Iron Fist struggles to live up to the Netflix superhero mantle, but it doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
For regular watchers of The CW, I’ve seen a lot of comparisons between Iron Fist and Arrow. The shows are just different enough that it’s not a distraction, but as billionaire Danny Rand returns to the company his parents built after several years of being thought dead, the premise sounds oddly familiar.
In fact, the whole series plays out like every single episode of Arrow ever: plenty of potential and a few decent action set pieces brought down by strings of awful dialogue and a main character whose intentions are all over the place.
The decision to cast a white man in the lead role is seriously hurting the show in some circles, but casting a white actor as a traditionally white character, rather than casting an Asian actor just because the character knows martial arts, is not an issue. The issue is that the white actor in question is Finn Jones.
Iron Fist represents Jones’ first lead role, and it shows. Rarely does an actor go an entire season at precisely the same pitch, but Jones is unwilling to take a single risk, and I fear his complete lack of a screen presence will be exposed when he stands alongside Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter and Mike Colter later this year.
It doesn’t help that he has to deliver lines that no human being would ever say. Danny returns home shouting to the rooftops about K’un-Lun and the Iron Fist, delivering such gems as ‘You chatter like monkeys. Your kicks and punches are like lace curtains.’ But within a few episodes, he’s decided that he’s not sure if he’s the Iron Fist anymore, and he should be careful about who he tells such crucial information. The script doesn’t know the character any better than the actor does.
Jessica Henwick, on the other hand, is both more likable and more believable than her Game of Thrones co-star. She suffers from a similar shortage of real-life dialogue, but unlike Jones, she tries visibly to turn the script into something it frankly doesn’t deserve.
Rosario Dawson is as consistent as ever, and between her and Carrie-Anne Moss, the pair offer some much-needed comic relief in a show that often takes itself too seriously, as well as a welcome reminder that The Defenders is not too far away.
Jessica Stroup holds her own as Joy Meachum (although her final scenes make absolutely no sense), while Tom Pelphrey really comes into his own towards the finale, rounding out a character arc that I didn’t see coming. By the season’s end, Ward Meachum is the single most interesting character in the show, and you find yourself rooting for a man who spent the first few episodes trying to murder the Iron Fist.
Meanwhile, David Wenham’s distinct eeriness as Harold Meachum is fully captivating, but he ultimately gets lost in the mix of end-of-season villains. You spend most of your time trying to work out which of them is the season’s ‘big bad’, which is an interesting tactic, and a risk that deserves a lot of credit, but it eventually sees Harold, Gao, Bakuto and Davos cancel each other out somewhat.
It speaks volumes that Kingpin and Kilgrave, still the two best villains to come out of the Marvel Netflix Universe, just so happen to feature in its two best seasons of television.
The biggest criticism of Iron Fist seems to be that it’s boring, but I disagree. The sloppy editing and choreography are distracting, but they somehow work in the show’s favour, keeping you focused and attentive through the slower parts of the season. Otherwise, there’s more action than the critical reception would have you believe, and when the choreography is good, it’s really good. To say that it doesn’t hold up to Daredevil is hardly fair, because not much does.
I also appreciate that it foregoes the generic flashback episode. Even when Danny’s backstory is explained through dialogue so on-the-nose that your eyes are crossed, I’d rather that than spend an episode in K’un-Lun, which would have meant a full hour with Danny and none of the side characters that actually make the show worth watching.
On reflection, Iron Fist has pretty much everything you’d want from a Marvel/Netflix collaboration. It reaches for the action of Daredevil, the inner conflict of Jessica Jones, and a similar amount of punching through walls as Luke Cage. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do any of those things quite as well as the shows that came before it.
Besides an unforgivably flat lead character, its greatest crime is that it has to follow the success of those three shows. Without Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage to compare, Iron Fist is a perfectly reasonable entry into the MCU. Its appeal to the casual fans of the Netflix superheroes balances out its obvious flaws, and while critics continue to bash it for all the wrong reasons, I’m as excited for The Defenders as I ever was.
Iron Fist season 1 is available on Netflix. Meanwhile, filming has wrapped on The Defenders, due later this year.