By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
Having just binge-watched the first half of Netflix's Iron Fist, which is their fourth Marvel series (behind the outstanding Daredevil, gritty Jessica Jones and soulful Luke Cage), and the final cog in the upcoming Defenders series, I find myself with mixed feelings for the show. Iron Fist's first season is available on Netflix.
Yes, this is another comic book story about a lost billionaire heir, who finds himself in a strange and foreign land. During his years in the wilderness, he learns the ways of mysticism and martial arts. He returns home, to the real world, where he needs to win back what's rightfully his, fit into a new society as well as battle an unknown evil.
If that spiel seems formulaic, it is because we've lived it a dozen times before.
It is Bruce Wayne wandering to Nanda Parbat to join the League of Assassins, Oliver Queen picking up the bow in Lian Yu, Tony Stark emerging from a terrorist stronghold in the MK I Iron Man suit, Dr. Stephen Strange searching for a cure through the mystical arts in Tibet.
Iron Fist's origin story is derivative, predictable, even. Yet, the show spoonfeeds us excessive doses of the same backstory scenes that it merits its own drinking game.
The use of flashbacks, a trope that TV show Arrow has used to tell a story within a story, serves as filler in Iron Fist for whenever Danny Rand has a mental seizure or comes to terms with his past. By episode 4, we've seen his parents die more time than Thomas and Martha Wayne in all Batman movies combined.
In the case of Danny Rand, who lost his parents in a plane crash near a mystical land of K'un-Lun (that is interdimensional and only appears every 15 years), he is saved by monks who supposedly beat him continously as a way to train him to become a living weapon. For some reason, Danny appears, barefoot and ragged, in modern day New York City and tries to walk into his old life, like nothing happened.
For a man that's endured limitless pain and suffering, Danny Rand comes off as naive, whiny and a bit clueless. He's a Kung-Fu master, yet fails to anticipate the threat of danger, betrayal and often lets his own rage and impatience get the best of him. I'm hopeful that Finn Jones will eventually fill out the character and elevate the hero by the end of the first season. There's layers of complexity to Danny Rand and Iron Fist seems buried somewhere in there.
The enemies that Danny faces in the show are greedy corporate barons with shadowy agendas, their snooty kids, and Daredevil's old foes, the Hand as well as .There's no shortage of thugs and paid goons that serve as cannon fodder for Iron Fist and his reluctant ally Coleen Wing (played by Jessica Henwick) to beat up on.
Overall, Iron Fist shows some promise. Aside from Coleen Wing and Jenny Hogarth (reprised by the inimitable Carrie-Ann Moss) none of the characters are initially likeable. If you stay past episode 4, things do pick up considerably. We get that hallway fight scene, a cameo from Rosario Dawson (as Claire Temple) who is the common thread that ties all the Defenders together. Dawson is one of the show's saviours. Not only is the development of Claire Temple (from helper to hero, casualty to combatant) an interesting arc, she's a voice of reason and sense. Without Dawson and Carrie-Ann Moss, this show would be in complete shambles.
This was supposed to be Marvel's King-Fu series and while the episodes are tritely titled (Under Leaf Pluck Lotus, really?), I have yet to see a Daredevil-level beatdown. Coleen Wing's cage match seems to be the defining martial arts moment so far and I kept asking myself, "why couldn't this show just be about her?"
I think that after the first three Marvel and Netflix shows, the expectations for Iron Fist was that it had to be better and splashier than its predecessors. Personally, I was expecting Yuen Woo-Ping level fight choreography, with Ip Man-like slo-mo scenes and more impactful use of martial arts. I might still get that in the last half of the series, but I'm struggling to connect with the characters and their motives which is something that came naturally for me when watching Luke Cage and Daredevil.
Iron Fist simply fails to deliver in terms of fight scenes, it fails to deliver credible or likeable lead characters and the villains are so one-dimensional that they feel like a poor parody of something we've seen before.