So, I finally got around to my inevitable Netflix binge. Having already read numerous reviews, my expectations were…lowered, to say the least, but I thought I’d give it the benefit of the doubt. Mild spoilers follow.
Succinctly, Iron Fist isn’t terrible. It is, however, very easily the weakest of Marvel’s Netflix offerings (so far), with some fairly glaring weaknesses. These cover the entire spectrum of the production, from dialogue, pacing, choreography, scene setting and composition, direction and individual performances.
The worst (but by no means sole) offenders in all these categories affect the first half of the series, which goes a long way to explaining why the early press screenings of the first few episodes of the series generated so much bad publicity. The first three episodes in particular deserve special mention for their atrocious dialogue and odd story choices. The first third of the series also doesn’t seem in particular to have decided on what Danny Rand’s character actually is - it seems to be hinting that he might simply be insane, or a mentally disturbed PTSD sufferer, then it throws in white saviour and all-loving hero themes, spoilt rich kid, zen hipster and poor man’s Bruce Wayne (sorry for the pun) all without following through properly on any of these characterisations. It later seems to settle on PTSD sufferer to some extent, but doesn’t provide any clear resolution to this. There’s no real arc there for him, the way there is for DD, Jessica Jones or Luke cage.
There are ways they could have addressed this, such as taking the focus from Danny, introducing a sense of mystery, making him more of a force of nature, and focusing on the effect his character has on other supporting characters. It actually looked for a while as if they were trying to do this will Coleen Wang’s character, but couldn’t find a way to make it work.
Alternatively, they could have had cameos from other Marvel/Netflix heroes that would have caused interesting conflicts as we see Danny’s worldview (which I still don’t actually understand) contrasted with theirs. Luke Cage or Jessica calling him on his self-indulgent bullshit, or Matt Murdoch’s weary cynicism contrasting his more optimistic, Zen philosophy, for instance, might have worked well. Having them all have brief cameos to do these things would have fleshed out his character and tied him nicely to their world.
Looking at the story as a whole, the entire structure of the thing seems weaker than it should be. The ‘gaslighting’ episode is placed too early in the narrative arc and seems to be there more to save on budget than to serve any purpose to the story.
The ‘villains’ aren’t entirely ill-used; I enjoyed Ward’s arc, although The Hand, as supposedly the main villains of the piece just didn’t provide high enough stakes for me. The heroes of the Netflix/Marvel series are all supposed to have deeply personal conflicts, and the plot points about his father and uncle weren’t bad, just handled in an mildly uninteresting way. These problems could have been addressed quite easily: upping the stakes for stopping the Hand’s plot (what was it again?) by having them actually threaten something; making the stuff with his father more interesting could have been done by his uncle revealing (or lying about) his father being behind ‘very bad things happening’ in the past (perhaps the Rand Corporation always being a Hand front with his father at the center of it).
The supporting characters are the strongest part of the series, but even they seem weakly used. The Coleen ‘reveal’ is okay - but would have been better handled by introducing more ambiguity, a few more betrayals, and pushing it later into Danny’s arc. Also, the cage-fighting subplot is a non-sequitur that seems to be there in the opening third of the series merely to provide outtakes for Youtube promos - it would have been good for it to actually mean something to the character. I also can’t be the only person to point out she has zero sexual chemistry with Finn Jones.
Lastly, a big shout out to the fight choreography and set production. Just kidding. This is without doubt the weakest part of the series. I’ll spare the obvious parallels with Enter The Badlands - it’s fairly obvious this could have been done better. Partly this is due to Finn Jones resembling a college frat boy who took some martial arts classes. The guy does not look like a trained martial artist. He should. This seems to be a problem with the production of the series as a whole - Jones needed more time to prepare, and the producers needed more time to choreograph the fight scenes. I’m going to leave out any criticism of going with Jones as Iron Fist over Lewis Tan, at least for now. Bluntly, there aren’t enough quality martial arts scenes in what is a martial arts series.
Iron Fist feels like it’s been rushed off a factory floor, to a lower budget than was required, long before it was ready. It needed, from the looks of things, at minimum another year of rewrites, production time and choreography setup before filming. It seems to have suffered principally from a structural weakness in the MCU itself - namely, it exists not because it had a good story to tell, but because it had a schedule to keep. Money (not enough) was thrown at a studio to fit a prearranged time (not enough), not to make a good television series. Moreover, the constraints of working within a shared universe in which related characters and settings that might have improved things are unavailable made the job of producing something worth watching that much harder. That they succeeded in creating something that was actually fairly watchable, if deeply flawed, is actually quite impressive.