Created by: Scott Buck
Wow, man. The internet is a wild frontier. I mean, you know this already. Still, it’s always interesting to see the online community train steamroll something, be it positive or negative. And though I find myself agreeing at times, there’s still a part of me that continually questions: Am I just getting group approval on my opinions, or is this actually how I feel?
So am I here to tell you, with my four stars, how wrong the internet is about Iron Fist? Nah, not really. I get the underwhelment: I, too found the initial trailers incredibly bland, and the series absolutely lacks that something that you can say defined the other Marvel Netflix shows, even down to lacking a defining color, a la Jessica Jones‘ purple and Luke Cage‘s yellow. But… I do think there was a certain zealousness to the negativity, perhaps bristled by diversity casting concerns that were already afloat with the Dr. Strange movie, and then the slew of comparisons – there’s no deeper commentary like Luke Cage! The fight scenes aren’t as elaborate as Daredevil! – piled up into a wave of backlash, hailing it as Marvel’s first failure. Because as much as we love how they’ve built things up for us, you can feel the itch to tear the success down; such is the wonderfully destructive nature of humanity. (Let’s pretend like that was a meta theme of Iron Fist, y’all!)
So, no, you’re not wrong in your criticisms, but I would question: If you could separate this experience into its own show, no Marvel banner, what then? Because I found Iron Fist to be dang solid, and pretty consistently entertaining. There is no deeper level, agreed; but I’m also of the mindset that Luke Cage pretty much failed to both be deep or entertain, so if I have to sacrifice a message for my attention span, so be it, and my main point being that Iron Fist, as a TV show about a kung fu dude with mysterious powers seemed rather thoroughly accomplished to me. What’s this smirking, Buddhist-wisdom spouting show with quality production and imaginatively varied fight sequences? non-Marvel-aware you might ask, but This Doesn’t Compare To That Show I’m Comparing It To And Also It’s Very White! says internet-savvy you.
Which is not to say that it shouldn’t be compared, since its packaged under that Marvel banner, and also not to say that its in-born racial ignorance isn’t an issue, just that in both cases I feel like people were quick to shut it down without a fair shot. For example, I dug that this was more light-hearted than the other series, but yes, you have to allow yourself to get over the lack of Initial Impact the other shows provided. And the casting issue was in the cards as soon as Marvel decided on another privileged white hero for their focus. Casting the role mixed or Asian would have brought its own type of backlash; the conversation is a larger one, but Iron Fist offered a good focal point for the fight. (One that was, as mentioned, already in motion.)
Just to be a little less ‘I like it but I get it’ wishy-washy, I’ll go ahead and take a comparative stance: This was the most consistently plotted of any of the Marvel Netflix shows. The common complaint of 13-episode filler – which affected both Daredevil and Jones, even though I stand by my five star ratings on those – didn’t hit me with Iron Fist. I found the evolution from episode to episode to make sense, with a good feeling of payoff each step of the way. Even as we shift from bad guy to bad guy, it didn’t lose steam, because unlike the similar switch in Cage, it was earned through the plot and characters.
And the plot was a well-juggled brew of origin and introduction, with the missing-and-presumed-dead-for-15-years Danny Rand (Finn Jones) returning to his New York home and the billion dollar company started by his father, barefoot and talking about other-reality monk temples where he’s been studying magic fighting; this leant itself to easy ‘tell us what happened’ moments that didn’t have to worry about the gravitas of IF’s mystical background, and also gave Danny – and us – a reason to re-ingratiate himself with the Meachums, the current co-owners of his company. And through that we get into shady company dealings that connect to our initial big bad of The Hand. However, in my favorite shift that the show took, while Ward and Joy Meachum are resistant to Danny rejoining the company, they’re never exclusively painted as villains, or, once we get to know them, as good guys, either. They’re allowed to float through this uniquely pro-/ antagonist realm, which works well propped up against Danny’s go-with-the-Zen vibe. Similarly balanced is Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), the new New York buddy Danny makes while homelessing around a park. They banter, they physically spar, and like the Meachums, she emerges as a well-rounded character.
Danny’s arc is the most flighty; it does end up being another “coming to terms with your powers” show (which is more the theme of the Netflix series), which thus requires him to get sort of pouty as things wean on, and its not a face Jones wears too well, unfortunately. While the pissy child routine makes sense for someone who’s essentially been isolated from society, the character seems quicker on the uptake than they allow him to be during these bristling moments. Thankfully, that’s where it pays off to have the solid support characters and an engaging, forward-moving plot. (I’M SAYING THE SHOW HAD THESE.)
On the action front, Iron Fist has also been criticized for being lesser than, and again, I must disagree. The main comparison, of course, is Daredevil. And my problem with Daredevil… was that it got old. Some of the fights were fantastic, without a doubt, but it was a constantly-upped ante problem. Once you got that hallway fight, the rest just kind of burned the clock. The approach with Danny, generally, was to go smaller. A lot of fighting is brief, in confined spaces, and less bone-breaking than it is acrobatic. I was constantly pleased with how they found small ways to make the battles interesting. So again, it lacks a certain Wow factor, but viewing minute for minute, I got more entertainment out of the choreography than I might’ve from DD.
I feel like this whole review has been restating and circling around on opinions, so maybe there’s no need for a concluding summary. But my final impression of Iron Fist was that it was tonally the right move for the last Marvel Netflix piece, and while the generally stayed grievances absolutely have grounds, taking a step back from the bashing revealed – for me – an above-average quality action show, with a nicely fleshed out supporting cast, an effectively paced plot, fun fights, and the added wink of its interconnected Marvel-ness.