Netflix and Marvel introduce us to Danny Rand aka Iron Fist, the final Defender ahead of the team-up series later this year.
With its casting backlash and some misguided quotes on the press tour, Iron Fist faced an uphill battle to win some people over. Judging by the initial reviews of the first six episodes, it certainly hadn’t done this. Putting casting and other external issues aside, is it as bad as everyone says?
Following in the footsteps of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage is no easy task. Each of these shows has been well received by fans and critics alike, so the bar is set very high. This begins with Rand, a billionaire heir, returning to his city after being presumed dead. With some fighting skills. Not a great start: already this feels like a plot we’ve now seen time and time again, from Batman Begins to the first season of Arrow.
In this case, whilst being away, Rand (Finn Jones) was raised in a monastery on K’un-Lun, a mystical place where he became the Iron Fist. The fact this concept is less grounded in the ‘real world’ mean it’s harder to forge the same gritty tone as the other Defenders shows. This sets it apart, at least to begin with, but it can get away with this being set in the same universe by showing us a different side to New York- the affluent side with big corporations, fast cars and sharp suits. Harlem this ain’t. Instead of gritty, though, it borders on soap-like at times, feeling a lot more in line with The CW’s Arrowverse shows. This in itself isn’t a bad thing, but it feels tame and doesn’t really have a personality of its own.
Action set pieces early on are really problematic. There’s a moment when Rand jumps up over a car which just looks really naff. Some of the choreographed fight scenes too look exactly that- choreographed, as well as slow, unoriginal and just plain uninteresting.
It’s a real problem for a show based around a mystical power if all mentions of that power make you cringe. It is hard for anybody to pull off a conversation about somebody’s chi needing to be refilled before he can summon the Fist with a straight face. This probably works better on the page of a comic than out loud. Through some really clunky dialogue and Jones’s delivery it feels like somebody has just picked up an ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ book and read out random lines. Rand has to take these concepts seriously within the show as he’s been brought up on them, but the other characters don’t poke fun of them quite enough to dispel the thought the show is taking itself slightly too seriously. Having said that, there is a great line when somebody says “Iron Fist? It sounds like a sex toy”.
Jones’s acting throughout is varied. He’s likeable, and pulls off the billionaire heir side well, but the warrior side is less convincing. Lines like “he’ll talk… or bleed” also just sound a lot more comfortable coming out of the mouth of Mike Colter or Charlie Cox than Jones.
With all of this in mind, it sounds like I’m going to agree with the wholly negative initial reviews, but do you know what? It’s not the flop you may have been led to believe; it’s actually pretty fun.
Sure, some of the early fight scenes seem very tame, but there are also some great action beats. The ‘corridor fight scene in episode 4’ (tick) may not be as good as Daredevil’s, but it’s still really fun. Whilst there are still some soap-like moments, there are also some really gruesome and brutal fighting scenes way beyond anything you’d see on The CW. In fact, as you get deeper into the series, the action, acting and script either all improve significantly – or at least become less of a distraction as you get to know the world and the characters. The plot, too, has more twists and turns than the other shows – some of which you see coming a mile off – but some are genuinely surprising.
Jessica Henwick is great throughout as Colleen Wing, a martial arts teacher whom Danny befriends. Equally, David Wenham, despite looking like an older, sinister version of Jan Vertonghen, is fun to watch as Rand’s father’s best friend. There are even some really pertinent script moments littered throughout that acknowledge Rand’s rich white privilege, adding some credibility and awareness, as well as some laugh out loud funny moments.
Early on, it’s hard to see this as the same universe as the other Defenders shows as it really is so different. Through many, many Easter eggs, this gap is bridged. The involvement of The Hand is a smart move as it immediately sets up a common enemy with Daredevil. The parts of Daredevil that featured them were possibly the weakest parts of that show, but given more depth and time here they work well. Whilst I can accept them in the same universe, I can’t see Rand and Cage becoming best friends any time soon.
On its own merits Iron Fist is a fairly average addition to the superhero television landscape; it’s certainly not up there with the best moments of the three preceding Defenders shows, but it’s easily better than an average episode of Arrow, Gotham, Agents of SHIELD or others. In fact, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and particularly Luke Cage had some real ups and downs in their quality and momentum towards the later stages which Iron Fist doesn’t have.
There’s a line in episode seven when somebody says to Danny, “I still don’t understand what that means” when he mentions some of the mythos. Many viewers will feel a bit like this, but if you take the leap and let the show get away with some awkward moments, it’s a fun watch. Roll on the Defenders!
Iron Fist season one is available to watch now on Netflix