the guilty before they’ve done anything damning (this derives from mythological Ammit judging if the heart of the party concerned was pure).

The idea, obviously, being to make Khonshu seem semi-reasonable by comparison (Taweret, meanwhile, who will make Layla her avatar, comes with hippo features, minus the pendulous breasts of her mythological counterpart, presumably because they might have been a little too Meet the Feebles). Khonshu gets to be voiced by F Murray Abraham. Which, on the one hand is a boon, as he’s engagingly arch, but on the other, the tone reminds one rather of Venom.

Arthur: I’m curious, do you think that Khonshu chose you as his avatar because your mind would be so easy to break? Or because it was broken already?

As I understand it, the comics indulged debate on the nature of Marc’s DID, and whether they – Grant and Lockley manifested during childhood – were genuine or Khonshu-inspired; the latter would also claim he created a psychic connection with Marc when he was young. If we substitute Khonshu for your typical MKUltra perpetrator (as illustrated in Stranger Things), that sounds about right. Here, Marc stumbles across Khonshu in the desert, and he proves ideal material for the possessing force. MKUltra seeks childhood trauma as a prerequisite for “entrants” (if not taking in those who have suffered it, and per some testimony, ensuring families in the programme initiate/perpetuate it). That Marc then graduates to the armed forces couldn’t be more perfect, in stark contrast to his claim “Turns out going AWOL in a fugue state gets you discharged from the military”. Although, tellingly, he will promptly secure a job as a mercenary from his ex-CO.

A caveat on the Khonshu = mind control programmer. Obviously, the series presents programmed Marc as actually receiving messages from an Egyptian god, while many of those discussing MKUltra and the activity of security agencies (Cathy O’Brien, Miles Mathis, Mike McClaughry) tend to the position that any supernatural or occult element is simply a layer of manipulation. Which itself may just be a layer of manipulation...

We’re witness to Marc’s trauma as a child, inflicted by a mother who blames him for the death of his brother; as such, the abuse is physical/psychological and does not include the alleged standard MKUltra sexual component (but then, this is the MCU). As Marc explains to Stephen of incidents of abuse “You’re not meant to see that. That’s the whole point of you… you’ve got to lead a happy, simple, normal life, you understand?” (this is the perspective professed by O’Brien; the alters aren’t meant to interpose on the trauma-inducing experiences or they become ineffective).

I’m reluctant to give Disney – woker than woke, so even if they’ve been taken in hand, it appears to have been actively to stoke the flames of its own self-immolation – credit for shedding light on this subject with any serious mindedness or sobriety, particularly when “helpfully” suggesting “for information on mental illness visit NAMI.org” (the majority of its funding comes from big pharma). Indeed, the show finds Marc returning to “rescue” Steven from the Duat, so perversely suggesting he isn’t whole without the schism of his alter (one might argue he can’t be anyway, because there is also Jake, unbeknownst to him, but dramatically, this is shown to be a triumphant moment).

Perhaps the message is that Mark needs full integration and “deprogramming”, but it still hits a discordant note. Of course, any superhero requires a level of alter (ego), so it would be counterintuitive to make him better. The genre has successfully inverted the essential negativity of the concept to make it seem virtuous (while the tradition has its more upbeat literary antecedents like the Scarlet Pimpernel, or Zorro, the troubled masked hero seems directly related).

The play between the struggling personalities occasionally strays into Me, Myself and Irene territory, with Marc screaming “You love my wife? I’ll throw you off a cliff!” at Steven. It also reminded me of Innerspace – which I’d never read as a MKUltra riff before, and I’m not convinced it bear scrutiny, but it does feature the military performing experiments that result in the psychological (and physical, at points) transformation of a very average man. I note too that, in the parallel universe of Ultimate Marvel (circa 2000+), Marc was part of the super-soldier programme, which might be as close as Marvel got to such territory.

Moon Knight is more polished than the initial trailers suggested, and I quite liked some of the basic design work – Moon Knight, Mr Knight, bird skull headed Khonshu – even if I can’t see a good reason for summoning Mr Knight during an altercation, not when you can call on Moon Knight. Ultimately, though, there’s little of sustained interest here, beyond the MCU dipping its toes overtly in MKUltra territory. It’s not unKhonshu-nable, but it’s fairly inessential.


Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.