Iron Fist share much of it’s DNA with the Daredevil series. They could be brothers or maybe cousins but Daredevil was the one that went to college and got a job that it worked hard to make pay off. Iron Fist is the one who saw how well Daredevil did and tried to follow in its footsteps without understanding the finer points.
What it wanted to be was a 80’s kung fu movie like the Last Dragon, Big Trouble in Little China, or even like 90s action movies that were not as gritty like Only the Strong, Die Hard (I know it was ’88), or even Iron Monkey. What it ends up being is like a b-grade action 90s action movie, ironically, like the original daredevil (when you see the chick with the spider stuff, try not to imagine her in a bad 90s flick).
At it’s best, and that’s near the end of the series (a trend with a lot of the Netflix series), it’s a fun series about Danny and Connie running around New York, one with a glowing fist and the other with a katana, fighting a bunch of thugs in suits. When it remembers to be about mystic kung fu bullshit, it borders on being great. However, and I suspect this is either a directorial issue or budget constraints, we don’t get much of that (sorry). The series doesn’t follow the ethos of “show, don’t tell”. Rather than get a single scene of teenage Danny running around the streets of K’un-lun we have to hear Danny telling us about the stew some monk made. I can count on 1 hands the number of scenes we had even NEAR K’un-lun. This kind of brings me to the meat of the problem with Iron Fist- the Meachums and their talking.
(MINOR Spoilers in the following paragraph. Nothing past the first episode.)
The Meachums, as you find out in the first episode, are the Rand family’s best buddies and also kind of co-founded/co-ran Rand Industries. Skipping past all the spoilers- they are boring. They should have been, at best, a B-plot. They add some depth to Danny and his background but, overall, I actually got bored a few times with them. I get Danny isn’t the brightest bulb in the pack (I’ll get to that later) but, and this isn’t a spoiler, just about every time Danny trusts the Meachums they screw him over. Like… habitually. Like, it’s their religion or something to mess with Danny- even in his childhood- and he is like oblivious to this. They are literally in the plot only to cause problems for Danny that he is only tangentially involved with. Now, I only bring this up because there is WAY MORE INTERESTING STUFF HAPPENING and they use the Meachum stuff as very badly disguised padding.
(Minor spoilers end)
Now, the guy who plays Ward Meachum, Tom Pelphrey, owns every damn scene he is in. Guy came up as a soap opera actor and just kills it. He chews the scenery at every opportunity he gets but his plot really has no weight or connection to superhero stuff. Hell, David Wenham who plays another Meachum also kills it. They both easily outclass Finn Jones and Jessica Henwick, which is ok because they are decent in their own right.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. I’ve heard the cries of “Danny Rand should have been Asian!”. No, he shouldn’t have. This is a story deeply set in New York, centers on a lot of big business white guys, and the fact that he’s the perfectly expected poster boy for a fortune 500 company (what you’d expect) works for him. White dude doing Kung Fu is half the story in this case. One thing I was thinking, while watching it was, “I… dunno. Might have been a bit racist to recast the ethnicity of the only martial arts superhero thus far as asian.” Now, if they had- it would have been fine. They did it with Colleen Wing (Well she was… kind of part Asian) and nothing exploded. Wouldn’t have ruined anything, they could write around it, and (as I’ve expressed above) this series didn’t dig deep enough that the change would have ‘ruined it’. (Related note: Know who’s killing it in a role that I’d normally assume would be cast as a white dude? Daniel Wu in Into the Badlands. Go watch that.)
There ARE high points. Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing is a fun character who adds a lot of credence to the series that wouldn’t have been there if she hadn’t. They did a solid job on tackling childhood trauma and the visual representation/narrative impact was well applied. Some people didn’t dig the fight scenes- I really did. They don’t have a lot of spinning backflips and focus a lot more on quick parries, competent countering, joint manipulation, and even some great scenes of groundwork (which you never see!). When it remembers to be about kung fu antics- it’s awesome. Monks and meditation, spiritual new age woo, guards that are oddly armed with martial arts weapons, grand duels- it’s a lot of fun.
Finn Jones- you did a passable job. Unfortunately you were not who we expected. Krysten Ritter was a tour de force, Mike Colter brought the material to life in a sophisticated by quiet way, and Charlie Cox was probably better than we expected. Finn… was ok. This series needed a guy who lived and breathed martial arts. They got a guy who STARTED his training for the show. Not a guy who was in love with it and then happened to be cast. Go rewatch the old Green Hornet show- Bruce Lee was on display in every fight scene he had (I mean… it was campy stuff but he was clearly in love with it). Finn Jones… well he looks good with his shirt off and seems to “get” the slow stuff like tai chi and meditative poses. He’s not a natural and it shows. As an actor- he does ok. He never really hits home but they could have made a worse casting choice.
Overall, this series suffers by comparison. It’s a SOLID show. Please, if you take anything away from this, take that. It’s a show worth watching but when you imagine what it COULD have been and when you compare it to the other Netflix Series? It’s a let down. So? B+. I’d watch it again (and will with my wife) and I’m looking forward to see Danny back in the Defenders. He’ll be a good balance to the others and there were a lot of good plot points that will set up the Defenders series this fall (expected).
7/10- give it a watch