I began this ANTS comparison series with the first three Disney+ Marvel shows, from the highs of WandaVision’s novelty and Loki’s attachment to the lows of either of those shows trying to resolve anything.* Now that there are three more Marvel shows with completed first seasons, I have returned to rate them once again! Each will be given a score of 1-10 on attachment, novelty, tension, and satisfaction, but only one can be the best. Which will it be, and can they also surpass the previous round of MCU shows?
Spoiler Notice: Hawkeye, Moon Knight, and Ms. Marvel.
They made a show about Loki, the MCU’s most beloved villain turned antihero, so it only makes sense that they’d make a show about Clint Barton who… had a farm? If you’re a fan of the farm scenes from Age of Ultron, this show is for you! Also there’s a lot of archery and emotional fallout, but I think we all know the farm is what’s really important.
Previous attempts to develop Clint as a character have included the surprise reveal that he had a farm,* and that he killed a bunch of criminals after not being invited to Infinity War. Neither of those did anything for the character, so I didn’t have high hopes for this show, but I was pleasantly surprised.
This is easily the most interesting version of Clint we’ve seen so far, mostly because it focuses on his survivor’s guilt over losing Natasha in Endgame. Unlike the farm or the criminal-killing spree, this is based on something we’ve already seen, so it has some emotional weight. The show has a number of good scenes focusing on this arc, but my favorite is when a restaurant puts Clint’s meal on the house as a thank you for all the times he’s saved the world. Clint hates this act of kindness because all he can think about is the people he’s lost who deserve it more.
It’s also very cool that Clint uses a hearing aid now, just like in the comics.* I was originally annoyed that they chose to make him fully able-bodied in the movies, but now it has the added benefit of reminding people that anyone can become disabled through accident or age. I can only hope it moves the needle a little on support for disability accommodations.
So, Clint’s a strong character despite my initial skepticism, and the rest of the cast is… uniformly okay. Kate is fine as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed youngster who balances out Clint’s jaded cynicism, but she’s a bit one-note in that role. Yelena is similar, a fun foil to the heroes, but with little depth, though she and Kate have good chemistry when they’re on screen together. The dog is also very cute, even if its inclusion in the plot is incredibly random. I kept expecting there to be some twist about the dog, but nope! It’s just a dog Kate found.
Maya is the last significant character, and while she starts as a villain, it’s pretty obvious she’s going to turn good. You can tell because she’s slick and cool while the rest of her gang is made up of comedic oafs. It’s very cool that they hired a deaf Native American actress to play her, and she stands out for specifically not using a hearing aid, contrasting with Clint, who does. It shows how disabled people often have different outlooks on their disability, which is something able-bodied people really need to know.
That said, I really wish she had the ability to copy other people’s skills like she does in the comics. That would have made the character more distinctive and raised her threat level as an antagonist. Oh well, they’re apparently making a spinoff show about her, so maybe her powers will manifest there.
Final Score: 7
I believe this is the first Marvel show where none of the characters have any superpowers whatsoever, as even Falcon and the Winter Soldier had several characters juiced up on Captain America serum. As such, the novelty value of the heroes themselves is fairly low. Whatever benefit Clint got from being an archer has worn off by now. The show also takes place almost entirely in New York City, a place we’ve seen many times in the MCU but is rarely explored in any detail. So we’re not off to a great start.
The Tracksuit Mafia is clearly intended to inject some novelty through humor, but they come off as more pathetic than funny. This would be true even if we weren’t all incredibly used to Marvel’s quippy style of humor, but we are, so it’s even worse.
The main source of novelty is that in this show, unlike every other MCU entry so far, injuries actually persist between scenes. I was frankly amazed when Clint and Kate had to stitch each other up after a fight and were still icing their injuries several scenes later. That may not sound like a lot, but by the standards of MCU cartoon violence, it’s basically Game of Thrones.
This is also the first time Clint’s techno-arrows have felt like more than a quiver of parlor tricks. Partly, that’s because he’s no longer overshadowed by heroes with more impressive powers and technology, but it’s also because the show spends more time developing how Clint uses his arrows. The enlarge/reduce arrows in particular feel quite powerful, which is an unusual thing to say about Clint’s gear.
Final Score: 5
Unfortunately, the enemy’s threat level is never very high in this show. I mentioned before that the Tracksuit Mafia is more pathetic than funny, and that really hurts the show in this category. No matter how many goons flood onto the screen, I can’t believe that the heroes are in any danger. The writers try to raise tension by introducing Daredevil’s Wilson Fisk as Kingpin, but it completely backfires. Fisk doesn’t bring anything new to Team Evil’s arsenal, and he’s handily defeated right after being introduced.
