Arguably, Netflix’s fourth Marvel series, “Iron Fist,” was the streaming company’s most highly anticipated of the season. Under great scrutiny from critics and fans, the series definitely falls short of great promises made by both Netflix and Marvel.
“Iron Fist” follows Danny Rand (Finn Jones), who returns to New York City after having gone missing for 15 years. Believed dead after a plane accident that claimed his wealthy parents’ lives, Danny actually survived and was rescued by a mystical sect of monks. Schooled in kung fu and entrusted with the power of the invincible iron fist, Danny is back to reclaim his family company. But he has to choose between his familial obligations and his duties as the Iron Fist when a dangerous threat arrives.
Not only is it the last series in the Netflix-Marvel deal leading up to the superhero mash-up series, “The Defenders,” but the martial-arts focus of “Iron Fist” has drawn attention among some who believe the title character should have been played by an Asian actor. The show’s star, Finn Jones, even temporarily left Twitter after a conflict with one such critic who accused the actor of hypocrisy after he tweeted his support of Riz Ahmed’s comments about the importance of diverse representaion in entertainment.
To be clear, the source material for “Iron Fist” has always portrayed the character as a white male — one who was adopted by a secret order of Asian monks, but white all the same.
It’s one thing (and pretty egregious, in my opinion) to cast a white actor in a role meant for a person of colour, but it’s another thing to blame a production for simply sticking to the script. Yes, it’s progressive to cast people of colour in roles originally written for white actors, but I don’t think Marvel and Netflix should be held on charges of whitewashing for casting Jones and following the comic book that debuted in the 1970s. Even if appropriation of Asian culture was involved in the original work, Marvel and Netflix shouldn’t be held primarily responsible for righting that wrong now.
But there are other crimes that Netflix and Marvel should be tried for in the execution of “Iron Fist,” for which I believe they’re directly responsible.
First, it doesn’t live up to the quality of storytelling found in “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” and “Luke Cage.” Flatly put, “Iron Fist” is boring.
For the first six episodes shown to critics, the show takes up a lot of time with Danny trying to legally prove his identity and claim his 51% of his family’s company against pretty dull challenges from the children of his father’s business partner, Harold and Joy Meachum (played by David Wenham and Jessica Stroup, respectively). There’s a twist that supposedly ups the villain ante but it really falls limp compared to Jessica Jones’ (Krysten Ritter) frightening bouts with Kilgrave (David Tennant) or Daredevil’s (Charlie Cox) bloody and complicated feud with Punisher (Jon Bernthal).
Second, Marvel’s greatest crime arrived when its TV head Jeph Loeb dubbed “Iron Fist” its first real martial-arts action show.
“Don’t make any mistake about it, this is Marvel’s foray into martial-arts films,” Loeb told Collider last year of “Iron Fist,” “and when he opens up a can of whoop-arse, people are going to be super-super excited by what’s happening.”
The fight scenes in “Iron Fist” are really tired. And that’s just in comparison to the other three Netflix-Marvel shows. “Iron Fist” comes nowhere close to the thrilling fighting on AMC’s “Into the Badlands,” which really sets the standard for TV series featuring martial arts.
But let’s keep “Iron Fist’s” fight scenes in the context of the Marvel TV universe: Compare the franchise’s hallway fight scenes, executed best on both seasons of “Daredevil,” to a similar scene in “Iron Fist,” which features Danny fighting off hired goons attacking Joy Meachum and culminates in the tight constraints of an elevator. You’ll understand what I’m talking about it.
Finally, when a show and a character are named after a great weapon, you’d expect to be blown away when it’s finally unleashed. Not only is the special-effects golden glow around Danny’s hand when he powers up subpar, but the fist is primarily used best for creating doors where ones don’t exist and has very little impact on Danny’s fight scenes. It does have some sort of specific purpose against its intended enemy, so maybe that’s the moment when the weapon gets to really shine.
There are aspects of the show that do glow in a good way. Jones’ physical presence and unkempt, bohemian style are perfect for non-fighting Danny, who was also trained in meditation and harnessing his chi. He’s set apart from his slick former friends-turned-capitalist foes. Also, Jessica Henwick as Colleen, the principled and badass master of a struggling karate dojo, community leader, and potential love interest for Danny is a standout new character. I’m told she’s in production on “The Defenders” right now, which is a smart move. And finally, Carrie-Ann Moss and Rosario Dawson reprise their roles as corporate attorney
Jeryn Hogarth and tough-as-nails nurse Claire Temple, respectively, both finding a way to pop in their scenes, despite the show’s flat writing.
Marvel and Netflix may feel like “Iron Fist” is under attack right now, but wait until the fans get to see it for themselves on Friday, March 17.
Watch the trailer for “Iron Fist” below:
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