TV review: Is ‘Iron Fist’ the weak link in the Marvel/Netflix line-up?

KICK_Danny_UK_SG_copySo far, the Marvel/Netflix partnership seems to be a proverbial match made in heaven. The Netflix shows serve as a darker, grittier companion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and offer up consistently binge-worthy action and drama.

We’ve met the blind lawyer-by-day and conflicted-vigilante-by-night Daredevil; the tough detective Jessica Jones; and the champion of justice with bullet-proof skin Luke Cage. Now, Marvel and Netflix are introducing us to mystical martial arts master Iron First.

“Iron First” generated a lot of buzz before it was released, but unfortunately, a lot of that buzz wasn’t good. It hasn’t received the same praise as the previous Netflix/Marvel offerings and became part of a larger Hollywood discussion on whitewashing. As we gear up for the Defenders team-up later this year, is “Iron First” still worth binge-watching?

While some of Netflix’s previous Marvel shows had their weaknesses — the first season of “Daredevil” was stronger than the second (I loved the Punisher; Elektra, not as much) and the best villain in “Luke Cage” leaves the show too soon — I loved all these shows and generally couldn’t wait to watch the next episode. “Iron Fist” is the first show from this series where I debated whether or not I wanted to keep watching.

Sadly, the first episode of “Iron Fist” is one of the weakest first episodes I’ve seen from a TV series in a long time. The narrative drags, the dialogue falls flat, and the characters don’t click the way they do in the other Marvel/Netflix series. Whether it’s fair or not, it’s tough to watch “Iron Fist” without thinking of the CW’s currently running (and currently better) “Arrow.” Like Oliver Queen, Danny Rand (a.k.a. Iron Fist) was presumed dead by the world, only to return home years later with an unusual set of skills. Unlike Oliver, however, Danny can harness a touch of the supernatural.

The first two episodes didn’t hook me in the way other superhero shows have, and “Iron Fist” takes too long to find its footing. Too much of the early narrative is caught up with Danny just trying to prove his identity. We don’t see enough flashbacks to get the proper context for his character and how he got his powers. I think they also wait a little too long to reveal the full extent of Danny’s magical abilities. It almost feels like the script was rushed and we’re seeing an early draft of something that could have packed a greater punch if it had been more polished.

Even though I kind of wanted to quit watching after the second episode, I’d already decided to watch at least three for my review. While the third episode was an improvement (and I went ahead and watched the fourth), I’d still list “Iron Fist” as the weakest of the Defenders tie-ins.

Defenders-EW-Images-Feat

By now I’m starting to warm up to Finn Jones as Iron Fist. The character is innocent, optimistic, and almost childlike, which I think makes sense considering his background; he had a traumatic event in his childhood and grew up off the grid. He’s struggling to fit back into his old life. I think it will be interesting to see him in a line-up with the other Defenders. Right now, Jessica Henwick as fellow martial arts expert Colleen Wing is the only other stand-out character for me. While there’s a lot of potential for development with some of the other side characters, the series hasn’t given us a truly compelling villain yet who’s on par with the fantastic villains from the other Marvel/Netflix shows: Kingpin, Kilgrave, and Cottonmouth.

Overall, I feel the showrunners missed an opportunity to make “Iron Fist” the “Doctor Strange” of the Netflix Defenders series. So far, “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” and “Luke Cage” have been pretty grounded; “Iron Fist” was a chance to start working more mystical elements into the franchise. It’s possible those elements are more prominently featured in the later episodes; however, I think seeing them sooner would have upped the stakes in the first couple episodes, which are rather languidly paced.

Final verdict? I’m planning to keep watching beyond episode four, not only because I don’t want to miss out on any details that will be featured in the Defenders team-up show, but also because I did see promise in the two most recent episodes I watched. However, it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed that the show doesn’t take full advantage of its potential.

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7 thoughts on “TV review: Is ‘Iron Fist’ the weak link in the Marvel/Netflix line-up?

  1. You get used to it. It gets better because you get used to how bad it is. As for his childlike qualities. I saw that too. He was young and he went away so he has a stunted emotional maturity… NOOOOOOooooo. He wasn’t raised by wolves. He had adults teaching him. I found this quality to the character to be the most racist thing about the show. I can even forgive how NOT Buddhist he acts (not every Buddhist is good at being Buddhist and later it is established that he sucked at his training). But he had adult supervision. He should have grown up to be a grown man. Not some thirty year old child. I’m sorry for the rant. And you put up this review only a third of the way through. I watched it all in one day and hated it the whole time. All three of the other heroes would also hate everything about this Danny Rand. He’s too naive for Jessica. Too childish for Luke. And Daredevil would be appalled by how undisciplined he is as a martial artist. All of this will be redeemed if the other three hate him as much as I do. And possibly do something about it. That would be so cool.

    A couple of the regular minor characters show up later so you do have that to look forward to.

    Sorry again about the rant.

    • I was hoping the show would have a dramatic improvement after the first several episodes, but it is good to know I’ll be getting pretty much more of the same. 😉 I wanted to bail after episode 2 but I think I will keep watching just so I can have the complete picture before Defenders. But this will probably be more of a show that I have going in the background while working on a crafting project, not like “Stranger Things” or the other Marvel/Netflix shows, where my eyes were glued to the screen and the action really pulled me in. Which is a shame because the other Marvel/Netflix shows are so strong and I think “Iron Fist” could have been really special too. I think you’re right about the other Defenders – they are going to be annoyed with Danny, ha ha. 😉 Maybe there will be some mentoring going on!

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