Is Iron Fist terrible? Well…no, not really. It’s disappointing but it’s not as horrible as the critical ratings make it seem. The likely reason that the show—which stars Finn Jones as the iron fisted hero—is getting stomped on so hard is probably due to the fact that the previous Netflix shows have raised the bar so high in quality that expectations for Iron Fist were in the stratosphere. Sadly, Iron Fist doesn’t meet those expectations. It’s not bad…it’s just frustratingly mediocre. For too much of its 13 episodes, Iron Fist commits the major sin of being dull. It picks up in the later half of the season but not enough to redeem it. There is comparatively little action throughout, and what we do get is not as exciting as what we saw in Daredevil.
Of course, it’s not necessary for a super hero show or film to have non-stop action. Unbreakable is a great example of a super hero story with very little action. Chronicle is another example. However, if you don’t supply action, you have to make up for it with a strong plot, acting and dialogue. Sadly, we don’t get enough of that here.
First, let’s look at what works in Iron Fist. Spoilers ahead….
Wai Ching Ho is back as Madam Gao, the cunning and manipulative leader of the Hand. Her presence adds some gravitas to the story and makes a connection to earlier Netflix entries. Another standout is Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing, a martial arts teacher who becomes the love interest for our hero but is soon revealed to be part of the Hand. Her wavering loyalty to the Hand and her ultimate choice to abandon them to help Iron Fist makes for the most interesting personal story arc in the series, even if her redemption is predictable. Henwick is very likable and very good in the action sequences. She also has a nice on-screen chemistry with Finn Jones, which leads to Jones’ best scenes. Rosario Dawson is back as ER nurse Clair Temple, who still acts as the moral heart in the center of the Netflix/Marvel universe. Dawson, Ho and Henwick will all be welcome returns in The Defenders.
David Wenham (The 300) does a decent job as the main villain Harold Meachum, but he’s nowhere near the same level as Fisk, Killgrave or Cottonmouth. Also, Meachum is such a minor comic book villain, his arrival doesn’t bring any interest to the story. Wenham is fine but if you’re going to have such a non-impactful villain, you need to make him more compelling and in this case, he isn’t.
Speaking of not-compelling, that leads us to Finn Jones. Jones was sufficient as Sir Loras Tyrell on Game of Thrones, but as the leading man, he falls short in the charisma department. Playing the angst-ridden Danny Rand, who returns from the realm of Kun Lun to fight the Hand, Jones spends most of the series suffering an identity crisis about who he is, who he can trust and what his purpose is. This would all be fine if his internal conflict was done in a more interesting way, but it isn’t. His scenes mostly consist of him looking teary-eyed and miserable. It’s super hero soap opera.
Danny Rand spends the first few episodes trying to get his company back, and when he finally does, he quickly runs it into the ground and then mostly forgets about it when the company is taken away from him. He seems similarly disinterested when he ultimately gets it back at the end. His riches-to-rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches journey runs throughout the series but like Danny himself, we get less interested as the episodes roll on.
Jones does somewhat better in the action sequences but since the fight choreography is lacking in intensity—seeming more like a dance than a fight—these scenes can’t lift the episodes up. Jones does his best work opposite Henwick as Colleen Wing. They have a nice rapport, but on his own, Jones fails to command our attention.
The whole concept of Danny Rand’s journey has been done too often. The idea–the wealthy guy who travels to a foreign land, learns a valuable moral lesson, gains a new skill, and then returns to the city to resume his lofty place in society by day and fight crime as a vigilante by night—has been used for Iron Man, Batman, Green Arrow and the Shadow. We’ve seen this journey so often, its almost clichéd by now. Iron Fist adds nothing new to it.
Aside from Harold Meachum, the ninja assassin group known as the Hand are the main antagonists. We get the set up for the Steel Serpent in future seasons (if there are any) but for now, the Hand supply the guys for Iron Fist to fight. We’ve seen the Hand a few times in the other Netflix shows. (At several points, you’ll find yourself wondering where Daredevil is during all this) They are expanded on a bit here. We learn that there as different factions within the Hand, and that they are the ancient enemies of the monk warriors of Kun Lun. We’re told that Iron Fist’s purpose is to destroy the Hand, although he walked away from his duty in Kun Lun to regain his fortune in NY, which makes him seem a less-than- admirable hero.
There’s a running subplot about Iron Fist’s childhood friends Joy and Ward Meachum, who now act as the public face of Rand Corp, and we get some pay-off in the end (especially with Joy) but overall the Dallas-like office politics seem a distraction from the Hand storyline. The TV show Gotham handles a similar plot with the Court of Owls secretly controlling Wayne Enterprises much better than this subplot about the Hand controlling Rand Corp. Given all the fighting over Rand Corp, we never really get a clear vision of what kind of company it is and what they do there. In Iron Man, at least we know what Stark Industries does.
After binge watching the first season, it’s fair to say that Iron Fist is by far the weakest of the four Netflix series. It’s a worrisome sign that each series seems to be weaker than the one that came before it. Daredevil was superb; Jessica Jones was very good but not quite as strong as Daredevil; Luke Cage was pretty good, but not in the same league as Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Now Iron Fist is the weakest of them all. What does this foretell for the Defenders? This series should have made us more excited for the Defenders but it fails at that.
Iron Fist lacks a unique style. For instance, it could have been a clever homage to the old 1970s Kung Fu “chop socky” genre, much as Luke Cage was a homage to the 1970s Blaxploitation genre. However, Iron Fist feels too generic. The music seems left over from Luke Cage. Our hero even uses a hoodie for a costume, just as Luke Cage did. Iron Fist misses every opportunity to form a unique identity.
While Iron Fist is not as dire as its 17% RT rating indicates, and does have a few good moments, it deserves an overall failing grade, making it a rare misfire in the Marvel connected film and TV universe. I’d like to say it’s worth sitting through the whole 13 episodes but the fact is, if I hadn’t needed to watch it to write this article, I would have turned it off.
A reluctant Iron Thumbs Down for Iron Fist.