Maya and Yelena are a little better, as they’re both skilled enough in martial arts to hold their own. Yelena in particular has superspy training from her time with the Red Room, which gives her an edge over Clint and Kate. That said, it’s impossible not to predict that Maya and Yelena will switch teams, especially since they’re only on Team Evil because of miscommunication.
However, the show’s not completely devoid of tension, mostly because Clint and Kate can actually be injured in their fights. This creates novelty because it’s so unusual in the MCU, but it also raises tension because the fights feel at least somewhat dangerous. When a hero gets punched, we can’t be sure they’ll be completely fine in the next scene, making the violence more meaningful.
The remaining tension comes entirely from the question of whether Clint will make it home in time for Christmas. Obviously he’ll defeat the Tracksuit Mafia; that’s a given. But will he have time to open presents with his kids? That’s less certain.
Final Score: 5
When it comes time for Hawkeye to resolve its various arcs, there simply isn’t that much to resolve. Yes, the villains are defeated, but it’s a perfunctory victory at best. There was never any real worry that our heroes would be defeated, no matter how many minions they had to mow down. Honestly, you start to feel bad for the Tracksuit Mafia for their extreme haplessness.
With the main plot largely fizzled, we’re left with character arcs to provide satisfaction, and they can only do so much. Yelena’s and Maya’s arcs are both concluded when they clear up the miscommunications over who killed who, which makes logical sense but has little dramatic weight to it. A lot of time is spent building up a mysterious watch that Clint is trying to get, with the big reveal being that it might show how his wife was once a SHIELD agent. If that’s relevant to anything, it’s lost on me, and I’ve read all the articles about how it means she might be Mockingbird.
This only leaves us with Kate’s and Clint’s arcs, which at least resolve decently. Kate now has a more realistic idea of what it means to be a superhero, and Clint’s survivor guilt isn’t as severe, so that’s something! It’s just not a whole lot.
Final Score: 4
It’s always nice to see Oscar Isaac in something where he isn’t physically assassinated like in Dune or character-assassinated like in Rise of Skywalker.* This show introduces Moon Knight, a character who isn’t nearly as funny as a popular meme may have led you to believe. Instead, he’s one of the few TV heroes with dissociative identity disorder (DID), which is difficult to comment on. On the one hand, it’s great to see some DID representation that isn’t villainous. On the other hand, I simply do not have the expertise to say how authentic the representation is* or whether the show strayed into harmful stereotypes, so I’ve mostly stuck to other elements of Moon Knight’s storytelling.
Steven is the first alter we meet, and he’s incredibly sympathetic. He’s thrown into a conflict he doesn’t understand for reasons entirely out of his control, and then he has to make the best of it. Then we meet the second alter, Marc, who is a conventional gruff and gritty badass. He’s got a bit of a guilt arc, but the thing he’s guilty about clearly wasn’t his fault, so it’s solved pretty quickly. The main thing to admire here is Oscar Isaac switching seamlessly between such different characters.
Then there’s a third alter named Jake, and all we know about him in the first season is that he likes to murder people. Sigh. I don’t know much about DID, but the one thing I do know is that activists have asked us to stop portraying it as a source of evil.
Moving on, we also get some fun characters in the form of the Egyptian gods Khonshu* and Taweret. Khonshu puts a fun twist on being a dark and gritty vengeance god by also being something of a dork. He’s more than a little awkward, and other characters often get the better of him in verbal sparring. Taweret, meanwhile, is just a cheerful breath of fresh air when the show is otherwise taking itself very seriously.
At first, I thought Moon Knight would also build some attachment to its villain, a guy named Arthur Harrow. Arthur used to be an avatar of Khonshu, the job that Steven and Marc now have, so it looked like he might be a sympathetic enemy. Instead, he quickly reveals that he wants to commit mass murder to stop crimes that people might maybe one day commit, which is even less sympathetic than Thanos.
Instead, the last major character is Layla, love interest for both Steven and Marc. Much like Marc, she’s a pretty standard action badass. Not bad, but nothing about her really grabs you either. That sums up the characters pretty well, actually. They’re decent, but Steven is the only one I’m still thinking about after the finale.
Final Score: 6
Moon Knight starts out very strong in the novelty department, as Steven tries to figure out why he keeps blacking out and why strange monsters are attacking him. There’s also a lot of fun to be had when he and Marc argue about what to do next and who should be in charge of their body. They have very different skill sets, and, to my relief, Steven’s archeological knowledge is useful almost as often as Marc’s ability to punch things.
Ancient Egyptian mythology is a source of novelty too, though not as strong as it could be. Khonshu and Taweret are both cool, as are our heroes’ adventures in the land of the dead, but none of it feels very developed. Most of the time that could have been spent exploring the afterlife is instead spent with our heroes hallucinating about being in a mental hospital. Not only is that not nearly as interesting, it’s also meaningless because at no point in the story have Marc or Steven ever seriously worried that they were imagining things.
