Confession time. I’m not familiar with Iron Fist from the comics (sacrilege, I know) and as such can’t attest for how faithful the TV show has stayed to the comic version. However, I have a great deal of faith in the Marvel Netflix shows, faith which led me to kinda ignore some of the poor pre-reviews before leaping into my customary binge (I have kids and work weekends, so nailing off a 13 episode series in three and a bit days is still pretty impressive.)
Sadly, the naysayers were right on this one.
I’m not holding Iron Fist to an impossibly high standard, but I require a few things from a comic book TV series to really click with me, mostly characters that I can root for, some laughs, some quality action and some sort of deeper commentary.
Character wise, Iron Fist is the weakest Marvel series to date, and that’s including Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
I simply don’t care about anyone here, and Danny Rand’s little rich boy who gets abilities and seeks justice while being oh-so-tortured act has been thoroughly played out in Arrow and the Batman movies and, as such, I care more about the secondary characters in other Marvel series than I do about our protagonist here, which isn’t exacrly a good sign. The secondary characters here swing from ally to foe and back again and their motivations are obscure and as such, I just can’t invest in them.
It’s worth saying that none of the actors are actively bad, it just seems that the story, lines and direction they’re fed don’t give us any chance to be impressed with the highlights being David Wenham’s (Faramir from Lord of the Rings / Dilios from 300) unhinged turn as Harold Meachum and Jessica Henwick’s conflicted portrayal of Colleen Wing.
The laughs are few and far between in this series, lacking a Foggy Nelson or even the sarcastic wit of Jessica Jones to add levity to the serious tone – the funniest thing being the aforementioned idiosyncrasies of the hermit Harold Meacham.
I had high hopes for the martial arts aspect of Iron Fist but despite some decent scraps we don’t have anything as awesome as the hall scenes in Daredevil or as impactful as Luke Cage in full juggernaut mode. There are a lot of smoke & mirrors used to make the fight scenes seem better, but we’re pretty much at Agents of S.H.I.EL.D. standard here, rather than challenging the high points of Daredevil, and that’s a huge disappointment for a show centered on oriental themes and a martial artist.
Marvel’s Netflix series have been set apart by their deeper commentary, with Daredevil exploring the theme of justice, Jessica Jones a clear allegory for domestic/emotional abuse and empowerment and Luke Cage dealing with racism, confronting gang culture, violence and your own past. Iron Fist edges around themes of corporate malpractice and violence as a first response, but never fully explores them and gets lost in a slow and confused plot, relying on misdirection and implied mysticism to the point that by the thoroughly unsatisfying conclusion of the series, we haven’t had a satisfactory answer to anything.
The concerns about whitewashing can be dismissed on one hand as the character in the original source material is white, unlike, say, Ghost in the Shell (not that writing a story about a white martial artist isn’t iffy in itself), but on the other hand, there is a theme of the ‘white saviour’ in Iron Fist which is problematic and coming off the back of Marvel casting Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Dr. Strange (and Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin in Iron Man 3), I would have liked to see some more awareness from them. That said, Danny is referred to several times as ‘the worst Iron Fist ever’ for various reasons, which does amusingly rebrand the white saviour as ‘white boy done gone messed up.’
All in all, weak characters, a confused plot, a lack of resolution, levity or deeper meaning and not even providing some noteworthy action mean that Iron Fist is easily the worst thing Marvel have done for TV in their current run. A disappointment on every level.
The writer of this piece was: Chris Napier
Christopher Tweets from @chriscrowing