Marvel’s Iron Fist 1.1-1.6 Review
Author’s Note: This a spoiler-free review based on screeners for the first six episodes of Iron Fist Season 1 that were provided by Netflix.
Marvel Studios finally brings its latest live-action series, Iron Fist, to Netflix. Iron Fist marks the last show to set up to the TV miniseries event that will be The Defenders. Similar to the strategy of the solo-films that led to The Avengers movie in 2012, Marvel and Netflix have produced several outstanding shows focusing on a solo hero’s adventures, with some exceptions, before bringing those respective characters together as team-up series for The Defenders event. Iron Fist, a longstanding Marvel Comics character created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane in the pages of Marvel Premiere, at long last makes his live-action debut. There was talk of a live-action movie for years that never materialized. However, after Marvel Studios built an earth-shattering successful cinematic universe, the company expanded its horizon to encompass live-action television. It’s a medium more street-level, that urban heroes such as Iron Fist, Daredevil, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are far more suited for.
Iron Fist starts with the return of a disheveled young man, Danny Rand (Finn Jones), to his hometown of New York City. Danny is the heir to a wealthy, corporate empire founded by his father, Wendell Rand. The problem? Danny and his parents were lost in a terrible plane crash over 15 years ago. Danny’s close childhood friends, Joy (Jessica Stroup) and Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey), have inherited the company founded by Danny’s dad, Wendell, and their own father, Harold (David Wenham). Unfortunately for Danny, everyone assumes he’s an insane vagrant, telling tales of an ancient hidden city called K’un L’un, where he apparently trained in multiple forms of martial arts and kung fu and unlocked the powers of a secret title known among his teachers as the “Iron Fist.” Danny is quickly cast aside, and he’s left to struggle to prove his identity.
There seems to be something more sinister afoot. There are some shady dealings going on at the Rand Corporation with a mysterious, shadowy group, tying back into story threads from the initial season of Daredevil. Seeing as to how Danny Rand trained in K’un L’un to fight this group, he takes it upon himself to wage war against them and take them off the streets of New York.
Iron Fist is very likely a show that’s probably better served by the season-binging format moreso than others. The early episodes are on the slow-moving side. Very little actually happens, and the plot does meander around as Danny, the Iron Fist, actually has very little to do. These episodes are less than satisfying and don’t really execute the best job of sucking you right into the series similar to earlier episodes of the past Marvel Netflix shows, especially Daredevil. However, if you do manage to stick around past episode three, it is the fourth episode where the story and action really pick up. Iron Fist is definitely a show that takes its time to get to the really good stuff, but when the good stuff does finally happen, it is pretty good. At least, that’s the case up to about episode six.
There is one major point of confusion. It’s no secret that Wai Ching Ho returns in the show as the mysterious Madame Gao from the first two seasons of Daredevil. The show does tie back into events that were set up involving Gao in Daredevil. However, her association with a certain group is quite convoluted. This is something that could be cleared up later on in the show, but it seems there has been some creative retconning where Madame Gao is concerned.
Regarding showrunner Scott Buck, he seems to have a hard time finding his footing and vision for Iron Fist. From what I can tell, this is the first time he was the creative showrunner for a TV series from the outset. Previously, he was showrunner for the final season of Dexter, where much of the groundwork was already laid down beforehand by other writers and producers. Obviously, there are some disparate elements at work here, what with Iron Fist being a street level hero in the comics, but also his rather fantastical and mystical origins. Buck oftentimes struggles with the conflict of having a grounded style mixed with the more fantastical martial arts elements of the Iron Fist lore and mythology. The show does mix in some subplots regarding corporate greed, and the wealthy elite, specifically the Meachums, simply trying to buy, cheat or blackmail their way out of any problem with money. However, to be perfectly honest, these subplots are never that interesting and usually just take screen time away from what Danny is doing, which is usually much cooler and more interesting. It’s not that dissimilar from the flabby subplots that plagued the second half of Jessica Jones involving the creepy neighbor twins and Jessica’s drug addicted friend, Malcom. Buck is never quite able to fully marry those elements of indifferent capitalism and little people getting screwed over by corporations along with Danny’s conflict. There is one interesting sequence where those ideas do sort mix and pay off, but it occurs later on.
