Synopsis – A young man is bestowed with incredible martial arts skills and a mystical force known as the Iron Fist.
Episodes – S01E01 to S01E013
My Take – From the time Iron Man hit theatres back in 2008, Marvel as brand & a franchise has been on dream run, whether its the ever expanding category of characters on the big screen, or the lesser known street level/supporting characters shinning on the idiot box. Daredevil was the first of the Marvel-Netflix collaboration series to be revealed, briefly reminding everyone of that weird but watchable film, but all fears were quickly dismissed when the first trailers came out, mainly as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen brought with him a unique and brutal fighting style, immaculately captured and brilliant to watch, sure the story wasn’t that great but it was engrossing and set the stage rather nicely, and following up with a better second season. The other two following shows, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage were also kinds of riveting for a variety of reasons, no wonder the fourth installment of the standalone Marvel-Netflix series (before the four team in the upcoming Defenders) has been a highly anticipated show—for better or for worse. However, even before its airing, the series has been a part of the important conversation regarding racial stereotypes and representation in media, effectively illuminating issues where the industry still flounders in certain areas. Bearing all that in mind, the question remained of whether this martial arts practicing hero would be a powerful addition to the Marvel-Netflix shows or whether it would similarly stumble. Unfortunately the truth is the show has received critically panning to an almost amazing degree upon release and is mainly being called Marvel’s first real failure and one of the worst things to ever come out of Netflix. Currently sitting at an embarrassingly bad 18% on Rotten Tomatoes, which, just for context is 10% lower than Batman v Superman, Marvel appears to have hit a speed bump with this one. Personally, I don’t think this the first time Marvel has been in this position; there is no way Avengers: Age of Ultron lived up to the near perfection of The Avengers, or Iron Man 2 and to some extent Ant-Man, despite them having roughly the same problems. But is the show really that bad? Well, partly yes and partly no, the show suffers from some serious flaws, but it isn’t without its redeeming qualities as well
Iron Fist is easily the weakest link in the otherwise spectacular story that has been Daredevil seasons one and two, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage thus far. Iron Fist is one of the stronger heroes ironically and yet the weakest of the stories. It is, at its base, a story of vengeance and betrayal as have been the others and yet it misses the most steps and is inevitably the weakest of all four shows to this date in terms of the writing and human quality. Plus, the pacing and tone is a little off and the series takes quite a lot of time to get going. Even though rest of the other Defenders’ shows have not been immune to this problem, but in this one‘s case, there’s precious little story meat to fill out all 13 episodes of its first season, Netflix should really review the 13-episode format if there simply isn’t enough story to stretch that far. A significant amount of this season 1 seems like filler, and not terribly interesting filler at that. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the show, mainly as the titular character’s story has some interesting point and features some excellent characters like the ever recurring Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) and Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), enigmatic and villainous Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), and newcomer scene stealing Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick). The story follows Danny Rand (Finn Jones), a heir to a billionaire company Rand Industries, who after being presumed dead along with his parents in a plane crash in the Himalayas about 15 years ago, returns to his original stomping grounds of New York City. Being the only survivor of the crash, the fifteen year Danny was saved by the monks of K’un Lun, a mysterious place in an alternate dimension, and trained to be their protector the immortal Iron Fist. However, upon returning back to the city, he finds out that his father’s partner Harold Meachum (David Wenham) has passed away, and the company is not run by his all grown up child hood friends Joy (Jessica Stroup) and Ward (Tom Pelphrey), who refuse to accept that he is Danny. Shun from his name & wealth, Danny also finds himself tangling with local dojo owner and martial arts instructor Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), who struggles with secrets of her own but who may be even more of an asset to Danny than he knows. While he tries to navigate a once-familiar city that now feels foreign, Danny comes to know that his training for the past 15 years is finally going to be fruitful as K’un Lun’s mortal enemy, the sinister force known as The Hand has begun to show their control over his company and the city. Yes! The show has quite a few problems, but a tough-to-love hero is it’s most immediately obvious! While Finn Jones does a fairly good job based on what has been handed to him, the character of Danny comes across more of a tool that someone we would root for. He seems like a guy who unlike his comic counterpart, just jumps into action without thinking and gets everyone around him in trouble, and then sits and whines about it. The Marvel comic character created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, has