Netflix and Marvel seek to round out their ongoing series of heroes with Iron Fist, leading viewers into the big team up series, The Defenders. For fans of the comics and the Netflix Marvel shows, this was unfortunately an almost complete failure.
Let’s get this out of the way, I love Iron Fist and I love martial arts. My whole life I have watched and enjoyed dozens of martial arts films, always eager to see what kind of dazzling choreography and fun a new film could bring. My unyielding love for comics formed much the same way. This is where Iron Fist came in, blending two of my interests together as if to say, here you go buddy, enjoy! You can imagine the excitement then I felt when Marvel and Netflix announced their plans to do an Iron Fist series alongside their other Marvel shows, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. Unfortunately as much as it pains me to say it, Iron Fist is criminally mediocre, averagely written, and has some of the most lackluster fight sequences I could have imagined for a character as powerful and awesome as Iron Fist.
Complete lack of a compelling origin
Danny Rand, played here by Finn Jones, returns home after being gone for 15 years following a plane crash in the Himalayas that killed his parents. He casually walks into his family’s building, shoe less and covered in dirt, but seems to be constantly surprised why no one will believe his story. This goes on for nearly THREE episodes! It feels like an absolute slog, waiting for Danny to say anything personal enough for someone to believe him. The entire second episode takes place in an insane asylum that he was sent to by Ward and Joy Meachum, brother and sister played by Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup, who now run the Rand Corporation, and were also Danny’s two best friends growing up. Once Danny breaks free of this asylum, we’re greeted with a little more corporate drama, until Danny is able to regain control of his company through nonsense such as, a pot he made as a child that holds his finger print, proving his identity.
In the Marvel comics, to wield the power Iron Fist, one must master martial arts, and defeat Shou-Lao The Undying. Shou-Lao is a man turned mystical dragon, once defeated, the victor must plunge his hands into the heart of the dragon to gain the power Iron Fist. This is one of my personal favorite origins for a character despite its absurdness, which is barely mentioned at all until the fifth episode, and not very much after that.
Issues before the beginning
The original Iron Fist comics were written and took place in the 70’s so, some of its material is a bit racially ignorant being full of Asian stereotypes. These have been less so in more recent Iron Fist endeavors by Marvel, but here it is not exactly great that the majority of the show’s Asian actors are the villains. Netflix and Marvel have been suffering backlash for this since the announcement of the show, which led to a petition being formed to actually cast Danny Rand with an Asian actor. This did not happen, but fans continued to be frustrated with the direction the show was heading, which prompted Finn Jones to speak up, saying he felt the show handled its depiction of Asian cultures well, and that the negative critical reviews were unmerited, that the show was “made for the fans”. A flimsy excuse at best, used all too often to defend something poorly received within the superhero/comic book genre.
Very lackluster writing, boring characters
Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) is one of the shows central characters, a martial arts teacher who is consistently unsure of whether to help Rand or throw him out on the street. She frequently lectures others about Bushido and dishonoring one’s self, then proceeds to fight in underground cage matches for money. They make mention of this contradiction, but only for a moment and no consequence comes from it. It seemed simply a path for the show to inject a couple more fight scenes(more on that in a bit) which might lead the viewer to ask, Where is Danny? Oh, he’s in his office dealing with corporate nonsense that no one cares about.
Danny as a character in general is often moody, several times angry for no reason, and really not compelling at all. He spends most of his time proclaiming things like, “I am the Iron Fist“, and “I’ll never lose a fight”, attempting to convince everyone, seemingly including the viewer. This could have been made much more enjoyable had we been given a fun, interesting start with Danny learning martial arts in K’un-Lun, where he was for 15 years becoming a “living weapon”. Most of the time characters just express themselves with an absurdly basic nature, literally saying, “I feel this”, “I am this”. It is a pain to watch, with no subtlety whatsoever to the characters and their interactions.
