Iron Fist is Marvel’s latest Netflix-Exclusive television series finishing out the introduction of the line-up for The Defenders’ series which is set to release in August. The series stars Finn Jones (of Game of Thrones) as the titular character, Jessica Henwick (also of Game of Thrones) as Colleen Wing, Jessica Stroup (of The Following), Tom Pelphrey (of Banshee), David Wenham (of 300 & The Lord of the Rings films), Wai Ching Ho (of Daredevil), and Rosario Dawson (of Luke Cage & Daredevil). It is a thirteen-episode series available now in its entirety on Netflix.
I watched the entire series prior to writing this, so be forewarned that while I’ll try not to spoil anything too major, there will be some spoils in this review. To be honest though, there were only three things, maybe, that were genuine surprises to me, and so while the show was slightly predictable (especially if you know anything about the character), I’ll attempt to not give away the actual enjoyable reveals.
WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!!
This series follows the story of Danny Rand A.K.A. the Iron Fist, who as a young boy witnessed the deaths of his parents and was stranded alone in the Himalayans after a plane crash. He is rescued by monks who take him to K’un L’un, a mystical city which only appears in this dimension every fifteen years. There he trains in martial arts and is granted worthy the title of Iron Fist by the dragon Shou-Lao (who we only hear about, and never really get to see) thereby becoming the protector of the mystical city. He is either bored or dissatisfied with this duty (slightly unclear on the motivation in this series) and travels back to New York to lay claim to his father’s business and fortune. While he has been away, presumed dead, his father’s business partner’s children have taken over the business and made it into a multibillion dollar enterprise. Danny soon discovers that the Hand (a crime syndicate from Daredevil season 2) has taken root in his father’s company. The Hand also turns out to be the one thing that he was supposed to protect K’un L’un from.
As I write this, my opinion of this show slowly decreases…
First, this show could not have come out at worse time in American history. Not too get too political, but at least half (probably more) of America is not too thrilled with our current presidential situation, at least to be presumed based on the results of the popular election, and thus, people aren’t generally too fond of billionaire businessmen right now. In that light, a series about a man in the name of his father demanding the billions of dollars his father’s business partner’s children helped build the value of the company into… it is easy to see in certain lights how he’s not that much of a hero and more just a rich kid who is good at karate. At points in the series it is difficult to side with him especially given that he just appears and wants the billions of dollars he is “owed” based on his father’s namesake. I get that legally there is some merit to that argument, and in the same shoes (even though I don’t think he is wearing shoes at first) I would probably want my billions too. I guess watching old Kung Fu reruns gave me a different perspective on how our main character should act towards money after spending a majority of one’s life with monks.
I actually read the comics so I know the history of the character, but even though this was in production prior to the election they maybe could’ve thrown a curve ball in that character’s approach. How about the money is thrust upon him even though he doesn’t want it? Make him an anti-Tony Stark.
There’s another factor in the plotting of Danny coming back that irks me. When he actually does get his way and gets his father’s old office, we as the viewer are supposed to see him as the hero and the brother/sister combo as his enemies or the antagonists. I had a difficult time with this being that they were two people who went to college, got the appropriate educations to run a multi-billion dollar enterprise, and sacrificed a good chunk of their personal life to lift it to even greater heights than their father or Danny’s father did. Danny has a third grade education, not even a GED, but we’re supposed to believe that because he played with stickers under his father’s desk he’s capable of running the business better than them or teaching them something? You don’t have to be Ayn Rand to the issues there.
Because of those reasons, I really think the series suffers at the beginning. I think there were better and more reasonable ways to introduce all of this which could’ve made the first few episodes less of a trudge to get through. I think this is also why most of the reviews for the series are so negative, because most reviewers only watched the first few episodes which are by far the most difficult to get through. Once you get over that and the actual plot of the series starts moving (around episode six or so), it isn’t a bad story. But something else happens which causes the show to suffer: the fight scenes.
Maybe we have been spoiled by the show Into The Badlands or movies like John Wick, but this is a Kung Fu show which doesn’t necessarily have Kung Fu in each episode. I’ll give shows like Into The Badlands a pass on some plot-development issues because the point of the show is the fight scenes. That approach should have been the focus of Iron Fist. You can be a bit corny and have plot holes galore if you just give me amazing and fun fight scenes. As it was, if it didn’t have Colleen Wing in them, they were shockingly boring and unengaging (on top of being cut together with excessive editing). On top of this, when you can’t even top the single take fight scenes in Daredevil season one or two, and this is supposed to be a series based on the greatest hand-to-hand fighter in the Marvel Universe, you’re greatly missing something key to the character.
The great example of this is the final showdown for Colleen Wing (SPOILERS) is against her former sensei in the rain. It actually was a fairly well filmed and choreographed fight; probably the best in the series. And it had her overcoming the man that trained her, there by solidify her as a formidable fighter. Iron Fist on the other hand had his final fight between his father’s business partner who was a self-trained fighter. And Iron Fist struggled and didn’t actually beat him. It was extremely underwhelming, and made me wonder what kind of dragon thought he was the best fighter.
And there are several moments like that in the show where Danny Rand seems to forget all fifteen years of his martial arts training. There is logic early in the show that the more he is hit the stronger he gets, and later in the series the more he is hit the more he staggers and gets bloody.
There is one strong fight in the middle of the series between Danny Rand and a drunken master, who apparently was front runner for the role of Danny Rand. When you watch that scene in that light, you’ll probably wonder like I did why they didn’t just make the SJWs online happy and cast an Asian guy that could actually fight in the role. Of course, I would’ve been fine with a white guy that could fight in the role, or a black woman, or a blue robot that could fight in the role. That stuff doesn’t matter at all. It isn’t an emotionally complex character that needs a great actor. Like I mentioned before, I think it would’ve been okay for the acting to be a bit hokey as long as the fight scenes were good. Most martial arts films aren’t known for their Oscar winning performances after all. And look, I get that this is an origin story about Danny Rand actually becoming the hero he is supposed to be, but I’m not sure that’s the most interesting story to stretch out for thirteen episodes. Especially when everyone else around Danny Rand seems to be as competent of a fighter or better, his journey becomes fairly unspectacular.
The subplots of all the various characters actually become the most interesting aspect of the show in hindsight. Colleen Wing is easily the best aspect of this show, the same way Misty Knight was in Luke Cage. All these two shows have done is make me want a Daughters of the Dragon series more than The Defenders. The brother/sister combo with daddy issues also have an interesting story arc in the series that actually feels like the most comic-book-esque plot in any of the Marvel series so far.
The Bottom Line:
I know this review is extremely negative, but I do think I enjoyed the series more as I watched it than I’m recounting. I think the pacing of it is slightly better than the Luke Cage series, and overall I think it is a bit better than that series also. If you love the characters it is fun to finally see them come to life, even if both series probably could’ve used four or five less episodes. I think the thirteen-episode format is a bit too strict for these series causing them to drag (Luke Cage in the middle, and Iron Fist at the beginning). The bar for this series had been set high by everything around it (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and even Into The Badlands) and the political climate currently in the United States couldn’t have had a more unexpected and worse turn for the series as well. Because of this, it doesn’t quite live up to the hype we were hoping for and then what it does give us, I think as a public some of us may already have a bit of a bad taste in our mouths for. If you can get past the first four or five episodes, the pace and the plot picks up and does deliver something that isn’t a complete waste of your time. Colleen Wing again, is a shining star of this series and definitely the most redeeming aspect that makes me actually recommend watching Iron Fist. – 5.5/10
Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine
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