Marvel’s latest Netflix series Iron Fist does not open strong at all. Nor does it finish strong. There are certainly points of interest within the show itself but I found that I never felt connected to the characters nor the events taking place around them. This is a persistent problem with the show as it never quite endeared itself to me. While the other Netflix Marvel shows seemed to have some sort of interesting hook, Iron Fist seems to lack a sense of purpose. The biggest problem with this show is that it is quite boring.
Iron Fist focus on the story of Danny Rand, the heir to a multibillion-dollar company returning to New York after being thought dead for the past 15 years. Upon his return, he has to contend with his childhood friends running his family business as well as face off against a subset of The Hand, all while trying to master the ancient power of the Iron Fist.
Early on in the show, we are introduced to a hapless Danny Rand returning to New York for the first time in about 15 years. He spends a large portion of the first episode telling people he is “Danny Rand” as if that should mean something to the viewers. He also tells anyone who will listen that he trained in the mystical city of “K’un-L’un” and that he is the “Immortal Iron Fist”. Understandably, people react with confusion, annoyance and often repulsion to his bizarre claims. Unfortunately, their reaction is not unlike the viewer experience. The major problem with Danny’s introduction is that we as viewers are not given a chance to get to know him as a character nor does he endear himself at all before he starts pestering people around him about his identity. He the proceeds to break into people’s homes and stalk them in ill-conceived attempts to prove who he is. When he is detained for his action in the second episode, I found I was not invested at all in his plight. This is a shame because the theme of identity is quite integral to the plot of the show. We never really get a chance to get into Danny’s head and find out what is really going on with him. While the heroes from the other Marvel Netflix shows have character arcs and philosophies on life, Danny does not seem to develop one until maybe the last episode.
Unfortunately Finn Jones’ (Game of Thrones) Danny Rand never quite recovered from his awkward first impression. I actually think the struggle for Danny to find his own identity is quite interesting and potentially compelling, but the investment was not quite there due to Jones’ stilted acting and line delivery. His love interest and fellow Game of Thrones alumni Jessica Henwick fares a little better as Colleen Wing. Her her dogged demeanor hides a deep seated rage that shows itself in some of the more intense fight scenes in the show. I found the rest of the cast to be somewhat hit and miss. Characters like Harold Meachum (David Wenham, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King) are very strange and oddly compelling, but there are also characters like Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez, Need for Speed) that fall completely flat. Because of this, the show is incredibly uneven throughout its run. It often felt like characters within the same scene were from two different shows.
With a weak lead character and uneven acting, the plot itself was not helped by any of these aspects. The show starts in a sort of fish out of water tale where an alienated Danny comes back to an unfamiliar home, then shifts to a corporate drama of sorts where Danny and his business partners, the Meachum family struggle with each other as well as deal with influence from some unsavory associates. The plotline then moves more the mystical where The Hand becomes more involved with events and Danny has to deal with them as well as uncover the truth about the death of his parents. At times it feels like Iron Fist does not quite know what type of show it wants to be which makes it difficult to get invested in the actual events and how that affects the characters. There is one plotline later in the series that actually may be a sly reference to the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie which actually made me chuckle, although it also made the antagonists’ ultimate goal somewhat unclear.
Like many other aspects of the show, the action is a bit of a mixed bag. Quite a few of the action scenes are fairly unimpressive while moving the plot along as needed, but there are a few standouts that are very impressive. To his credit, Finn Jones is actually involved in quite a few of his own action scenes and he does fairly well. Because of this, they were able to shoot many of the actions scenes clearly. Because Jones himself was involved, it also lead to some of the action looking a little clumsy at times. While many of the early fights are fairly entertaining, they are fairly straight forward against severely outclassed opponents. Later on in the series, Danny has a few very compelling battles against skilled combatants. These brawls are certainly the best that the show has to offer, but unfortunately seem to be the exception rather than the rule. Colleen gets a couple fantastic fights herself with her underground cage matches being a highlight. Because of many of the more middling action scenes, it is easy to write them all off as being underwhelming, but the fights that are done well are incredibly impressive and should not be ignored.
I’m now going to mention the cultural appropriation aspect of Iron Fist. The fact is that cultural appropriation is just inherent in the character’s conception as he is a product of his time. Danny Rand has always been a white man, so Marvel did not pull and Ancient One here but I can appreciate the fact that Marvel has not done the best job representing Asian characters as major players in their franchises (besides the incredible Melinda May from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Iron Fist surprisingly does an okay job of avoiding controversial topics, but it does this more so by completely ignoring this within the series for the most part. There are still some hilariously awkward scenes where Danny is quoting generic Asian proverbs to an Asian person while besting them in martial arts. These scenes are played seriously with seemingly no awareness whatsoever. The show actually implies some interesting ideas about how Danny actually acquired the power of the Iron Fist and I feel they had a bit of a missed opportunity here to address some of the cultural aspects of the character. As I stated earlier, identity is a large theme in the series and I honestly enjoyed that aspect of the show. Danny has returned home from a strange land where he was an outsider. When he comes back to New York, he is still an outsider there as well. This actually comes up a couple times in the show but is not really explored. Like the plotlines in the show, certain themes come up but are dropped and replaced with other themes quite quickly giving the show a very inconsistent feeling.
After watching Iron Fist, I found that I was not interested in where Danny path will lead him. While I don’t think this show is a complete failure, its biggest flaw is that it is not very interesting. The show’s plot and themes are quite middling and the character of Danny Rand himself is not a very compelling hero. I would not recommend this show to those who are not invested in the Marvel Netflix shows. Even those who are following these shows, you may find that this show may not hold your interest as much as the past Netflix programs. The only thing this show really accomplishes is the introduction of Danny in preparation for The Defenders show. Danny has potential as a character so I do hope the give him more compelling material in the future, but currently Iron Fist just lacks impact.