After the successes of Daredevil, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, Marvel finally unveiled their latest TV show this month as every episode of Iron Fist proudly appeared on Netflix for all to devour over the weekend.
Unlike the aforementioned shows, however, the response to Iron fist on social media was mixed, to say the least, with many fans panning it, expressing various complaints. Of course, many others were defending the show and it seemed like the main issues people had with it boiled down to the fact that there just wasn’t enough action and that whatever action there was lacked the “oomph” of the Daredevil fight scenes. Wanting to find out for myself what the big deal was, I binge-watched my way through those infamous 13 episodes.
The series follow Danny Rand (Finn Jones), a rich kid who went missing after the plane he was on crashed in China killing both his parents. Raised by monks in the hidden city of K’un-Lun, Danny grows up to become the Iron Fist, the mystical city’s defender and the sworn enemy of a shady organisation The Hand. Being the Iron Fist gives Danny the ability to power-up his fist using his “chi” making it indestructible. Oh, and it also glows for some reason. At the start of the series, Danny arrives in New York where he tries to reconnect with the Meachum family he was so close to as a child. Unfortunately, his derelict appearance and crazy stories don’t exactly make Ward (Tom Pelphrey) and Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup), who have been running his father’s company, believe him.
Although Danny’s early attempts at rebuilding his life land him in a psychiatric hospital, he eventually retakes the Rand company thanks to skilled lawyer Jeri Hogarth (played by Carrie-Anne Moss). But it’s not until later he finds out that, not only is Ward’s long-dead father Harold (David Wenham) still alive but he is pulling the strings at Rand and working with The Hand. One of the first people Danny meets is Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), the owner of a dojo who eventually helps him out despite not wanting to get involved with whatever mess Danny has stirred up. The show sets its chess pieces really well and the cast is genuinely good so no complaints there.
The Iron Fist effects are very cool, the characters are three-dimensional, the story is involving and whenever there is a fight, it’s entertaining so… what’s not to like?
Short answer: the last 5 episodes.
Truthfully, there’s a lot to like about this show. Colleen Wing is a strong, complex, badass female character and, by the end, you’ll wish you’d been watching a whole show just about her. Rosario Dawson returns as off-the-books nurse Claire Temple and she brings some welcome comic relief plus a bunch of sly (and not-so-sly) Daredevil references to the table. The toxic relationship between Ward and Harold is enjoyably twisted so seeing it slowly crumble is one of the highlights. You certainly feel like this is all taking place in the same universe as Daredevil and the other shows so by focusing on a magical martial arts scenario à la Doctor Strange, this should have meant a very different show with a fresh approach to the superhero genre and the introduction of an awesome Marvel character you’ll want to see much more of in further seasons and upcoming crossover The Defenders.
The problem is that, regrettably, Danny Rand is not a cool character.
There are flashes of him kicking butt early on but that fizzles away fast as he reveals himself to be a surprisingly whiny, selfish and (dare I say it?) emo Iron Fist. Throughout the season, Danny doesn’t seem able to shake off the fact that his parents’ death was no accident, despite having supposedly mastered his anger for 15 years. He barely uses his power and when he does he either misses it or it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it type of deal. He also inexplicably doesn’t use his power when he should be making the fights frustrating more often than not. Not to mention that his job as the Iron Fist was to guard K’un Lun and he, instead, ran off to New York without warning so when his monk friend Davos shows up and tells him off, guess who you’re going to side with?
The show just doesn’t make a good case for why we should care about Danny Rand or his alter-ego. His motivations are all over the place and, for a superhero show, there’s a shocking lack of any superheroic moments in this one. The popular complaint that the series has too much talk and not enough action is also valid but that doesn’t become a problem until about the 8th episode since, by then, you’d at least expect the show’s pace to have picked up and for more cool stuff to be happening with cliffhangers galore and lots of classic Iron Fist iconography coming together in a clever way. The show’s build-up is solid but what it leads us to is sadly underwhelming and that’s the main disappointment.
Further issues include major plot inconsistencies, underwritten characters (you’ll forget Joy entirely seconds after she’s on screen) and occasionally clunky dialog, especially near the end of the season. Almost every single fight takes place in a dark setting with barely any lighting at all and quick cuts prevent us from actually enjoying the martial arts on display plus the main villains never feel like a genuine threat. We’re a long way off from Daredevil’s kickass one-shot corridor/stair fights and face-offs with Punisher or Wilson Fisk and that’s a real shame because Iron Fist had everything it needed in the palm of its… fist to be yet another awesome Marvel show.
As it stands, Iron Fist is definitely watchable and it has its moments but it’ll leave you feeling a bit short-changed. You can catch all of it on Netflix and some of it is good enough to recommend checking it out but you might want to lower your expectations slightly.