Hooooo boy. With a rating of only 17 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing, Iron Fist is without a doubt the most poorly received of Marvel and Netflix’s television shows to date.
Is Iron Fist significantly worse than Daredevil, Jessica Jones and LukeCage? Well, yeah.
Is it 17 per cent bad? Maybe not.
Iron Fist introduces the final standalone hero before Marvel and Netflix’s The Defenders is released later this year. The premise, if you have somehow managed to escape all the online advertising for this show, is as follows: billionaire Danny Rand (Finn Jones) returns to New York City after being missing for fifteen years, presumed dead after a plane crash killed his parents. He was actually on the plane, but Danny somehow managed to survive.
That ‘somehow’ is that he was taken in by monks residing on another temporal plane, in the mystical kingdom of K’un-Lun. There, he is trained in kung-fu and martial arts, and eventually gains the title of ‘Iron Fist.’ Basically that means he’s a skilled fighter, has immense power and his hand glows when he channels his chi. But NYC calls Danny home, and he arrives back in the big city sans shoes, in a considerably unwashed state, and wanting to reconnect with his past and his family legacy.
Of course, this family legacy involves big business and shady corporate dealings (probably an accurate depiction of businesses worth billions of dollars). Danny finds himself embroiled in a fight against the criminal element corrupting New York – as well as with a shady organisation known as The Hand.
Could The Hand be the Invisible Hand of un-observable market forces that help the demand and supply of goods in a free market, as introduced by Adam Smith in his book The Wealth of Nations?! It’s too much to hope for, I know.
First, the ways in which Iron Fist succeeds. The female characters. In Danny’s corner we have Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson).
Claire has appeared in every Marvel and Netflix show to date, and is the sometimes literal dermabond (that’s a medical glue) holding the multi-series effort together. Here she is as realistic, caustic and life saving as ever, and there’s not really much else to say except that Rosario Dawson is a shining light on earth during these dark times and we are lucky to have her gracing our laptop screens.
This series, we get the added benefit of seeing Claire get to interact with other female characters. To be specific, Colleen Wing, with whom she develops a partnership and friendship. Colleen is a bad ass martial arts master in her own right; she teaches at her own dojo, and has a mysterious past that gets uncovered over the course of the season. Jessica Henwick pulls off the physically demanding task of performing her fight sequences with panache (I mention this because she does so better than most), and is one of the most engaging characters to watch. As her and Danny’s relationship deepens, the show becomes infinitely more interesting.
In the opposing corner, we have Madame Gao – a mysterious figure first introduced in season one of Daredevil. An elderly woman who can throw Matt Murdock across a room with a single wave of her hand is an old woman we want to watch. In Iron Fist she is a ruthless, international heroin runner and a leading figure of The Hand; the crazy good ninjas who have the power to bring people back from the dead.
Aside from the top-notch female characters, one of the redeeming qualities of Iron Fist is Danny Rand himself. Finn Jones (Game of Thrones’ Loras Tyrell) is baby-faced and blue-eyed, and looks like a total Lothario. But Danny Rand has been living in a monastery for fifteen years. He is most like-able when the audience is reminded of his fact; when he is naïve, and unassuming and not quite sure of social mores. It humanises his character.
A charming Danny Rand is also pretty important, because there’s a lot to dislike about his character – and what it represents – otherwise. A white dude spouting Buddhist philosophy is only the beginning of the cultural appropriation we see in Iron Fist. Danny Rand approaches Colleen Wing on the street, before he has met her, and starts spouting Mandarin at her. Later, he mansplains kung-fu to her.
Yes, Danny Rand is the Iron Fist, the greatest kung-fu dude in all the world and/or universe. But what makes the scene of Danny explaining kung-fu to Colleen – a martial arts teacher with her own dojo – even more frustrating is that the weakest part of Iron Fist is its fight sequences. That is, we haven’t even seen enough fast-paced action to back up Danny’s right to smack talk Colleen’s chi.
Pacing is an issue in Iron Fist generally, but the pacing of the fight sequences are especially slow – and not nearly as imaginative or well choreographed as those seen in Daredevil season one. It’s not until episode eight – when Danny faces off against a drunken protector of The Hand, and Colleen gets to use her katana against a worthy adversary – that I was really impressed.
These are the ways that Iron Fist fails – and it’s these failures that have already been widely reported on and discussed online. Iron Fist isn’t all bad; there’s the aforementioned strong female characters. But it doesn’t live up to its predecessors.
The character of Iron Fist will need to pack a bigger punch in The Defenders if he wants to see a standalone season two.
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