Dissecting Iron Fist

 

Iron Fist is fine, but it never manages to rise above that. It’s a flawed, frustrating series that feels as if it was a polish away from realising its full potential.

Before we begin, the latest collaboration between Marvel and Netflix sees Danny Rand, presumed dead, return to New York after 15 years to reclaim his family company. However, faced with threats, revelations and the truth as to why his parents died, Danny is left with a battle between being himself and his duties as the immortal Iron Fist.

Perhaps the most damning thing about Iron Fist is that it has no fun with a premise that has plenty opportunity to be just that. Fun. Instead of embracing its roots of taking on dragons and glowing fists, the latest Marvel-Netflix team-up opts for numerous boardroom scenes, slathers scenes with clunky, exposition ridden dialogue and stutters along at a slow pace, especially in its early episodes. Although the series does pick up during its second-half, Iron Fist never truly lets itself go. As a viewer, you’re left willing for it to really kick into gear, cast off its shackles and punch into life yet any time it shows that sort of promise, it pulls itself back and proves a false dawn.

Whereas in Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, there felt a genuine affection and embracing of their source material, as well as a true confidence in what each of the shows wanted to be, Iron Fist never gives that impression. The others aren’t perfect by any means, but it’s jarring how there seems to be a distinct lack of a connection between the show and its comic roots. It’s a show about the Iron Fist which doesn’t seem to embrace the Iron Fist. It’s something that could have followed in the footsteps of its sister shows and proven bold and unique, but instead, it feels run of the mill.

It’s understandable to an extent that it’s tried to keep things grounded to match the other shows, all of which Danny will encounter in the upcoming Defenders series, but it’s to its detriment. If there was one series to really go for it, then Iron Fist was the one.

The cast

Much was said about the casting of Finn Jones as the titular hero. He’s not miscast, indeed he plays Danny’s childlike innocence and naivety in likeable fashion during the opening episodes, but he’s never really blessed with the strong material that the likes of Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter and Mike Colter were given. Danny’s story is inconsistent, cloudy and unclear. There’s plenty that resonates but it just lacks a proper focus. If we try to dissect it as best we can, it looks to be a coming of age, growing up tale as Danny decides who he wants to be, while juggling his identities and their consequent responsibilities. However, the show never delivers a convincing arc. Danny’s struggles feel inconsistent. His backstory and experiences in K’un-Lun is limited to a cluster of flashbacks and mostly expositional dialogue. We’re constantly told things about his past and what he can do, instead of being shown them. It’s fine initially, but it quickly loses its effect and never engages as Frank Castle’s beautiful monologue in Daredevil 2×04 did – one of a few examples where telling can work over showing.

As is with much of the show, Danny’s story is one that you feel was in need of another polish before things went into production.

Jones hits the mark when given stronger moments, such as declaring he wants his place at Rand Enterprises as it’s his name, as opposed to settling for a cash settlement offered up by the Meachum siblings, or the majority of his scenes with Colleen, but they’re few and far between. As is with much of the show, Danny’s story is one that you feel was in need of another polish before things went into production. An interview with Jones suggested he only had 15-20 minutes to learn fight scenes during shooting which perhaps indicates production was rushed, making the whole thing all the more frustrating. His fight scenes do pick up as the series trickles on, comprising of some truly kickass moments, but they lack in comparison to Daredevil.

The cast in general is pretty good, Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing is the standout performance, while David Wenham as Harold Meachum and Tom Pelphrey as son, Ward, also prove strong. Colleen is undoubtedly a saving grace for the show. In truth, during the opening episodes, you’re left contemplating whether a show focused on Colleen would be a better alternative as she juggles her dojo, her responsibilities as a sensei and cage fighting. She’s never a damsel, nor does her relationship with Danny feel forced. Colleen is a spark that both our hero and the show desperately need.

Elsewhere, Tom Pelphrey as Ward increasingly became one of the show’s stronger elements. After a low-key start, Ward develops into a genuinely interesting character. Arguably, his arc was better fleshed out than Danny’s, with Pelphrey proving he’s more than capable when given more to do. Meanwhile, father Harold is a delightful bastard. David Wenham steals every scene he’s in, juggling menace and charm.

