TL;DR – So far it’s not the train wreck that people were making it out to be and it does get better throughout the season, but there needed to be more work done with the Danny Rand character before filming.
Score – 3 out of 5 stars
Ok all thirteen episodes have been watched, four pages of notes taken, so let’s delve into the world of Iron Fist/Danny Rand (Finn Jones) the last addition to the Netflix/Marvel mini-universe before we get to see the big defenders cross-over later this year. Now I don’t think any in-house (i.e. not Fantastic Four) Marvel product has ever had this much negative press before launch, and it was a rocky couple of weeks, to say the least. So let’s break down what does work (because some of it does), but also where the series went wrong, and there is a lot of that too. Now because we are looking at the season as a whole, there may be some spoilers here, so you have been warned.
Ok before we get started, we need to take a moment to look at one of the show’s issues, and that is the bad start to the season. Now it was not the train wreck a lot of people were talking about but it was not great. With Daredevil and Jessica Jones they started strong, finished strong and kind of meandered around the middle, Luke Cage followed this but never stuck its landing with its ending. While Iron Fist has a bad start it does find its voice about half way through and finished on a stronger note than Luke Cage, but you have to work at it to get there. Honestly, I think Iron Fist is lucky that Netflix dropped all the episodes at the same time, as I doubt I would have stuck with it for it to get good on a weekly release schedule.
One area that Iron Fist shines is in its supporting cast, Clare (Rosario Dawson) and Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) are back, and in a show that gets a bit silly at times, they were the voices of reason, no don’t kill that guy that would be stupid, indeed watching Hogarth just destroy all those other lawyers by herself was amazing to watch. As well as this, watching David Wenham literally own every scene he is in was quite enjoyable, sure, on one hand, his big reveal of ‘I’m still alive’ was undercut simply because you don’t hire David Wenham to be in a painting. However, throughout the season he had a wondering unhingedness about him, oh poor Kyle. Now I have said this before and I’ll say it again, Madam Gao (Wai Ching Ho) is the best thing that they have done in this crossover universe, she has such power in her performance, whilst still being completely mysterious. Her interactions with Danny are some of the best scenes in the series, where she just calls out all the rubbish people are talking. Now I had some issues with the action scenes in Iron Fist, we’ll get to that later, but Colleen Wing’s (Jessica Henwick) illegal cage match fights might be the best the series as put together so far (though the hallway scene still takes the cake). Now we are going to talk about the errors, which is going to be a larger section, but I should mention at worst I found Iron Fist to be average, and at best it is really quite good, but the issue is it never hits great.
Now when we look at Iron Fist we have to talk about the elephant in the room, and that was the outcry before it was released. So is Iron Fist whitewashing, no it is not, Danny Rand has always been white, this was not the case of casting a white actor in a traditional Asian role like Scarlett Johansson in the upcoming Ghost in the Shell. That is not to say that Iron Fist is not problematic because it is, it is just that the attention is focused in the wrong place. What Iron Fist is, is an example of the white saviour trope, where a child is lost in Asia or Africa, and is raised by the Indigenous people and eventually becomes their protector because they can’t do it themselves, or someone from the west goes to some temple in the east to learn their secrets, see, Tarzan, The Phantom, Arrow, Batman Begins etc. Look while it is a problematic trope, especially with its origins, it could have worked if the protagonist is well written/acted, but this is where we get to our first issue with Iron Fist.
Look I don’t know if this is down to Finn Jones’ acting, the way he was directed, or indeed the script (I might say it was probably a bit of all of them) but the Iron Fist character was the weakest element of the show. The first issue is that he is either amazingly aware or really stupid depending on the scene, there is no consistency, jumping from I’m going to trust you for no discernible reason, to this is suspect and back again in a single episode. Also, his action scenes, especially when they are showing his face are not great, later in the season they do a lot more fights in darkness or shooting the fights from above/behind and they improve dramatically. It is relly hard to like a show when the lead character is not well written, but thankfully the supporting cast works overtime to make up for it. Now as I said Iron Fist had a bad start, and that is compounded another issue which is character arcs. This is probably because it felt like they crammed a standard season-long character arc into only 13 episodes, so instead of a powerful insight into the dangers of addiction, we go from taking some pills, crash straight into heroin, and then get a miracle cure so Ward can be normal again. Another issue is that they need to work on the dialogue in the show, it never really felt like two people talking, it just felt like people spouting exposition at each other
In the end, we have already had the very successful Arrow on TV for a while now, doing a lot of the same things, also Marvel just released Doctor Strange which is treading over the same territory, so Iron Fist needed to do something to distinguish itself, and I don’t think it ever did. There are some great performances here, and it does start the ball rolling on the big collaborative effort, but it does feel like it needed some work in pre-production and had a rushed release. In the end, I didn’t dislike it, but nothing really stood out for me, more a missed opportunity to do something interesting with the role.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by – John Dahl, Tom Shankland, Miguel Sapochnik, Uta Briesewitz, RZA, Farren Blackburn, Kevin Tancharoen, Jet Wilkinson, Peter Hoar, Deborah Chow, Stephen Surjik & Andy Goddard
Written by – Scott Buck, Quinton Peeples, Scott Reynolds, Cristine Chambers, Dwain Worrell, Ian Stokes, Tamara Becher-Wilkinson & Pat Charles
Based on – Comics created by Roy Thomas & Gil Kane
Starring – Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick, Tom Pelphrey, Jessica Stroup. Sacha Dhawan, Ramón Rodríguez, Rosario Dawson & David Wenham with Wai Ching Ho & Carrie-Anne Moss