With Moon Knight, Marvel is perfecting the dark and gritty; and it's time DC took notes
- Marvel's new series, Moon Knight, is the dark and gritty take that DC has been trying to perfect for years. The series, starring Oscar Isaac, deals with issues and themes darker than any MCU story has tackled so far.
The words 'dark and gritty' have come to be associated so strongly with the films of DC Extended Universe that the mere mention gives me flashbacks of Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice. And those aren't flashbacks I welcome at all. So, having watched the pilot episode of Marvel's new series Moon Knight, I found it refreshing that somebody outside DC has been able to turn to the dark side, and do it well for a change. The Disney+ series is managing to succeed where countless DCEU films have failed--portraying the dark, tortured hero and his struggles on screen. Also read: Moon Knight trailer: Oscar Isaac embraces chaos as Marvel goes full psychological-thriller, fans 'can't wait'
For years, Marvel has been associated with a lighter brand of action. The world's fate could be at stake but there is still time for shawarmas and dance offs. Hell, it's a franchise with a sentient tree and a raccoon with a gun. It's not supposed to be dark. When Marvel launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008, many doubted if it would succeed. But as The Avengers rolled out four years later, most people realised this inter-connected web of films was the future of franchises.
Feeling left out and left behind, DC did the only thing they thought was smart--create their own universe which was totally the opposite of Marvel Cinematic Universe in tone. Hence, they went for dark and gritty. DC believed that if Marvel could churn out blockbusters with hitherto unknown characters like Star Lord and Ant-Man, their holy trinity - Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman--would surely knock it out of the park.
But even DC fans admit that even though they had the right approach, they weren't able to knock it out of the park. The only DC films that have managed to get the dark tone correct are not part of the DCEU. They are Joker, The Batman, and Zack Snyder's Justice League. But the extended universe needs some serious rethinking on how to get that dark tone right. Despite borrowing from some of the most popular stories featuring iconic characters, they have been unable to get the fit right. Well, all they need to do is watch Marvel now.
Moon Knight has just premiered. We have only seen one episode so far. So let's not get ahead of ourselves. It has been a promising start but it could all fall apart in the later episodes. But let's hope it doesn't because Moon Knight is good. The title character - played deftly by Oscar Isaac - is among the most obscure superheroes in the Marvel line-up. The show is dark, it talks about mental health, and Egyptian gods, and has a horror vibe to it. Everything that is as 'un-Marvel' as it could be. It's a welcome change.
It's not the first time Marvel has flirted with the darkness. First, they outsourced it to Netflix. Fans would remember the wonderful Marvel Netflix shows, starting with Daredevil and right up to Defenders. If Jessica Jones dealt with the tricky issue of consent, Daredevil talked about morality, and Luke Cage explored the racial dynamics of Harlem. And then there was Punisher, one of the most brutal and gory superheroes out there. But those shows were not part of the MCU, if they might be now (the answer remains unclear). Marvel tried to go dark again in What If...? with zombies and an omnipresent Ultron, but critics said, it's just animation.
But now, it's all coming together. Between Moon Knight and the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, MCU is embracing the darkness. DC has been one step behind Marvel over the last decade and a half. Marvel launched their universe first, they did the multi-hero team-up first. They even got to the multiverse first. DC's upcoming film Flash will feature multiple actors playing Batman. But Spider-Man: No Way Home already did that last year, quite beautifully. So, having beaten DC fair and square, Marvel now seems hell-bent to snare the one thing that has been DC's trademark--the darkness.
DC should really sit up and take note. They were already losing the war. But now they run the risk of being rendered obsolete. Because if Marvel manages to perfect every genre of superhero storytelling under its vast umbrella, DC's holy trinity may not be left with fans to conquer.
Moon Knight premiered on Disney+ Hotstar in India on Wednesday, March 30. Subsequent episodes will stream weekly on Wednesday afternoons.