Netflix has kindly provided us with early access to their latest Marvel show Iron Fist. Here’s what we thought after viewing the first six episodes.
Arriving after Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and the show that launched Netflix’s Marvel Universe, Daredevil, Iron Fist has some pretty high expectations to live up to. Just because those shows were successful doesn’t mean that this one will be. Danny Rand, The Immortal Iron Fist, is hardly one of Marvel’s most popular heroes and the show has already suffered plenty of adverse publicity. During production, many fans clamoured for a person of colour to take up the role which traditionally fit the whole white saviour narrative. To be honest, on the surface, it’s a fair criticism.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A Caucasian character (who, it turns out, is a billionaire) travels to Asia and returns having not only learned an ancient art but mastered it, becoming superior to even his teachers. It’s a trope that’s been used in Batman Begins, Iron Man (to an extent) and most recently in Doctor Strange.
In Iron Fist‘s case, the major difference is that Danny embarked on this journey somewhat reluctantly. The victim of a plane crash that claims the lives of both his parents, (and Danny too, as far as the rest of the world is concerned), he ends up trapped in the land of K’un Lun, training to become the mythical warrior the Iron Fist. 15 years later he returns to New York to try and put his life back together starting with renewing his relationship with Joy and Ward Meachum; childhood family friends who now lead Rand Enterprises, his family’s business. Unfortunately for Danny, the Meachum’s aren’t too eager to hand over a controlling stake in their company to the homeless guy who just appeared out of nowhere, claiming to be their dead friend. He’ll need to figure out what exactly he wants and how he’s going to get it and fast, as he also slowly discovers that the ninja clan The Hand (from Daredevil), the very enemy he’s been trained to destroy, are in New York and infest Rand Enterprises.
Iron Fist suffers in comparison to the previous series over these first six episodes. After four well-received series, you could be forgiven for expecting Iron Fist to hit the ground running. However, the story unfolds at a painfully slow pace, with Danny bumbling around New York for the first two episodes without a real plan or purpose.
Danny’s character doesn’t help much. He keeps spouting mystical mumbo jumbo, telling people he is a great warrior and living weapon but seems to have no plan of attack whatsoever when it comes to reclaiming his life and dealing with the Meachums. This aimlessness hurts the show as it takes quite a while for it to reveal exactly what it’s going to be about. Each of the previous shows tended to have a “wow” moment in the third episode that cemented their direction and kept viewers engaged. Iron Fist lacks this hook. It has a version of Daredevil’s infamous corridor fight, but it ends up falling flat. Even the opening credits are a grey, bland, CG martial arts mess.
On a Wing and a prayer…
As for that white saviour narrative, the show does its best to avoid it…so far. While he is supernaturally skilled, Danny has no problem recognising skills in others and asking for help, especially from Collen Wing (Jessica Henwick), an Asian martial artist and Sensei of her own dojo. It’s telling that she is a far more engaging character than Danny.
Criticisms of the lack of respect for martial arts on the show also seem (to this untrained observer) to be unfounded, as Danny sticks to Kung-Fu while other characters use other martial arts. Danny’s ignorance of these forms part of his character. Finn Jones does well during the actions scenes, effortlessly avoiding blows and slapping guns out of goons hands with grace and ease not seen in Daredevil or
Luke Cage, but none of these scenes pops quite as much as the former. The sixth episode features an improvement with a trio of fights and some new aspects to Danny’s personality, but you can’t help the feeling that these are a development that could have been made much earlier.
Wing, along with Joy (Jessica Stroup) & Ward (Tom Pelphrey) Meachum keep things interesting as does the return of characters from Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Ward, in particular, is a joy to watch as a snivelling corporate “bro” struggling with responsibilities he can’t understand. It’ll be interesting to see how his character develops over the rest of the season.
In reaction to negative reviews, Finn Jones has stated that “these shows are not made for critics, they are first and foremost made for the fans“, and while he’s been called out for this, he’s mostly right. Only fans will sit through these first few episodes waiting for appearances from their favourite heroes or revelations about the shared universe. They’re unlikely to convert any new fans.
Things improve as The Hand becomes more prominent. Hopefully, the next seven episodes will continue this good work and build up to the next Netflix series, The Defenders, due later this year. The episodes we’ve seen already feature cameos from Carrie Ann Moss and Rosario Dawson’s characters, could Matt Murdoch, Luke Cage or Jessica Jones themselves be far behind? It might help turn Iron Fist from a relatively entertaining show into a must-see event, even if that comes at a cost to Danny Rand.
Iron Fist looks to have enough to keep fans sated before The Defenders comes along, but it isn’t going to win over any new fans.
Personally, I’m going to stick with it and check out the rest of the season once it becomes available from Netflix.com on 17th March.
Starring: Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick, Jessica Stroup, Tom Pelphrey, David Wenham, Carrie Ann Moss, Rosario Dawson.