Wai Ching Ho
Marvel’s Iron Fist is the fourth Netflix series from Marvel Entertainment, and focuses its 13 episodes on Daniel Rand’s story of returning home to New York after being presumed dead for 15 years.
Iron Fist has been needlessly involved in political discourse (for example, the controversy over Marvel casting a white male actor to play the lead over an Asian actor, despite the character itself being a white male) and has made headlines prior to its release because of rather poor reviews.
After the pilot episode, I could clearly see why. Marvel’s Netflix shows, other than Daredevil, have had mediocre pilots, but Iron Fist’s is the worst of the lot. There wasn’t much in it at all to keep me engaged, and it did a poor job of introducing me to the show. Beyond this, it featured some ridiculously lazy plot devices, one of which didn’t make any sense. The very first touch of CGI in the series is so laughably bad it looks like something created in Windows Movie Maker. There is a little action in this episode and it looks as if nobody is even making contact. The show’s pilot is so questionable, that it’s almost redundant. If it didn’t exist, the rest of the show could arguably have been fine.
However, episode 2 turns the tables completely. I found no flaw in this episode, and the way it’s told (even though it’s strikingly similar to how the second episode of Daredevil was) is a smart way to properly introduce the show and its characters. It ends with a great action sequence – although small – and this is when I was truly invested in the show.
On that note, it is worth stating that Iron Fist’s supporting characters and cast are the best in Marvel’s Netflix series so far. Karen Page and Foggy Nelson may be more likable, but the supporting characters in this show are all tied in to the integral story and are all incredibly fleshed out in their motives and backgrounds. Jessica Henwick, Tom Pelphrey, Jessica Stroup and the returning Rosario Dawson’s performances all shine, particularly Pelphrey’s. It is also nice to see Dawson’s character, Claire Temple (first introduced in Daredevil season 1), develop in her own way as she’s progressed through all the Netflix series from the beginning.
Finn Jones deserves praise. In fact – even though this has been said so many times – Marvel deserve praise for their casting, as they’ve once again hit the mark. Jones is able to express the character of Finn Jones exquisitely, including his explicit arc from beginning to end, as well as his implicit arc, which is something that can only be done by a truly dedicated performer. He certainly doesn’t have to carry the show on his shoulders, considering the quality of the supporting cast, but he does.
That being said, Iron Fist is not an upward-sloping curve after the pilot. Granted, no episode is near as bad as the first, but the show has some great elements combined with some strange ones.
Netflix’s Marvel shows have been paced differently to each other. Daredevil took about three episodes to kick into the main focus of the first season, Jessica Jones jumped right into it, and Luke Cage went one direction for half the season and then completely went in another. Iron Fist continues this trend and stays unique, but it’s the nature of this uniqueness in its pacing that costs it dearly. Iron Fist takes a long, long time to find its focus. The show features multiple interesting developments, but initially they all head in different directions and one is left to wonder, for a concerning amount of time, what the point of anything going on is. It is only towards the very end that everything comes to a head, and while it proves to be satisfactory for what it is, there is this underlying feeling that it took too long. Nothing that happens in this show (ignoring one thing in the pilot) is without reason, but it just takes too long for that reason to become apparent. Ultimately, when it does, the basis of the show itself feels like lost potential.
The origin of Danny Rand’s Iron Fist is told in little pieces across the series, but there are pieces missing. The show chooses to focus on interesting things, but the cost is that it loses so much that it could have been. This is a character who survived a plane crash to be taken in by mystical monks and who now holds the mantle of a powerful warrior that can focus his spirit and strength into one hand, which he received after defeating a dragon in battle. There is so much that can be done with that and yet it was decided otherwise. That’s not to say the story that was chosen is bad – it’s actually great – but it’s slightly disappointing that this path was taken.
Although The Hand is indefinitely associated with the Iron Fist, it was a risky decision to have the show centre around the organization, as was proven in Daredevil’s second season. Iron Fist struggles the same way, in the sense that it becomes difficult to make a villain compelling if that villain is a group and not an individual. The Kingpin and Kilgrave are exceptional villains because they had all the spotlight and were made fleshed-out characters. This show attempts this with a few people, but it can’t quite be as effective. The Hand is indeed a force to be reckoned with in this show, but there’s a degree of intimacy missing with Iron Fist in comparison to Daredevil and Jessica Jones.
Iron Fist has an incredible number of elements thrown into it. So many, in fact, that it shouldn’t work. Too many cooks spoil the broth, but in this case, even though there were too many cooks, they somehow were able to make a good broth. The show deserves praise for its ability to balance everything that it needs to balance, and ultimately have everything converge towards the end. The last few episodes are gripping and, even though there is a certain amount of predictability, it had some unexpected twists that only aided the story.
The show maintains a serious tone from beginning to end, but it has a couple of moments in which that all goes out the window, particularly in an action scene in the fourth episode. It’s hilariously atrocious, and looks like something out of a corny 90’s movie. I have no idea what was going through the creative minds in charge, to direct and edit the scene the way they did, but the end result is the exact opposite of the Daredevil hallway fight scene. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. However, the rest of the action (bar the pilot) is well choreographed and does the show justice.
Iron Fist is not the worst of the Marvel Netflix shows (that throne still belongs to Luke Cage) but it’s most certainly not the best. There are questionable creative decisions, a poorly crafted pilot and a lack of focus for a long period of time. But when it manages to strike the right notes, the show is able to do it so well that you can almost forgive the bad within it. The 14% score on Rotten Tomatoes was probably given after viewing only the pilot, because the rest of the show doesn’t deserve it.
On a scale where M is the lowest, and R is the highest possible rating, with the highlighted letter being the rating:
Marvel’s Iron Fist: MIHIR