Some slight spoilers ahead.
Show: Iron Fist
Created by: Scott Buck
Genre: Superhero / drama
For a show based on a comic book character that became superpowered by punching an immortal dragon, Netflix’s “Iron Fist” sure does spend an inordinate amount of time on boardroom meetings and corporate manipulations.
More shocking is that those are unfortunately “Iron Fist’s” better moments. Make no mistake: “Iron Fist” is the weakest show in the street-level superhero series by a considerable margin and offers tragically little in style or substance.
The most glaring flaw is the Iron Fist himself: Danny Rand ranges from gullible idiot or petulant brat and neither trait makes for an endearing protagonist. While the writing certainly isn’t doing him any favors, actor Finn Jones lacks the presence to make Rand likable and his character growth is practically nonexistent throughout the series. From his bumbling reintroduction to New York to his final showdowns with the series’ Big Bads, Rand complains, contradicts himself and stumbles through drama and action scenes alike.
Speaking of the action, “Iron Fist’s” are easily the franchise’s worst. Rand’s ill-developed superpowers are rarely used and never satisfying. Copy-paste brawls against The Hand’s faceless martial artists look like scrapped “Daredevil” clips, and their overall lack of lighting and direction removes any sort of tension. Though lighting issues during fighting plague the franchise as a whole—and budget constraints aren’t really a fair excuse anymore—the other “Defenders” series make up for it with excellent choreography.
Here, Rand can channel a dragon through his hand to punch evil ninjas. How that manages to fail to produce at least passably fun action is mystifying, but true. That might sound silly, but “Iron Fist” is also joylessly violent. “Daredevil” was stunningly extreme at times and “Jessica Jones” flirted with torture porn on more than one occasion, but “Iron Fist’s” bloodier scenes, such as impalements or a grisly corpse desecration, add little to the narrative and are just visceral for the sake of it.
The supporting cast fares better, but results are still mixed. As this is a “Defenders” series, Claire Temple returns, but her inorganic presence does little more than scream “CROSSOVER.”
Thankfully, the franchise’s new characters are far more enjoyable than the handful of “Defenders” cameos and Easter eggs. Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) is a definite standout and although her early interactions with Rand are painfully forced, Henwick brings charisma and depth to a series seriously lacking in both departments. Wing’s participation in some particularly vicious cage fights also serves as some of the series’ best action bits.
Ward Meachum and especially Harold Meachum are similarly entertaining. Though he lacks the dominating presence of past villains such as Kingpin or Cottonmouth, Harold’s behind-the-scenes backstabbing and violent outbursts make for an intimidating and unpredictable character. They both become more unstable as the series progresses and its hard not to enjoy them, despite their twisted backstories and oft-deplorable actions.
Though there are hardly any themes as deeply mature as those in “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage,” “Iron Fist” does intelligently touch on several timely social topics. Rand may be an buffoon, but he’s a good-hearted one, and his boardroom battles against his company’s pharmaceutical profiteering is a poignant middle finger to the Shkreli’s of the world. Opiate abuse is handled similarly well, and Ward’s downward spiral from pill popping into full-blown heroin addiction makes the character all-the-more engrossing.
Still, none of this excuses “Iron Fist’s” more inane issues. Even with the far-out source material in mind, it’s impossible to forgive the stereotypical or entirely nonsensical moments.
Here’s an accurate sentence of a supposedly major battle: “Iron Fist fights in a video game boss marathon against Two Generic Men, Spider Venom Woman and One Generic Man.” Here’s another: “Iron Fist travels to China and struggles to defeat Drunk Man before anticlimactically capturing one of the series’ antagonists and yells at her a lot before passing out.”
There are a few legitimate chuckles here and there and some of the drama is enticing, but it’s rarely good enough keep viewers repeatedly tuning back in for the 13-episode season. This one is for the diehards only, and while Marvel fans will be mildly entertained by the latest entry in the “Defenders” series, that’s about the nicest thing that can be said here. For anyone else, this is an awful starting point for the franchise that clearly exists to kill time before the crossover miniseries airs this summer.