I’m up to episode 7 in the Netflix series Marvel’s Iron Fist and while it’s fine, I find it the weakest of the Marvel series. Without getting into spoilers, the main character is pretty wooden and this is not offset by his martial abilities. Choices made in changing the character and mythos seem poorly considered to me, or at best simply cliched. The dialogue is unimpressive and the plot seems padded.
In the end, for a series about a living weapon, the action is good but not impressive and the story seems afraid to embrace the idea of warrior-monk.
I’m disappointed in the series but will watch it to its end. It reminds me of living in the pre-Marvel Studios age where comic fans thirsted for any appearance of their favourite characters in any incarnation, and we had to put up with poor interpretations of characters to see them in live action at all. I remember being thrilled with Daredevil and Thor appearing in the Incredible Hulk TV movies in the late 1980s. Those were pretty bad renditions of the characters, but it’s all we had. Iron Fist is of better quality than those, but it’s that same disappointment tinged with appreciation that there is something.
I would give the first seven episodes of Marvel’s Iron Fist 3.5 chi-focused living weapon strikes out of 5. The story was plodding, the action mediocre, and the dialogue weak. It was fine but unimpressive and the changes to Iron Fist didn’t improve the character at all.
Okay, so to delve into that, I need to touch on some aspects of the story. I’m going to try to avoid real spoilers, but the further in I get, the more I’m going to need to refer to events in the series, so you have been warned.
Turn back now if you would like to avoid spoilers.
Last chance, spoilers ahead.
HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
Okay, so right off the bat, we have very few fights for a series about a living weapon who became the Iron First by besting all other warrior-monks in a series of challenges. Until episode 6 (directed by RZA, the man behind the fun but weak Man With the Iron FIsts . . . coincidence?) we get Danny Rand/Iron Fist getting into minor dust-ups, and he is unimpressive in all of them. The fights might be considered good for network TV, but Netflix and Marvel can do better. They should do better. As poor as Sword of Destiny, the Netflix sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was, at least the fights were pretty good. Heck, I was more impressed with the fight scenes in Daredevil than with this, and while Daredevil is also supposed to be a highly capable martial artist, this is Iron Fist. Martial arts is his one and only thing. Daredevil has enhanced senses and his radar as part of his schtick. Iron Fist only has martial arts.
Now, if the actor who played Iron Fist delivered an amazing performance, I might be willing to accept the mediocre martial arts, but Finn Jones is fine but not great – much like his martial arts performance. Either give us a stellar actor or an amazing martial artist. Listen, Keanu Reeves did great in the Matrix and Donnie Yen’s performance in Rogue One was actually quite good, so this is definitely possible. It just takes will and effort, and apparently Scott Buck, the show runner for Iron Fist, did not have these, or simply though it was “good enough.” It isn’t.
So much of the first half of this series is Iron Fist recovering his identify as Danny Rand and the machinations of the Meachum family to keep Danny from his place as head of Rand. The plotting of this wasn’t bad, but other than the situation of the father, the characters were all stereotypical. There’s not much fresh here and it really seemed like padding. What did this bring to the story of Iron Fist? With Daredevil, Matt Murdock working as a lawyer was integral to the story of Daredevil. It always has been. Danny Rand’s links to Rand were sometimes used in Iron Fist stories, but – especially in the recent incarnation written by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction – this was background never a focus. I know that Iron Fist’s relations with the Meachums were included in past stories, but that was “bussiness person as villain” comic book stuff, not this focus on boardrooms and lawyers. In the most recent (and I would argue best) incarnation of Iron Fist, Rand was sometimes used to initiate action, but it was never Iron Fist fighting for Rand, it was something happening at Rand that touched on Iron Fist’s story.
Again, if some of this stuff was actually fresh, if it explored something that helped illuminate the character, that would have been fine – though it should have taken a backseat to the story of the living weapon. This series is called Iron Fist, and the opening credits has a great digitally created show of fighting skills – if only the lead could perform as well – but for the first five episodes, it certainly seemed like the show should be called Rand as Iron Fist seemed a B- or C-plot.
And, come on, how could Iron Fist not understand that talking about K’un Lun being in a different dimension would cause problems He lived much of his life in the US and understood things like phones and cars, so how would he not realize talking about other dimensions would make people question the veracity of his story? It was lazy writing creating false obstacles in an effort to create tension that would not have occurred if the protagonist wasn’t an idiot. Yes, it was an idiot plot.
I have a sneaking suspicion that either there was only enough story for half a season and the show runner wanted to stretch it out or this was an attempt to “do something different.” Bringing a different lens to a story is not necessarily a problem, but it bugs me that Iron Fist was the only character they felt needed to have his story changed. The other three Netflix Marvel series hew pretty close to the story of those characters, with some additions and changes but very little fundamental to the character. Iron Fist is the first time that the character and his story has been fundamentally changed.
Iron Fist is not conflicted about his role as a living weapon. He might have issues with the leader of K’un Lun – Yu-Ti, the August Personage in Jade – but not with being the Iron Fist in general. This was the part that bothered me the most. Luke Cage as a reluctant hero makes sense, as does Jessica Jones, but Iron Fist is more like Daredevil – he chose this. This is what he wants. He revels in being a living weapon and he believes in the mission of the Iron Fist – to stand against the storm when no one else can. He is unabashedly heroic.
And it was really minor, but I hated the idea of him getting stronger by being hit. That worked for Rocky but it’s the antithesis of a good martial artist – and Iron Fist is supposed to be one of the best. It may have been planting the seeds for his escape from the psychiatric ward, but that whole storyline was – frankly – silly. If the idea was that we would question Danny’s story, that wasn’t laid out well, and if not, then what was the point? It was clumsy and it was cliched.
And on a final note, I was thrilled when Iron Fist referred to K’un Lun as one of the seven capital cities of heaven, which led me to hope we might see some of the other Immortal Weapons. When the challenge from the Hand came, I thought for a moment we were going to get the Bride of Nine Spiders, but then the writers created a stereotypical seductress. Don’t tell me they couldn’t find a competent and capable actor for the role, given that Colleen Wing is a much better martial artist on screen than Danny Rand. Nope, instead we had standard casting villains of taunting badguys and sexual femme fatales. Boring. Why not give us a warrior who understands that he or she is facing the Iron Fist and is excited about the prospect of really testing their skills. Give Iron Fist an opponent who is serious and respectful, not necessarily honourable, but something different.
So, yeah, I wasn’t happy with so much of the first five episodes, and was happier with the sixth, but underwhelmed by the action.