To make it clear, I don’t exactly find it fair to lump all 13 episodes of a the Iron Fist season, with different directors and writers works on different episodes all judged as one general opinion. It’s not something I regularly do, but in the era of binge…this is what it is. I’ll do my best. And particularly for a series like Iron Fist it feels unfair. There seem to be a few episodes that indeed are more impactful than others. And that in itself, could be the series’ biggest flaw. While it maintains a level of entertainment, this really did feel like some sort of bipolar hybrid of a show. How to balance corporate boardroom drama with kung-fu superhero action? Hmm.
Both seasons of Daredevil had a charm and a grittyness that built and built to climax that left fans spent, Jessica Jones was a flavor all of its own and gave us a type of female superhero story we’ve never seen before in live action, Luke Cage was empowering and meaningful and literally went viral in how it gave an entire community a premiere hero of its own. Iron Fist, as much as I’m a fan of this character….just was missing something. I had damn fun watching the thing, don’t get me wrong. But I just cannot put my finger on what was truly missing here. The usual Netflix/Marvel “je ne sais quoi” seemed absent.
Besides Jessica Jones, a character even the most “woke” Marvel fan likely was ignorant to, Iron Fist is maybe the most difficult Defenders member to adapt. This character was born in the mid-70’s when the western world’s fascination with Asian culture and particularly kung fu was at an all-time high and every young male between 15 and 25 had the fantasy of training in the martial arts and being as cool as Bruce Lee. Comics of course caught onto that quick and comics like Iron Fist, Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu and Richard Dragon emerged. And they were GREAT reads, and still are from a nostalgia standpoint. But the most flamboyant of all was the story of Danny Rand, who was transported to the mystical land of K’un Lun as a boy and raised and trained by monks to become a living weapon, and re-emerging in the U.S. years later as a corporate raider by day and swashbuckling hero-for-hire by night…wearing a colorful green and yellow costume with a super crazy collar and bare chest. That last part is totally left out of the show…for obvious reasons. I’m not sure if the glamour of kung fu is still there for the average North American. What have we not seen at this point? This is the MMA generation. All of the “mystery and fascination” of the East is gone. This could be perhaps challenge #1 for the show.
Danny is played by Finn Jones, who most of us known from Game of Thrones as Loras Tyrell. And I didn’t HATE him in the role, but I never totally engaged with him either. Not like Mike Colter, Charlie Cox or Krysten Ritter, at least. He plays Danny with a childlike personality which is very good and sensible; he never got a chance to fully grow up in many ways. But that is pretty much where the similarities to the Danny Rand I know basically end. He doesn’t seem as lighthearted and playful as Danny, and he never got around to making me actually LIKE him. Danny spends much of the show being angry and rushing into situations without a clear plan. His impulsiveness grew very frustrating.
Jones himself barely has the physique and presence of Iron Fist. Call me a traditionalist, but Iron Fist always seemed to be one of the most physically cut and muscular superheroes, with a stalky body and a wide chest to proudly bear the mark of the Fist. I hate to admit this, but the dragon mark looks pretty small and thin on Jones’ chest. It definitely needed to look more impressive. I know I’m nitpicking here, and he could build up for next season, but it really bothered me whenever he had his shirt off! Not something we’re used to with Marvel heroes, is it?
That being said, I did really like the look of the actual Iron Fist when Danny activates his power, instead of a ball of energy, it looks as though the energy is coming from inside of him, lighting the inside of his hand! Very cool touch. Something the show does that I always enjoyed in the Iron Fist comics is that they save the “fist” for when Danny truly needs to use it. When he fired it up in the comics, it was a big deal and a treat, and the show does the same thing. Kudos to them for recreating that.
The show perhaps focuses on The Meachums more than it should have. Harold, the manipulative former partner of Danny’s father that supposedly died years ago from cancer and his two children, Ward and Joy, who grew up with Danny and now run the Rand company…an industrial corporation that has become very much like Roxxon in the MCU, polluting, cheating and swindling (and even more dirty stuff). Now the Meachums were indeed an important part of Danny’s comic lore, and needed to be a part of this. Ward (played by Tom Pelphrey, who actually does a really great job) is as loathsome as his comic book counterpart (he was Harold’s brother and Joy’s uncle in the comics, and mostly known for giving Namor a tougher time than Iron Fist). He absolutely loathes Danny and bullied him even when they were children, and now has grown into a typical corporate slimeball and a junkie on the side. Joy (played by Jessica Stroup) is more endearing. She always had a soft spot for Danny and is oblivious to her dad’s continuing existence. She is loyal to the company, even with all of its warts. Of all the characters in the series, Joy begins as the most innocent….that surely does not last.
Finally we come to Harold (played by 300 and Lord of the Rings’ David Wenham), who sold his soul to the devil, this being Madame Gao and The Hand (long-time Netflix Marvel baddies), as they use their voodoo to bring him back to life and keep him young, in exchange for them to use Rand to operate their heroin operation in NYC (remember the Steel Serpent heroin from Daredevil season 1?). Harold controls his children (particularly Ward) in his secluded condo via surveillance cameras and manipulates things from a distance…until Danny re-emerges and he attempts to use The Living Weapon to free him from Gao’s grasp. Harold is one of Iron Fist’s most common villains and they utilize the character as they should have. And yes, there are obvious similarities to the Trumps, whether that was on purpose or by coincidence I still have no idea…but it will make you chuckle.
