Marvel’s Iron Fist (Season One).
Netflix and Marvel have been dominating lately with their direct-to-streaming superhero outings, with four relatively great seasons, including Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. People may not have loved all of them but the consensus is that they’re pretty great, most notably for including some of the best Marvel villains to date. Is the latest Iron Fist able to follow up that streak? Or has Marvel had its first misstep?
We meet Danny Rand (Finn Jones) as he comes back to New York after spending 15 years in a mysterious city called Kun-Lun, where he’s been training in martial arts. He discovers that his family business is now being run by his childhood friends Ward and Joy (Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup). Their father (Lord of the Rings’ David Wenham) is believed to be dead but you find out very soon that he’s not. Danny isn’t welcome back and must find allies, including the martial arts instructor Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) and the former nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson, who has appeared in all of these series so far). Beyond the business drama, it’s soon discovered that an ancient sect of ninjas called the Hand are making moves in New York, led by the mysterious Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho, who appeared already in Daredevil).
When you hear that this story is a superpowered martial artist, you expect great combat and luckily we get quite a bit of it, though it’s very delayed in the season. It takes about four episodes for Rand to have his first major fight sequence. Once they start happening though, there are plenty of fights to enjoy, though the fight choreography isn’t always stellar.
The biggest surprise for me was Colleen Wing, played by Jessica Henwick. She was an absolute badass and she provided that thrill and action while we waited for Danny Rand to do something. And she held her own, providing a very cool heroine throughout the series. She is likely going to become the fan favorite following this.
I think it’s hard to judge this series because we’ve had so many stellar shows already. Daredevil set the bar incredibly high so I find myself criticizing this show maybe more harshly than I would if it were something else. It’s got decent acting across the board and some great locations, but most areas of this show feel inferior to the other series that we’ve seen.
What doesn’t work?
This show’s biggest problem is not unique to this show but maybe more prominent here. We have 13 episodes but we spend so much time with secondary and even tertiary characters that we don’t care about. In Daredevil, we had to watch Karen Page become a newspaper writer. In Jessica Jones, we had this weird subplot of the support group for Kilgrave’s victims and the annoying neighbors. Here, we are dragged down by the Meachums, Danny’s childhood friends. They are occasionally his villains in the show but even when they’re not, they’re still a focus. I was not interested in them at all, so significant side stories felt like a waste of precious screentime.
The Meachums also have waves of attempted redemption but it’s incredibly hard to empathize when the show blatantly makes you hate them in the first episode. Rand says that the brother Ward used to stuff him in refrigerators and kick him in the groin and generally torture him. Way overdramatic stuff. And then just episodes later we have to somewhat empathize with this character? No no no. Poor call. This doesn’t spoil much because their intentions waver, so don’t worry.
The show’s pacing in general is very slow, especially the first six or seven episodes, which is half of the series. We’ll get a blast of action and then an entire episode of legal and business jargon about these trade deals and stuff that we don’t care about. I wouldn’t be surprised if casual viewers stopped watching after one or two episodes, there is very little to hook you. The second half picks up a bit, in both story and action, but it’s a little too late to save face by then.
You can also tell that this story here was confined by their budget. There are things they talk about that we should have seen via flashback. There are major characters that are only hinted at because it’d be too expensive to create them via computer effects. At one point, they travel to China for an episode but China suspiciously looks just like New York. This show’s budget hurt its quality, a lot.
Now we have a few villains that aren’t the Meachums. It was even said in an interview by the creators that Iron Fist has more villains than any other Netflix Marvel show so far. Sounds cool right? Unfortunately these villains are forgettable overall. We get several waves of new bad guys and several that arrive for only one episode but they’re incredibly one-dimensional and not interesting. Nothing like Kingpin or Kilgrave or Cottonmouth here.
This is a bummer but Iron Fist doesn’t really succeed. If you’re invested in these shows, you should watch because we get a few cool cameos and this story will likely be vital for the upcoming The Defenders. As a whole though, this feels very familiar but forgettable. The villains are underserved, including the Meachums which are given tons of screentime but totally detract from the show. The fight sequences are sometimes great, but surprisingly rare. I’d say this show is fairly average but that puts it at the bottom of the rankings of Marvel’s Netflix outings so far.