Marc Spector can’t tell the difference between his waking life and his dreams. We can’t really tell what Marvel is planning for Disney+.
Fresh from its Super Bowl teaser, there is plenty of buzz for Moon Knight, the gritty Marvel television series set to begin streaming on Disney+ on March 30.
In stark contrast to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the teaser for Moon Knight hints at a dark, cerebral show that flirts with horror storytelling. One of the first images of the teaser shows series lead Oscar Isaac — in the role of a mercenary and/or archeologist with dissociative identity disorder — stalked by Khonshu, the Egyptian moon god that grants Moon Knight his powers. But far from a benevolent being, Khonshu looks like he’s going to rip apart Isaac in half.
Before and after the Super Bowl, Empire published quotes from Kevin Feige and Oscar Isaac, each talking up the show’s darker take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Feige, pretending as though Daredevil didn’t have three seasons on Netflix, describes Isaac’s Moon Knight as a “brutal” character in a show that is seeing “the boundaries shifting on what we’re able to do.”
“There are moments [in the series] when Moon Knight is wailing on another character, and it is loud and brutal, and the knee-jerk reaction is, ‘We’re gonna pull back on this, right?’” Feige told the magazine. “No. We’re not pulling back. There’s a tonal shift. This is a different thing. This is Moon Knight.”
Isaac himself described the series as “really fucking nutty.”
“Often on these big movies it can feel like you’re building the plane on the runway,” Isaac told Empire. Despite being part of the Marvel machine, Moon Knight being a limited series on Disney+ “felt handmade.”
“It’s the first legitimate Marvel character-study since Iron Man,” Isaac declared.
These are all powerful words from people who would know Moon Knight best. That said, can we take Marvel at its word? Or, like Marc Spector, should we be more skeptical of what we’re seeing?
There’s only one question that looms over Moon Knight: Will Moon Knight actually be the dark show Marvel promises?
Given its place on the family-friendly Disney+ platform, it’s hard to believe just how “brutal” the series will be. In addition, there’s an established track record of productions that Marvel claims a new movie/TV show will be, and what it ends up as.
An example: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier head writer Malcolm Spellman openly talked about the show’s “super relevant” themes on racism prior to its premiere. While the end product certainly did talk about systemic racism, it’s hard to figure out what the series actually tried to say at all.
Prior to WandaVision, there was plenty of talk from Marvel about the show replicating sitcoms of the decades. But as WandaVision played out, that was only a tiny fraction of the show’s contents, with the rest made up of pretty traditional Marvel espionage storytelling.
Marvel likes to create buzz for its content by promising something daring and unique. But the entire Marvel MO is to package slightly challenging ideas — whether thematic or stylistic — in familiar wrapping. While Moon Knight may very well have some dark and scary moments, it still may be just another superhero origin story. And that’s been Marvel’s open secret to success. It delivers ambitious cuisine under fast-food expectations.
But is there a chance for Marvel to surprise us? Yes. Admittedly, there is a lot we don’t know about the machinations of Marvel Studios. While we can engage in healthy speculation from the outside, there’s plenty going on inside that even the best industry journalists can have difficulty unearthing.
Here’s what we do know: Moon Knight was formally announced at D23 in 2019 — a moment in time when The Mandalorian had yet to actually premiere. There was a lot of promise for the streaming era of Disney and its mega-franchises, but none of it was yet seen.
Here’s what else we know: Disney CEO Bob Chapek takes a different approach to business than his predecessor, Bob Iger. As detailed in a New York Times profile in 2020 after Iger named Chapek as his successor, Chapek carries himself in a different way than Iger did. “He is happy to not be the center of attention,” the Times wrote. Iger, in contrast, was a well-known personality.
And here’s another thing we know: Chapek was in a position of authority as CEO by 2020, but it was shared with Iger in a long transitional period. Also in early 2020 was the cancellation of a Disney+ revival for Lizzie McGuire, which would have seen the teenage character — played by Hilary Duff in the original Disney Channel sitcom — as a thirty-something adult with adult problems. Production was halted after two episodes were filmed, and the show was officially prematurely canceled by the end of the year.
The plug for Lizzie McGuire was pulled under the reign of Iger, who seemed visibly focused on keeping Disney+ as a platform for Disney-centric content, and Hulu as the destination for more challenging adult fare. (This still may be the case: Prey, a prequel to the Predator films, is set to premiere on Hulu. Other adult-skewing content, like a TV adaptation of the novel Shogun, is slated for FX, which has streaming exclusivity with Hulu.)
Truthfully, little has changed from this strategy, at least publicly. Chapek hasn’t commented on the sort of content he’s willing to allow Disney+ to have. (It should be said non-U.S. versions of Disney+ stream non-Disney content, like The Walking Dead, through Star.) The most Chapek has spoken about Disney+ has been related to financial growth and spending.
But it is interesting that Lizzie McGuire, a show where its lead character might have had sex once or twice, was canceled under Iger. And Moon Knight, a show where the leading Marvel superhero is going to beat up bad guys so bad his white gloves will be dyed crimson red, is all set to go for next month.
There are certainly very broad conversations about the appropriateness of sex and violence in popular media. But as far as the Disney+ platform is concerned, there seems to be a shifted goalpost: “Adult” seems to be more accepted now than it was a few short years ago. But whether that means Marvel is actually going to flex those muscles with Moon Knight is anyone’s guess. We’ll only have to see it to believe it.
Moon Knight is streaming March 30 on Disney+.