The torrent relationships the Meachums have with each other and Danny are the pinpoint of the show, it seems. With all of the top-notch martial arts and the mysteriousness of K’un Lun and the Hand, we get more dealings with the Meachums than anything throughout the show. Was that what the fans wanted? I would have loved to see more of Danny’s training in K’un Lun and even more of Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) than all of the focusing on the dysfunctional and corrupt rich family. Maybe that’s just me.
Speaking of Colleen, Henwick actually stole a lot of the show for me as one half of the Daughters of the Dragon. She is knockout gorgeous and an endearing character with levels. Wing is a teacher in a dojo in the middle of New York, training inner city youth and getting them ready for the world. There’s more to it, as the show continues, but I will not spoil that. She runs into Danny, who is living in a nearby park with nowhere to stay. The two have an instant connection and you see a romance blossom. We eventually see similarities with the characters and this is beyond all, the most lovable part of the show. Colleen discovers more about herself when she begins cage fighting for money to keep her school open (we get to see her white jumpsuit from the comics). As she aids Danny against Madame Gao, we definitely get to see her signature samurai sword and this is some of the coolest action in the show. If anything, I am upset we do not get to see Simone Missick’s Misty Knight make an appearance, I think a Daughters of the Dragon series would be a huge success with those two.
The action in the show is sadly not on the level of Daredevil, but it is not at all underwhelming for me. The sequences are fun and while the show really should have centered on the kung fu stuff, what we get is pretty impressive, especially in episodes 6 (directed by RZA, this is also my favorite episode of the season) and 8, where we get references to classic kung fu films and lengthy, impressive fight sequences. The show REALLY needed more of that.
We get to meet Davos (Sacha Dhwan), a monk from K’un Lun and Danny’s friend. He appears as a dutiful monk, sent to remind Danny of his vows to protect K’un Lun as well as aid him in his battles against Gao. We do begin to see his dark side emerge, though…and fans of particularly Ed Brubaker’s/Matt Fraction’s/Duane Swierczynski’s Immortal Iron Fist series (that’s ESSENTIAL reading, btw) know of Davos’ fate. Bakuto also makes an appearance as Colleen’s sensei. I simply cannot speak more about him, as very knowledgeable Marvel readers will know what he’s about as soon as they hear his name. This guy takes the show in a very different direction though, and an enjoyable one indeed.
We got a taste of Madame Gao in Daredevil Season 1. We get a lot more of Gao here and the amazing actress that plays her to the hilt, Wai Ching Ho. She is a great villain and creepy as hell. She is a lot of what makes the show engaging. You feel uneasy whenever she is on the screen.
The easter eggs are all over the place and very fun. Carrie-Ann Moss’ Jeri Hogarth is present very often, and she very much should be. Her comic counterpart (a male lawyer named Jeryn) was a confidant to Danny and the executor to the Rand estate. And Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple, the common thread that will bind the Defenders is the show’s conscience. Very often it feels as though Claire is the ONLY voice of reason. And she throws in a few “Sweet Christmases” in there for good measure! Besides that, we get mentions of all of the other Defenders and vague references to the Avengers and the Battle of New York, which is a common occurrence in the Netflix Marvel shows. I still am confused as to why Sokovia, Civil War and recent big MCU events are seemingly off limits. Just talking about the Avengers’ first film, which was quite some time ago seems to date things a bit.
Elephant in the room time. Why couldn’t he have worn a mask or yellow bandana covering his face? There were times when a public figure like Danny Rand could have benefitted by covering his face in his strikes against the criminal underworld and Claire could have easily suggested it, saying a “friend” of hers uses one to conceal his identity or a green and yellow jumpsuit couldn’t have hurt either (we do get to see him wear the colors in a flashback scene in ceremonial K’un Lun robes, at least). Does this stuff hurt the show? It shouldn’t, but seeing it would have been a big payoff for fans, much like Matt Murdock finally wearing his classic DD costume at the end of Season 1. The show NEEDED a payoff very badly.
After all is said and done, I can’t say I disliked Iron Fist Season 1 as a whole, it’s just a lot more could have been done to give it more “oomf”. I don’t want to blame the cast because their work was actually really good (I’m looking at Henwick, Dawson and Pelphrey in particular). Can’t blame the action…it was very fun, they adapted the source material as good as anyone could have. Maybe they actually just did a mystical kung-fu/corporate drama TV series the best way it could have been made. I think the most important thing is that Iron Fist DOES keep you invested enough to finish all 13 episodes. Shouldn’t we be happy with that? Why does it seem like there could have been MORE?!
At any rate, onwards to Defenders! That should be very fun to see another all-star super team get together within the Marvel Cinematic Universe! See you then!