In Marvel’s exploration of television and Netflix, they’ve struck gold in nearly every facet. From the ABC show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to some of the Netflix originals such as Daredevil and my personal favorite, Luke Cage. Iron Fist seeks to complete the Netflix series of four in order to set up for the eagerly anticipated Defenders series which will combine all of these stories together for one big battle against New York’s greatest threat. But how did Danny Rand’s martial arts story measure up?
Iron Fist is the story of Danny Rand, seemingly back from the dead, trying to reclaim his birthright. His identity as Rand, his father’s incredibly successful company, and his place among his family. The show explores his journey as the Iron Fist, a legendary warrior given powers from a monastery to battle against “The Hand” which fans of Daredevil may remember as being the primary antagonists of the second season.
Iron Fist fails to capture the magic that the other shows maintained, and reasonably so. The entire Netflix Marvel franchise has been built on street level superheroes. These characters were easy to identify with because of their incredibly human situations. Even the mighty bulletproof Luke Cage struggled with living on the dangerous urban streets of Harlem, as he attempts to bring law and order to the city by putting an arms dealer in a bad way. Jessica Jones follows the titular character as she attempts to prevent her attacker from harming anyone else.
The super powers are merely a tool to drive the stories, and it’s obvious that the writers don’t want these elements at the forefront of the story. Even the brief mentions of The Avengers are only in passing to make sure that everyone stays rooted in this real living breathing New York. The story of Iron Fist is unfortunately, too large to exist in the Netflix world, but not big enough to exist anywhere else. Danny Rand’s character is difficult to identify with, as he takes this sort of prolific approach to the vast majority of his conflicts.
A lot of Danny’s internal struggle feels a bit contrived, as his character often has these almost comical outbursts of rage in which he can’t focus in on an objective and starts mistreating those around him. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t do a strong enough job of establishing his initial noble personality, so when he talks down to key characters, it makes him seem at best, like a jerk, and at worst, like a misogynist (all of the characters he takes this belittling commanding approach with are women).
Where Iron Fist really manages to shine is in its strong supporting cast. Particularly the talented Colleen Wing comes to mind. Jessica Henwick does an incredible portrayal of a character who returns us to the street-wise down-to-Earth nature of the Netflix series’ while still maintaining some of the incredible skills these characters are known for.
Tom Pelphrey plays the very dynamic and interesting Ward Meachum, who despite a rough start, ends up becoming one of the more unique characters in the series. Despite being established as a rough personality at the beginning, I found him to be far more human than even the titular Iron Fist himself.
Rosario Dawson reprises her role as Claire Temple, though this time she admittedly feels a bit shoehorned into the narrative. While her roles in previous Marvel shows has been definitive and consistent, this one feels a bit like she’s taking on unnecessary obligation. She also seems to have gotten quite sanctimonious since her tenure in Harlem ended.
In spite of all of this, perhaps the biggest issue in Iron Fist comes from its inability to pace itself properly. Emotional turmoil or moral dilemmas are often given mere minutes before resolution, with perhaps the biggest internal struggle in the season lasting one full episode. This isn’t made any easier to digest thanks to a surprisingly flat performance from Finn Jones.
Also, following in the footsteps of the movies, Iron Fist seems to have a bit of a villain problem. Not only does it fail to establish a villain, hopping back and forth between many conflicts and losing quite a bit of focus along the way, but the villains it does establish fall too far into the super villain ideology of comics of old.
While Iron Fist was the final series in preparation for The Defenders it without a doubt failed to setup for that season. Even as a standalone series, it didn’t quite hit the mark for Marvel’s usual standard of quality.