The latest Marvel/Netflix series and the introduction of the last member of ‘The Defenders’. ‘Iron Fist’ marks the last step before the big team-up that began with Daredevil in 2015. So, now we have met the entire assemble, the question is, how does Iron Fist fare as its own series? and, how does it compare to all we have witnessed thus far in this Marvel/Netflix relationship. There are some spoilers.
Danny Rand is played by Finn Jones, who Game of Thrones fans will recognise as Loras Tyrell, The Knight of Flowers. Rand is an American billionaire whose family co-owns the Rand corporation with the Meachums. The two heads of the company are Danny’s father and Harold Meachum. As a child, Danny and his parents experience an horrific plane crash in the Himalayas, the crash kills his father whilst his mother disappears, sucked through the exposed roof of the plane. Danny is found and raised by Monks from a monastery called K’un-Lun who teach him martial arts, the monastery where they all reside only appears once every 15 years, as a way of protecting it’s community, and its gateway is guarded by The Iron Fist. Back home it is assumed that Danny has died in the crash.
Flash forward 15 years and Danny has returned home from the monastery having earned the power of The Iron Fist, but leaving his post as guardian of K’un-Lun. His childhood friends Joy (played by Jessica Stroup) and Ward Meachum (played by Tom Pelphrey) now run the multibillion dollar company they inherited from their supposedly deceased father Harold Meachum.
As with any 13-part series there are a variety of narratives explored, nearly all of which are connected by one enemy, The Hand, who will presumably be one of the bigger enemies the team will face in ‘The Defenders’. The Hand is an interesting enemy that thus far we have only seen through Daredevil, The Hand and K’un-Lun have a very different relationship which generates an interesting dynamic.
This is the first Netflix/Marvel series that struggled to please critics on initial release to the press, and despite my own enjoyment of this series, I can understand their perspective. The show, like the other series so far, is 13-parts, however, the first 4 or 5 episodes are horribly written and really quite slow and tonally odd. For example, Danny returns home after 15 years, he was presumed dead and so justifiably no one believes him to be Danny Rand, who they last saw when they were children. A realistic reaction to an unusual set of circumstances, however his actions do not help his case, breaking into Joy’s apartment and holding Ward at gun point. Resulting in Danny spending an episode in a mental institution, a brave step for the writers considering we’ve only just met Danny. These back and forth repetitive conversations regarding the truth of Danny’s identity, and the erratic action sequences, surmise the first part of this series and therefore struggle in both tone and speed. The second problem is the that this has now become a niche market, because in order to fully comprehend all that is happening, who everyone is and why should you care, you really have to have seen the main Avenger films and the entirety of the Netflix series starting with Daredevil. A weakness the other shows never encountered as each series served their own contained stories, at least in their first series.
Arguably there is a divide in the middle of the show where narratives, characters and actions sequences start developing and become far more interesting. We move from generic stock phrases spouted by most of the characters, to a more intelligible dialogue, a faster pace and far more gripping action sequences. This change occurs during an episode where a mini tournament is held by The Hand for Danny, and the show certainly improves in quality, so if there is a way of jumping to this point then do.
The acting is very good, Colleen Wing (played by Jessica Henwick) and Ward Meachum are particular highlights for me. Both are provided the most substance to work with once the series gets going, moving beyond their two-dimensional characters and into characters of greater substance.
Though there has been criticism regarding the casting of a white, blue eyed, blonde man as the lead protagonist in a series about martial arts, the show handles it well by simply ignoring it and not drawing attention to this debate. Though as a critic I do see their point, I also think their needs to be a loyalty, at least initially, to the source material. Iron Fist is a title, not a person and therefore it may well be passed to some one of a different nationality down the line where it has purpose rather than being selected because of their nationality, in the comics Danny Rand is white.
