Why can’t we have nice things? There was something almost inevitable about the pre-release critical and cultural bashing “Iron Fist” received. After a run of small screen Netflix success, I guess Marvel was due a backlash, and after constantly outgunning their rivals cinematically, the great and the good of Twitter and beyond, as well as the trite and terrible, were gunning for the House of Mouse’s House of M drop the ball. In “Iron Fist” they saw their chance.
Oh, how they gloated over its Rotten Tomatoes rating of 17% (note the audience score is a much fairer 78%) and revelled in the misguided lambasting it received for the alleged whitewashing of its cast and general cultural appropriation. Ultimately, it’s nowhere near as bad as was foretold, and often manages to be quite good fun.
Presumed dead for 15 years, Danny Rand (Finn Jones) returns to New York to confront a growing evil and reclaim his legacy. Standing in his way are his former childhood friends Joy and Ward Meachum who now run Rand Enterprises. Danny has returned a changed man, a living weapon known as the Iron Fist, sworn to defend the land of K’un-Lun from the shadowy forces of The Hand. But New York is also under threat from The Hand and Danny will find his distant obligation has manifested very close to home.
There’s no denying “Iron Fist” may be the weakest of the four Marvel Netflix shows but its relative daytime brightness is a welcome change from the dark foreboding of “Daredevil” season two. Part glossy Eighties soap opera, part kung fu epic, there’s plenty going on in “Iron Fist”. Unfortunately, for a superhero series, it spends far too much of its time – especially in the early episodes – focussing on the sub-“Dallas” corporate shenanigans over who will eventually control Rand Enterprises. Granted, this gives plenty of screen time to Tom Pelphrey’s Ward Meachum who is so archly a go-go-Eighties Reaganomics ‘business guy’ that I expected him to die of boneitis at any moment. Much like “Arrow” was in the past, the series suffers from a sophomorically simplistic view of corporate governance, rendering much of the boardroom shenanigans laughably unrealistic (never to the extent of “The Dark Knight Rises”, though) and it’s only after Danny encounters Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) and begins to recognise the presence of The Hand that the series gains traction.
Arguably the least impressive of the Defenders in terms of power set (he’s good at kung fu and can use the glowy Iron Fist every so often), he’s got the billions to back him but he lacks the intelligence of Tony Stark or the detective skills of the Dark Knight to really put them to use. Finn Jones has the unenviable task, then, of playing a kind of hipster gap year Bruce Wayne and he struggles to distance himself from coming across like a petulant trust-fund kid thanks to the flat writing of the show. Supporting characters such as Colleen Wing and, in a too convenient and contrived plot development, Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) fare better and the subplot around Howard Meachum is far more interesting than anything involving his children’s meeting room machinations but it’s when The Hand is front and centre, especially the formidable Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) that the series hits its stride.
Most of the flaws in “Iron Fist” lie not with the cast or the character but with the plotting of the series and in the writing and therefore the showrunner, Scott Buck. His declaration of disappointment with the Iron Fist’s powers at the very beginning was a warning sign and it’s at his door the blame for the disappointments must lie. That being said, I consistently enjoyed watching “Iron Fist”, albeit as something I could binge watch on TV while doing other things e.g. blogging, surfing the net and maybe that’s its biggest flaw. Entertaining, yes, but gripping? Rarely. There were only a couple of episodes where I put aside whatever else I was doing and watched intently, unlike “Daredevil” Season 1, “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage” which kept me glued to the screen even during their midseason sluggishness. “Iron Fist” is almost all ‘midseason sluggish’ but I still watched it in full from beginning to end over a couple of weeks (unlike “Daredevil” Season 2 which I stopped watching for a while and eventually returned to finish).
Thankfully, Marvel has decided to pass the Buck for the second “Iron Fist” series, appointing a new showrunner (Raven Metzner (“Sleepy Hollow”, “Heroes Reborn” and…er…the movie “Elektra”) may not immediately inspire confidence, but he can’t really do much worse) and with Danny Rand meeting Luke Cage in “The Defenders” we can all start to hope for a “Heroes For Hire” TV show. Yes, it’s the weakest of the four Netflix Marvel shows, but that’s still pretty strong, considering. It certainly beats the third seasons “Arrow” and “The Flash”, although that’s a bar you’d barely need the Iron Pinky to smash through.