Review of Marvel’s Iron Fist Season 1
By: Andrew Roebuck
Since 2008 Marvel has been the kings of superhero movies, and with Daredevil’s release on Netflix it appeared they were set to dominate the TV world as well. DC comics attempted to set up their universes, and were met with mixed results, the same could be said about Fox with their floundering performances for Fantastic Four, and The X-Men. That is until 2017, this year the kings of the superhero world have been undoubtedly Fox. Logan has maintained a larger amount of critical praise than nearly any Marvel movie, and Legion is a huge hit on FX. That brings us to Marvel’s Iron Fist, the first 2017 Marvel release of the year. Does it stack up to Fox’s Hallmark year? Unfortunately no. Iron Fist is the first big misstep of the Marvel Netflix era.
The history of Iron Fist is akin to that of Luke Cage, as the two characters get their roots from 70’s exploitation genres. Luke Cage from the then current trend of Blaxsploitation, and Iron Fist from the Martial Arts boom of that time. As such the character have always had close ties within Marvel comics, and will meet on the small screen next year with Marvel’s Defenders. In comparing the two Netflix series it becomes apparent where Iron Fist fails. Luke Cage clung to its roots in Blaxsploitation taking the themes, and elements of the character, expanding them to fit within the current culture. It had a message, a point to make. Iron Fist on the other hand does away for the most part with its roots, preferring to spend the majority of the series outside of the dojo, and inside of an office building.
From its first episode Iron Fist seems like two different TV shows happening concurrently. The first story involves a newly stateside Danny Rand coming to reclaim the company that was his namesake. The second story features a down on her luck martial artist Coleen Wing struggling to keep her stuido afloat. Danny Rand, the main character of the show, has the much worse storyline. The early episode arc of Danny Rand feels more akin to a bad season of “Suits” than it does a superhero show. Finn Jones is not compelling as Rand, and the company woes seem dreadfully dull. Coleen Wing played by Jessica Henwick has a truly interesting story, too bad you really only see snippets of it. Every scene with Wing cuts away too soon, leaving you to suffer through more of the Rand plot. The two stories eventually intertwine, but it takes 4 episodes to do so, and once they combine Wing’s entire characterization changes completely. The supporting cast is where the series shines. David Wenham is fantastic as Howard Meachum, a scummy business man working from the shadows whose motives are never quite clear. Marvel Netflix staples return, and when they appear they steal the show.
The biggest flaw in the series, is that it does nothing to discuss or remark upon its more troubling aspects. The casting of Danny Rand created a minor outrage online, as people claimed it was another case of Marvel denying Asian diversity. In the comics Danny Rand was always a Caucasian man, but that hasn’t stopped Marvel in the past from altering the races, and back stories of their characters. Baron Mordo from Doctor Strange is the most recent example of this, a character who in the comics has always been white, was played brilliantly by Chiwetel Ejiofor. The closest that Iron Fist gets to addressing this controversy is a quick exchange about him being an outcast among the monks, and saying it was “kind of cool”. The worst instance of just being completely bullheaded is a scene in which Danny Rand does what can only be dubbed “dojosplaining” in which he explains to Coleen Wing, an asian woman, in her own studio, how she should be training, and fighting. This scene would be fine if there were some consequences, and Rand was shown up. Instead he outfights Wing, proving he is the superior martial artist.
But hey at least we have great fight scenes right? Actually no. Iron Fist should be the Netflix series with the best action. The character is all about “action” he is called “The Living Weapon”, and yet Marvel’s Iron Fist has the worst action of all the Netflix shows. That is not to say all the action is bad. Again Coleen Wing (who is clearly the MVP of this series) has some really cool inventive action sequences, but nearly all of Danny Rand’s fight scenes fall flat. If you rewatch Daredevil you can see that Charlie Cox knows how to fight. The long takes of Daredevil’s two Hallways fightscenes, are outstanding, and Jon Bernthal’s brutal Prison fight is a wonder to behold. In comparison Iron Fist just can’t compete. The amount of quick cuts that occur make it feel like they are cutting around Finn Jones being unable to fight. The power of “the iron fist” always feels like a crutch in battle and prevents you from ever feeling as if Danny Rand is in any real danger.
Despite all of my criticisms, Iron Fist is not a terrible show, it’s just mediocre. There are tidbits of a good interesting show hidden within, you just have to tread through a lot of nonsense. If you are going to give it a chance, at least Coleen Wing, and Howard Meachum make it worth your investment. In a comparison Iron Fist feels much more akin to a CW show like Arrow, or The Flash. Brief glimpses of brilliance hidden in a forest of mediocrity.