The other Egyptian gods are also less than ideal. They have a divine council that can stop the heroes from saving the day, but it’s somehow powerless against the villains. While it can work to portray supernatural authorities as ineffective in the face of evil, that requires more thought than Moon Knight is willing to give. Instead, we get a council of gods who are super powerful and knowledgeable in one scene and completely powerless in the next.
A final point in Moon Knight’s favor is the background music, which is very good. I don’t normally notice background music unless there’s something wrong with it, but this time it was more than catchy enough to hold my attention. The many contributing artists really went above and beyond.
Final Score: 6
This depends a lot on what point in the story you check. When Steven is in control, tension is reliably quite high because he doesn’t know how to fight or use his powers. Steven is always in over his head, and often in difficult situations with no idea how he got there, which makes for gripping entertainment.
Unfortunately, tension drops significantly when Marc is in control. Not only is he a skilled fighter, but he has full control of his Moon Knight powers, which makes him essentially invincible. I lost track of how many times he gets shot or stabbed without ever slowing down. Tension also goes down for a while when it seems like the gods’ council should be perfectly capable of smooshing the villain if he tries something. That’s obviously not what happens, but the way he defeats the other gods is so contrived that it’s impossible to predict.
The final drop in tension comes when Steven and Marc are badly injured, and then they spend an entire episode hallucinating that they’re in a mental hospital. This sequence has close to zero tension because there’s never any real chance that either of them will be convinced that they imagined their previous adventures, and even if they did, it doesn’t seem to have any relation to the injuries they’ve received in the physical world.
Fortunately, tension recovers after that, as the villain gets his full suite of magic powers and it’s time for an epic showdown. That’s a bit late, but still better than nothing.
Final Score: 5
On the bright side, our heroes defeat the villain and stop his evil plans to kill a bunch of people. So there’s at least some resolution by the season’s end, which is something we can’t always count on, if my previous ANTS comparisons are any guide. Unfortunately, this is the best we can say for Moon Knight’s final category.
The most glaring problem is that we don’t actually see the villain get defeated! Instead, the bad guy has Marc and Steven pinned, and it looks like all is lost. Then the scene literally cuts to after the big bad has been defeated. The idea is that a third alter* took over and finished the job, somehow. I’m sure that sounded clever in a pitch meeting, but having the villain defeated offscreen by a completely unknown character is super frustrating.
To make matters worse, our heroes then refuse to kill the villain, even though leaving him alive means the world is in constant danger of an evil god rising to kill a lot of people. Instead, they send him to a mental hospital in Cairo. I’m sure the Egyptian healthcare system is up to the task of containing a dark sorcerer, nothing could go wrong with that plan.*
In the character arcs department, Steven learns to be more of a badass and how to assert himself, while Marc clears up his guilt arc over the thing that was clearly not his fault. I’m unclear where they are with the Layla romance; it feels like that’ll require some emotionally difficult conversations in season two.
The last big resolution is that Marc and Steven have struck a deal with Khonshu so they don’t have to be Moon Knight anymore. This might be more meaningful if there was any chance it would stick, but we all know it won’t. Obviously they’re going to be Moon Knight again, unless Disney+ decides to copy Netflix and HBO by nuking a bunch of their intellectual properties.
Final Score: 4
In what I can only assume was a reminder of why we can’t have nice things, Disney decided to run this show at the same time as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Surprise surprise, more people watched the Marvel shows that weren’t competing against one of the most beloved characters in Star Wars. Thus, we must now endure another round of discourse over whether women of color can successfully lead superhero stories. It’s as if 2004 were alive and before my very eyes!
Starting us off strong, Kamala and her family are just the best. They love each other deeply, but they also get on each other’s nerves in the way that family does, making them both believable and a joy to watch. Kamala’s mother is probably the standout because Zenobia Shroff is a superb actor, but Kamala’s older brother is also very cool. He’s the most actively religious of the family, and it’s super cool to see a devout Muslim onscreen who isn’t vilified or degraded for it. Hopefully, that’ll one day become the norm.
Kamala herself is quite likable, having to deal with the perils of high school and of being a superhero. She’s relatable to just about anyone, but especially to viewers with ADHD. Her friend Nakia is also high in the attachment ratings, as she embarks on her quest to improve women’s standing within her community.
The other characters aren’t bad, but they aren’t as well portrayed. Bruno usually works fine as the one helping Kamala figure out her powers,* but he occasionally acts entitled to her affections, which isn’t a good look. The main romance interest is a boy named Kamran, and he’s pleasant enough, but he’s also offscreen for most of the show, so he doesn’t get much development. The villains start out seeming sympathetic, turn evil at the drop of a hat, then turn good again.