The story

I was genuinely very enthusiastic about the arrival of Iron Fist, only for the scathing reviews of its opening six episodes to turn that hype into morbid curiosity.

Having watched the whole thing, the reviews are harsh, but at the same time they’re not wrong. It is a slow start. Not a whole lot of note really happens in the opening episode, though in fairness it does begin to find its feet from episode 4 onwards. By the time we get to episode 9, it begins to feel far more like something that has come from Marvel-Netflix, with the eventual end game having some meat to it. You get the feeling it’s been trying to find its feet for much of its 13-episode run. It never seems to work out what it wants to be. It lacks a focus. It lacks a direction. It feels as if the series needed another polish and to trim some of the fat before going into production.

There are some genuinely good ideas and some good moments that scream ‘missed potential’, none more so than when Bakuto shows Danny a video of an Iron Fist taking on a group of Chinese soldiers in 1948. It’s a fantastic snippet of an Iron Fist in costume, glowing fists a plenty, going out all guns blazing and you’re left wondering, why didn’t we get that show?

There are some genuinely good ideas and some good moments that scream ‘missed potential’

One of the big sticklers that the series suffers from is the lack of a clear, consistent villain. We have a couple factions of the Hand, one led by the delightful Madame Gao, played by utter gem Wai Ching Ho, one led by the bland Bakuto, while we also have Harold. On the one hand, it is commendable the show tried to go a different way and mix up its villains but its execution suggests that one would have been better.

Not one of the villains is really compelling enough to anchor the series in the way that Wilson Fisk (Daredevil), Kilgrave (Jessica Jones) and the Oscar-winning Mahershala Ali did as Cottonmouth during the first-half of Luke Cage. Gao and Harold come closest, though the Hand really struggle to assert themselves as an interesting threat once again. You sense that they’re being warmed up for their big moment in the Defenders, but you’d expect more from a series in which the titular hero is a sworn enemy of theirs.

Away from the villains, the series a whole just drifts rather than drives itself forwards. Danny’s goals shift, eventually he arrives at seeking to uncover who murdered his parents, which could be construed as different in fairness. A show that deals with its character first and foremost, rather than a bog standard big bad but the issue is, Iron Fist never makes that interesting enough. Its predecessors handled both confidently, though Iron Fist struggles along and misses the mark.

The future

I did like the series, the review may not read like that but I did. I didn’t love it, however, but to me the issues appear glaringly fixable. This suggests that it deserves a second season to have another crack at the whip and right some wrongs.

Davos, aka Steel Serpent, appears towards the end played by Sacha Dhawan. Steel Serpent is the big bad for Iron Fist and appears perfectly set up to helm villain duties in a second season. There’s a personal connection to Danny. A motivation. That’s one box ticked. Furthermore, Danny has his company back and Finn Jones has said his development will continue in Defenders, allowing a second season to hit the ground running. Really, there’d be no excuse not to. The pesky origin stuff would be done and dusted, the disappearance of K’un-Lun meanwhile appears a neat mystery to pile on top of things and Joy (Jessica Stroup) seems set up to be at odds with her childhood friend. Perhaps the other ingredient would be flashbacks. Give us Danny in K’un-Lun, show us what he went through, show us his training. It would have been a welcome addition as I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to see Danny going up against the dragon, Shou-Lau the undying?!

The material is there and I’m willing for Iron Fist to get it right as, potentially, there’s an absolute corker in there.

The material is there and I’m willing for Iron Fist to get it right as, potentially, there’s an absolute corker in there. There’s plenty of time to mull things over, with the Defenders, Punisher, Jessica Jones season 2, Daredevil season 3 and Luke Cage season 2 all to come before a potential second instalment of Iron Fist – though the margin for error is minimal.

Get it wrong, and the immortal Iron Fist will certainly prove anything but when it comes to its stay on Netflix.

This is a missed opportunity rather than a misstep for Marvel and Netflix, it’s a series that honestly could have been so much more.

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