always been portrayed as a wise, philosophy preaching youngster, who doesn’t invite trouble and only resorts to violence on provocation or just to get a job done (in the comic series Heroes for Hire), but here creator Scott Buck and the bunch of writers make seem like nothing but an unlikable douche bag. Any time he lectures students on how “the dojo is a replace of respect”, or spouts cod philosophy, you want to punch Danny in the face – and when he’s not being pompous, he’s grumbling about his circumstances. For the most part, Rand veers between petulant and pretentious, and displays only the odd flicker of actual charm. If we look at the other Defenders characters we will see flawed, multi-layered human beings who we have become invested in. Matt Murdock is a man at constant war with his own morals and belief system, Jessica Jones is a tortured alcohol with an abusive past, and Luke Cage is a former convict battling to defeat his past and also to overcome black prejudice in modern-day America. Danny Rand, however, just comes across as an entitled whiny rich guy, who can’t help but preach to people. The show‘s biggest issue sits with the aforementioned dragging plot, when the show doubles down on showing the same flashback three episodes in, you start to wonder if there’s anything new you could possibly learn at that juncture.
Given that all the other supporting characters are driven forward in the story by their choices and underlying issues, it appears as if Danny Rand, by comparison, is the only one standing still. Only towards the end of the first half do you really get the sense that things are finally starting to ramp up. The slogging story makes the show‘s action sequences feel like a breath of fresh air—although with everything else, these take up valuable story time getting to and merely seem to be sprinkled in to keep the show from feeling too much like a legal drama. It would be one thing if the sparse fight scenes served to build anticipation and excitement for the future, but the plodding narrative only contributes to a sense of hyper-vigilance, of waiting eagerly for any sign of a glowing fist or another demonstration of Danny’s freshly acquired skills. His back story is also never really fleshed out very well following the death of his parents. We sort of get to see him become the Iron Fist, but it’s more the aftermath of the incident and the show doesn’t really give us that until very late on either. The fact that K’un Lun is under threat never really bothered me because I’d never actually seen K’un Lun outside of a few shoddy CGI moments in some snowy mountains. It never develops a sense of threat and this is another blow to the series. If we are to compare it with each of Netflix’s other Marvel outings then it really, really suffers from a lack of clear direction and a notable antagonist. The lack of focus really damages the product and the whole thing becomes laughable at times. You’re probably wondering about that yellow mask and green suit from the comics, right? There’s no sign of it so far, and the series’ producers have hinted it may not show up at all — which could be one more thing for viewers to complain about. But if the uniform does make an appearance at the end, just like Daredevil did with Charlie Cox’s awesome horned/red suit reveal in the first-season finale, it could provide some much-needed positive chi for this one. Throughout the show it changes its focus on several different occasions, leading us to believe someone is the main villain, only for them to be brushed aside a few episodes later. This reaches its pinnacle in the final two or three episodes, where it becomes increasingly unclear as to who the final showdown of the series will be with. The character’s portrayed as a classic “lost soul” and so lacks any clear motivation – does he want to be a Zen master or the rightful heir to a billion dollar fortune? He appears unable to decide, and so does the show. As he contemplates his place in the world, Danny’s story embraces all the classic ‘tortured soul’ tropes, right down to the scene you’ve seen a hundred times before where he’s unable to sleep on a comfy bed, finding comfort instead in a hard wooden floor – and the whole show is this crushingly unsubtle. Early on, to prove what a dick Danny’s pseudo-brother Ward is, and none too subtly foreshadow his ruthless business practices. In the early going, the show lacks any real sense of threat too – where Daredevil had Fisk, Jessica Jones had Kilgrave and Luke Cage had Cottonmouth (let’s not talk about Diamondback), here we have the not dead Harold Meachum (David Wenham doing his best to breathe life into a lame duck villain), the menacing Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), earlier seen in Daredevil and non happening Bakuto (a miscast Ramon Rodriguez), who tries to act to cool for his own good, never seem to pose any real threat. Still, the show has its moments— the show’s exploration of New York’s wealthiest denizens adds an interesting (and more realistic) layer to Marvel’s alternate portrayals of the city. Ultimately, though, the real gratification in watching the show comes from seeing where it slots into the larger picture. Even more so than in Luke Cage, where our stoic hero was often at risk of being overshadowed by the charismatic Misty Knight, here Jessica Henwick‘s winning performance as no-nonsense, kick-ass sensei Colleen Wing compensates partly for a rather limp protagonist. Henwick’s Colleen injects energy and passion into her fight sequences in a way that makes Danny’s own rote punches look even more forced by comparison. She is a strong and beautiful character who really only has to be saved once.