However, there is something that Ms. Marvel builds attachment to other than its characters: the community Kamala Khan lives in. This is a bunch of people that includes Kamala’s classmates, neighbors, and extended family. The community is developed much more than normal for an MCU show, giving it a strong sense of place.
Final Score: 8
In the early episodes, Kamala follows a fairly standard superhero arc of learning to use her powers, which is quite familiar if you’ve seen just about any previous MCU entry. On the bright side, her abilities are very interesting, since she can do a lot more than punch people with them, like creating floating platforms for additional mobility. And honestly, I’m glad they went with hard light powers rather than the comic’s stretchy powers, as it’s hard to imagine the latter looking good in live action.
Exploring Kamala’s family history is also very cool, to the point that I don’t even care when we spend most of an episode flashing back to her great-grandmother’s life in pre-partition India. On that note, it’s pleasantly surprising to see such a pointed critique of both British imperialism and American Islamophobia. I honestly thought that second topic was too hot for an MCU show to handle, but I’m happy to be wrong. Granted, the show does imply that it’s only federal agencies rather than local cops who are the problem when in reality it’s very much both, but I’ll take what I can get.
Sadly, the villains aren’t adding much to the show’s score in this regard. First, we have Damage Control, yet another government agency in charge of dealing with superheroes. What, SHIELD and SWORD weren’t enough? Second, we have the Clandestines, who arrive on Earth for vague reasons and need to get home right away for vague reasons, but if they manage it, Earth will be destroyed for vague reasons.
Final Score: 7
Early in the show, tension escalates very well. At first it’s just high school, which is threatening enough on its own. Then Kamala has the Clandestines after her, and they kick a sufficient amount of ass to raise the stakes. Damage Control doesn’t quite measure up, though. On the one hand, it’s an American security agency hunting a Muslim protagonist, which is scary for unfortunately real reasons. On the other hand, the two lead agents are doing a bumbling Mulder and Scully routine, so it’s hard to take them too seriously.
Tension reaches its highest point when Kamala visits Pakistan to learn about her heritage and have a final showdown with the Clandestines. It’s a cool fight scene where Kamala has to use everything she’s learned about her powers to win the day while also dodging carts and foot traffic in a Karachi market. This is the show’s high-water mark for tension, but there’s still an entire villainous organization to defeat.
This is where things go downhill. The final confrontation with Damage Control comes as teams of heavily armed agents storm the school where Kamala and her friends are hiding.* Instead of more thrilling heroics, Team Good fights back with slapstick. They pelt the SWAT team with softballs, make them slip and slide on foam, and confuse them with the clever strategy of everyone putting on the same shirt. The only thing missing is Yakety Sax.
This crashes Damage Control’s threat level hard, and it never recovers. Even when they have Kamala cornered with guns drawn, it’s hard to be worried. Considering this is when the show’s tension should be highest, it’s pretty disappointing.
Final Score: 5
In an unfortunate three for three, the best we can say about Ms. Marvel’s ending is that it concludes the highest-tension arcs. The Clandestines are defeated and Earth is safe from the vague threat posed by their universe. Unfortunately, this comes down to a change of heart from the main bad guy that’s entirely out of nowhere. The fight scene before it is great and Kamala deserves her win, but the rest needs work.
In the Damage Control arc, it’s extremely satisfying to see a badass imam stand up to posturing federal agents, and it’s really cool when Kamala’s community comes together to shield her, but that’s the most I can say for it. By the time Damage Control is driven off, they’ve been thoroughly defanged by all the slapstick from earlier, and I wouldn’t be upset to never see them again.
Meanwhile, the big emotional arc of Kamala’s family accepting her seems to mostly happen offscreen. In the early episodes, they’re all against her superhero antics, though they don’t yet know she’s the one doing them. At some unspecified point, they change their minds and are super excited when she tells them about her powers. I’m glad they accepted her, but I would have preferred to see it happen!
There’s also a strange subplot where Kamran can’t control his new powers, making him a danger to himself and those around him. Kamala gives him a heartfelt pep talk, which is supposed to solve the problem. Then she smashes a hole in the street and tells him to get inside it. I think the hole is supposed to lead to the sewers, but it really doesn’t look like it goes anywhere, and it feels more like Kamran is getting banished off the show.
Final Score: 4
Behold! The scores for this second round of MCU shows are: 21 for Hawkeye, 21 for Moon Knight, and 24 for Ms. Marvel. These shows are definitely an overall improvement on the first batch, but they’re also a bit more middle of the road, with only one of them managing to score above a seven even once. That might explain why Loki and WandaVision are a bit more memorable, but there’s something to be said for across-the-board quality, too. At the very least, none of these shows left me wondering why there’s a big reveal about there being one Time-Keeper instead of three.
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