So I’ve seen Netflix’s Iron Fist show, the last of the Marvel Netflix shows that are lading up to Defenders later this year. I have had mixed feelings about aspects of the Marvel Netflix shows. I enjoyed Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, but also had issues with each, whether it was about Luke Cage exchanging an interesting villain for a one-note revenge-obsessed one, Daredevil occasionally making its lead character too impulsive or unlikable, or Jessica Jones featuring a legal sub-plot that showed poor understanding of the law on the show’s part. But all were enjoyable and some were pretty fantastic in some aspects. All are things the Marvel Cinematic Universe can largely be proud of and learn from. Iron Fist does not fit this same example.
To begin with, I already had a problem with Iron Fist as a character. I think the character’s all right, and can be downright entertaining when his personality gets to banter and bounce off of folks like Luke Cage, Mistry Knight or Iron Fist. The legacy behind him is downright fascinating. But he’s also part of another legacy, that of the Great White Savior or Great White Hope, protagonists in stories where a white guy goes to another culture, learns its secrets, and becomes a more formidable master at those secrets than the people native to that culture. You can say “look, he was made in the 70s,” but that doesn’t change it, it just gives it extra context. Iron Fist is a Great White Hope character just as Tarzan and many others are.
So I knew going into Netflix’s Iron Fist show that this would still be problematic, with the casting of Finn Jones. But I hoped that story, direction, performance and production of the whole series would prove to be up to Marvel Cinematic Universe standards. Even when I’ve found a movie or episode of Daredevil not that great or a bit boring, it’s still had some level of entertainment for me.
This was not the case with Iron Fist. I had lowered my expectations after hearing some bad reviews, and even those expectations were not met. Iron Fist is aggressively boring. The dialogue of each character is bland and weighed down by a desperate need to provide exposition. The editing and production value are all poor as well, with special effects and camera tricks that seem like they are 15 to 20 years old. The show intends to have a mystery about Danny Rand, what he’s been up to since he and his family were presumed dead, what exactly he’s back in New York to find, and what skills he picked up during his absence. But the show goes too far. Danny’s personality and goals are so vague, and we are given no reason to think the best of him, that he comes off as possibly the villain of the show during the first episode. He knows the world thinks he is dead, but offers no proof or explanation of his identity, he simply expects to be welcomed with open arms and given privilege, and attacks those who understandably resist or dismiss him. When he’s asked to leave people alone, he breaks into their homes and then approaches them on the street, getting angry when things don’t go his way, even nearly killing one person in a blind rage when he has no reason to treat them as an enemy. He comes off as a stalker with violent episodes who knows martial arts and has a need to explain Asian martial arts to Asian martial artists as if they are children.
All of that is in the first episode, along with a noticeable absence: stakes. By the end of the first episode, I didn’t see any stakes in the show. No threat Danny needed to stop, no reason to fear for Danny as a character who might be in danger really. He’s abducted in the end of the first episode, but I didn’t care because I have no reason yet to care about him. The only thing that seemed to be threatened was a business deal he didn’t even know about.
Sadly, these problems continue. As the episodes roll out, stakes finally come into play, but in each case they are done away with an episode later. Danny finds a lawyer in one episode who will help him prove his identity and win back his life, and he and the lawyer prepare for a court battle. But an episode and a half after their meeting, there is no need for a court battle, the other side gives in without a fight and Danny is rewarded with new privileges and power, after which he immediately starts telling yet more people what they’re supposed to do, and another character acts as if he’s the first person ever to criticize corrupt business practices and if it’s moral to profit off of suffering. The story and characters are all surface level without any hidden depths, and the stories are given no time for the drama to build, no arc to latch onto. Danny isn’t a character learning to adjust to a world that’s changed, he instead continually expects the world to change for him and, worse, he seems to keep getting vindicated in this belief. He breaks into one woman’s home and engages in stalker-like behavior and she comes to regard him as a friend with good moral points she should consider. He continually disrespects Colleen Wing, injures and berates her students, and refuses to leave when she asks him to, and in return she falls in love with him. He repeatedly asks people for help, but then repeatedly insists he must go into battle alone because he’s a living weapon who doesn’t need help, and people follow his lead.
There are, after five episodes, some bright spots, some decent performances and moments. But it’s too little too late when you only have thirteen episodes to tell a story, and the following episodes don’t do enough to improve on things.
Each episode is a chore to watch. I found it shifting from aggressively boring to just bland and full of more plotholes with each next chapter. A sad misfire for Marvel. Here’s hoping Defenders is nothing like this.