Finn Jones as The Iron Fist is quite unusual as an actor. Though overall, he performs well as Danny Rand, there are moments when it’s a case of hit and miss, both with his dilemma in who to be loyal to and at times his scenes of trying to connect to his Chi. His fighting is good, though I was expecting him to be better as he currently appears on par with Daredevil. Not only are their fighting techniques similar, but also their ability to handle multiple enemies at once is fairly equal, despite Danny’s training by an entire community rather than just one man.
This series is focused on Martial arts, it’s the foundation of the narrative and yet this series really misses a trick. Baring two fighters, nearly every fighter is identical in style, the exceptions being the woman in the tournament with the needles and the drunk guy guarding the door. My understanding is that these characters are particularly good because they are sourced from the comics, surely then there are more characters like these who have a unique fighting style?
Claire Temple and Madame Gao (played by Rosario Dawson & Wai Ching Ho respectively) are back. Temple, who we last saw with Luke Cage, is in many ways a breath of fresh air to the entire series and may well have saved it as not only is she a great character who continues to develop on each appearance, but also has some of more sensible and realistic dialogue. As always Temple is the rational person in any situation, only this time she gets to fight as well. Her dialogue is a refreshing change of depth, allowing us to move away from stock phrases and into realistic interpretations and reactions of the various scenarios. Gao is interesting, but her script suffers from whatever stock phrases are plaguing the rest of the cast.
The series as a whole is a slow burner, though I enjoyed watching it once the actual plot was underway, I wasn’t overly blown away by it as I have been with the previous series. One of my biggest problems with this series is the Villain. Thus far Marvel/Netflix have produced some memorable ones. Whether it’s the brute strength and sophistication of Fisk, the gangster club owner Cottonmouth, or my personal favourite, the manipulative Purple Man played by David Tennant. There has also been an interesting villain Iron Fist attempts to do this, but never quite achieves this in a satisfactory manner.
Harold Meachum (David Wenham) is a good character, with at least one great episode, but one that lacks a certain originality. He is manipulative and dangerous businessman but isn’t quite provided with the depth of writing that could make great, instead he is quite repetitive in his actions and his need to manipulate everyone becomes tedious. Now I am not particularly familiar with the Iron fist comics and so perhaps this is a small sacrifice for the sake of authentic characters, if indeed Harold is as obvious and as mentally deranged in the series as he is in the comics.
Harold’s chaotic relationship with his son is well orchestrated, with both Tom Pelphery and David Wenham proving continuously strong performances. Both the characters and their relationship do provide a refreshing change in pace as we shift between martial arts and a corporate drama. In fact there is something vaguely Trump esque about the oddly hair styled blonde Harold in his mad, manipulative mind, earning billions, disliked by everyone with half a brain and imprisoned in his penthouse at the top floor of his building. Indeed, Ward’s severely slicked back hair could rival that of Trump’s sons. Sadly, Harold’s daughter Joy is given little do here, and though her character does develop towards the end and setting her up for a following series, it’s a little too late to arrive at the party to be significant.
The writing is the weakness of this series as it explores a narrative that is more often predictable than overly intelligent. The characters required greater depth in parts, and the acting from Finn Jones at times needed to be much better. The series simply lacks the purpose that the first series of each character presented, ironically, it’s lack of punch to an extent is what ultimately weakens it. It is by no means a poor series once it builds momentum, but is initially a slow hit & miss process. As previously mentioned, had the first 5 episodes been condescend into 2 then perhaps it would have worked with a great power and presence; however, in comparison to what we have seen so far, and that we have come to expect from these series, it’s not quite what I was expecting. Those elements I have mentioned in this article as having worked, need further exposure and development in series 2.
OVERALL- *** Nearly all the actors are good, the use of the Iron Fist is pleasing and the fight scenes are entertaining to watch. The biggest weakness is the stocky writing, initial pacing and at times continual hit & miss feel to the series. Once you move past the first 4 or 5 episodes the series is interesting and entertaining, but one we the fans expected more from.
RECOMMENDATION – It’s still enjoyable to watch because of its simplistic and fun nature, and I would recommend seeing it if you’re a fan of the series. However, Marvel/Netflix, please hire better writers.