Rosario Dawson’s character returns once again, to further the nurse who must be available because the hospital is not an option gimmick. While Dawson is still a joy to watch, who does the most with some very boring dialogue, this situation has become typical for the Netflix Marvel shows and is growing tiresome. Carrie-Anne Moss also reprises her role as Attorney Jeri Hogarth, who helps Danny to win his company back and is another slightly bright spot among the dreariness of the rest. Unfortunate to say since they are both supporting cast and have minor guest appearances.
The action lacks visual flair or fun
I could have forgiven the poor pacing, bland characters, and the annoying, set up for the next show story. I could have looked past it all, if the action on display gave me even a small taste of how amazing Iron Fist should look on screen. Daredevil managed this in a way other shows I feel have yet to come close to. There was always a sense of impact, a feeling of purpose for Murdock. He did everything in a very satisfying manner, flipping and dodging, landing powerful blows while taking on multiple enemies. Every fight was harder than the last, every one Murdock left bloodied and beaten, barely making it out the other side. This on top of the beautiful visuals and glorious long-shot sequences made that show incredibly fun to watch. Just watch below, at how amazing this sequence from Season 2 of Daredevil was.
Iron Fist has NONE of this. The choreography is stupendously lame, the audio effects hardly seem to have impact, and the cinematography does nothing to make these scenes memorable at all. This is especially unfortunate considering the Iron Fist can manifest his KI into fire around his hands and feet. This should have been one of the most impressive looking shows of the Marvel bunch, but instead this effect is reduced to glowing fists that are rarely even seen. I was watching this in 4K, on an LG OLED TV, with Dolby vision and did not see a single scene that made good use of that. Seriously, did they run out of budget? Either way, don’t expect to see any of these scenes every often, there aren’t many of them.
The problem with being last before the first
The other Netflix Marvel shows up to this point have been attempting to prepare viewers for the impending team up series, The Defenders. Before Iron Fist, this has simply been a small plot point in the other shows, small nods and winks towards larger organizations with deep pockets and numerous followers. Basically a foe too large for any one hero to defeat on their own. The other shows did not suffer much from this as they were more subtle, and less impactful to the main narrative of the series. In Iron Fist it is the central narrative. The shadow organization, The Hand, first seen in Daredevil’s first season, are the major players here. Manipulating characters and corporations to seemingly take over the city, or sell drugs, which seems like a pretty vanilla motivation for a group of killer ninjas, but whatever I guess. Because of this being the core of Iron Fist, it does not seem to allow it to stand on its own. We’re left with mess after mess the characters create, that get cleaned up in seconds. Nothing seems to have any weight, any real purpose. What, if anything do the characters really learn here?
There are other things that could be mentioned here such as, the weak intro, completely forgettable music (its just bland tones most of the time like watching CSI), and the cheesy flashback sequences, but none of this really matters. There are also plenty of easter eggs and references to comics and the other shows to find, as is par for the course with the other series, but again not much fun to find when you’re sorting through a garbage heap to find them. Most things in many forms of media can be forgiven if the core is strong. The core of Iron Fist is not. The story twists are weak and predictable, the action is sparse and incredibly bland, and the characters are forgettable and uninteresting. Being a fan of Marvel’s shows, Iron Fist was required viewing to prepare for The Defenders and be up to date with the story of all the various characters, but having to say that is the only reason I stuck through the show after the first few episodes is truly disappointing. I tried to lower my expectations and go in clean, waiting to find the few things I could talk about that excited me, hoping to share with friends how great certain scenes were. This did not happen. Instead I was met with a disappointing, lazy attempt to bring one of my favorite comic heroes to life. Hopefully The Defenders can renew the strength of these shows and bring back what was loved about them in the first place. We’ll find out later this year.
So what are your thoughts on Iron Fist? Do you disagree or agree with my comments? Let me know below and as always don’t forget to follow us on all your social media @wtfgamersonly.