The one time that Danny really starts to “whites’ plain”, she knocks him down almost right away. The moments where she teams up with Claire are some of the best moments of the show. The final twist that comes to her character isn’t the best, but she recovers well enough from it, so it doesn’t hurt our overall enjoyment of the character. Her chemistry with Danny is believable, and despite being a love interest it never feels like she is just there to be a love interest. Ward also has one of the most interesting arcs in the series with a great turn by Tom Pelphrey. The Ward we meet at the beginning isn’t that different from the Ward at the end, but as we learn more about him we learn about his motivations for why he acts the way he does. They don’t try to excuse his bad behavior either, but they take a guy who is obviously a jerk and show him to be a real human being. Joy, as played by Jessica Stroup, also has a great character arc that won’t be spoiled here. Her motivations by the end are interesting and will be something worth exploring in season two if there is one. The Meachum family storyline is an interesting portrayal of family abuse and addiction. The problem though is that as the show draws to its conclusion it becomes something almost entirely separate from the rest of the show’s conflicts and when the two stories are brought together in the final episode, it isn’t really rewarding at all. Speaking of The Hand, unlike the second season of Daredevil, their presence fits and is mostly welcome. Their shadowy influence permeates much of the show and, in the beginning, they’re the reason why you’ll want to keep watching, especially when a returning face from Daredevil shows up to give Danny’s quest for redemption purpose with a real foe to fight. But these moments of genuine intrigue and suspense are too few and far between for the show to be on the level of its predecessors. A change of locales in the second half of the season freshens things up considerably, but things are still bogged down by Danny’s unlikeability and the odd pacing. Sacha Dhawan‘s mysterious Davos (aka Steel Serpent in the comics) makes an unnecessary entry in the last minute as another tie to K’un Lun, reminding us again that such a place exists. Despite the oddity of his character, I must give points to Sacha for carrying out the action sequences with finesse. The hilarious and the very likable, Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), who continues to not only serves as a flesh-and-blood link tying each of the Defenders together but isn’t afraid to call Danny out on his delusions of honor among thieves and mafia gangs. Honorable mention also has to go to Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), who after her interesting stint in Jessica Jones, shares an amusing connection with Danny and assists him in some of his more corporate pursuits. Somewhere inside the mess there’s an interesting show struggling to get out, like the powers inside Danny Rand that could make him great, if they weren’t constantly in combat with his smugly mystical non-sequiturs and his bratty sense of entitlement. But unlike its predecessors, Iron Fist doesn’t do nearly enough to distinguish itself. Does it deserve the particularly vicious pounding it’s received from critics? Perhaps not, but it’s nowhere near as compelling or complex as Jessica Jones, or like most episodes of Daredevil and Luke Cage. But nor is it as outright terrible as some would you have believe – there have certainly been worse comic book adaptations that too until recently. On the whole, ‘Iron Fist’ is a reasonably watchable yet the most inconsistent, unfocused, and unremarkable of the Marvel-Netflix shows, despite boasting of some strong supporting characters and striking visuals.
Creator – Scott Buck
Status – Season 1 (Completed)
Network – Netflix