Finn Jones is definitely a likable, affable image of Danny, and he does a good job of capturing the spirit of the character from the early Iron Fist stories of the 1970s. This is a less emotionally mature version of Danny. While he’s lived in seclusion in a monastery for the better part of two decades, he hasn’t yet really been humbled by the harsh realities of the real world and corporate America. The writers have done a good job seeding in the implication that Danny Rand has possibly failed and done wrong by his title. How this will pay off remains to be seen. If there is one flaw with Danny’s characterization, there is a desire to get a better sense for his motivations. This could be an element that pays off later; but early on, this subplot is a tad lacking.
The show does have some strong martial arts action and choreography. However, it takes a while for the action to pick up. So far, the action is superior to what’s been previously depicted in the likes of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, but there is yet to be a single fight that matches up to the best ones in Daredevil. Considering this is an Iron Fist series, it will hopefully get to that point where it can have its own signature hallway or stairwell sequence. Thankfully, Danny does get to utilize his Iron Fist powers throughout the show.
The other potential breakout star for this show is undoubtedly Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing. The show devotes a nice chunk of time into building her character and relationship with Danny Rand. Colleen is an inner city karate instructor, and fate intervenes to bring her into Danny Rand’s life. Incidentally enough, the appearance of Colleen Wing ties into the return of another longstanding Marvel Netflix series character. If you paid any attention to the last episode of the first season for Luke Cage you know exactly who this is. So yeah, there’s a lot of convenient storytelling and coincidences at work here. It was one of the problematic elements of Jessica Jones. Here it’s not quite as problematic, but it does still seem to be one of those really convenient narrative threads that tends to only show up in movies and TV shows. Regardless, Henwick brings a lot of energy to all of her scenes, and she’s poised to have one of the more interesting character arcs to run through Iron Fist‘s first season.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the elephant in the room: Scott Buck already revealed that the Iron Fist costume won’t show up in the first season of the show. It’s really a huge letdown. The reason he jettisoned the costume is flimsy at best, especially considering Danny Rand’s public profile and his likely need to keep his identity a secret. The costume issue with the Netflix shows is starting to get a bit tiresome. The prototype costume Matt Murdock wore in the first season of Daredevil was basically a lot like an Iron Fist costume, except colored all in black. Even the mask Murdock wore is pretty much identical what Danny usually wears in the comics. The fact that Buck doesn’t even attempt to go there at all is massively disappointing. Additionally, it sets in grave concerns with how he will execute Inhumans and the inability to put together comic book superhero spectacle together with those more grounded and realistic elements. Yes, the Marvel Netflix shows do have a certain appeal because they are a lot darker, grittier and more adult than the live-action features of the MCU. But they are still Marvel comic shows. And again, in Buck’s statement, he basically offered a very legitimate reason for why Danny Rand would need to put on a costume in the first season; yet then it seems he completely ignores it. Considering Danny Rand as Iron Fist has always had one of the cooler looks and costumes in comic history, if it never shows up in any season of Iron Fist or The Defenders in a satisfying way, it’s hard not to point out that the staff for this show was a little out of touch with the source material.
Iron Fist isn’t a complete misstep. The show starts a little on the slow side and takes a while to find its footing. The narrative and action pick up as the show gets going. Hopefully, the more confusing elements will be tied up later, and some of the flaws will be addressed in the latter half of the first season. As for the costume, fingers crossed that The Defenders doesn’t completely ignore it. If it does, then shenanigans.
Marvel’s Iron Fist will premiere its first full season on Netflix on March 17.