Iron Fist (2017)
Iron Fist is the fourth of Marvel’s shows for Netflix, which started off with Daredevil and has also streamed Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.
Of the four shows, Iron Fist is by far the weakest and suffers from a lot of the same criticisms that was levelled at the other trio, the main one being that there isn’t enough story to fill 13 episodes. This is very true of Iron Fist, but more than that, it’s a half-hearted attempt to bring the Living Weapon to the screen.
You get the feeling, if you know anything about the main character, that showrunner/executive producer/head writer Scott Buck is embarrassed about telling a story about a guy who dresses in a skint-tight costume kicking ass and taking names with help of mad kung fu skills and the power to make his fists as hard as iron to fight evil.
In the 70s, Universal wanted to do a Superman TV series, but executives wanted Superman to wear a tracksuit, instead of his iconic costume, needless to say, DC/Warner Brothers told them to do one and we got the Six Million Dollar Man instead.
Kenneth Johnson, who shepherded The Incredible Hulk to the small screen in the late 70s, didn’t want the Hulk to be green, but co-creator Stan Lee insisted he be green, but gone were the trappings of the comic book Hulk in favour of a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde approach which Johnson could live with; and despite this direction or because of it, The Incredible Hulk became an Emmy Award-winning television classic.
Iron Fist has this 70s ‘superhero’ vibe about it and Scott Buck is no Kenneth Johnson, so we get an Iron Fist/Danny Rand (played by Finn Jones) that is an emo kid with PTSD and superpower performance issues and there is no sign of a small screen translation of the classic iron Fist costume. *
At its heart, Iron Fist is Lost Horizon meets the TV series Kung Fu with a smidgeon of Batman, Siegfried and Perseus. Who can go wrong with a log line like that? Apparently Iron Fist can!
What you get is a bare bones translation of the basic story, Danny Rand, son of a successful businessman is orphaned after a tragedy in the Himalayas and found by some monks and taken to the mystical city of K’un Lun where he is raised and taught kung fu and attains the power of the Iron Fist from an immortal dragon (you never see the dragon in the show and K’un Lun is realised by unmemorable CGI in the distant background of a studio-bound set). Rand returns New York as a man to rest his father’s control from childhood friends, the Meachums, while using the iron fist to fight kung fu bad guys.
Even though the Marvel Netflix shows are about more street-level heroes, they still exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that includes a masked man dressed in an approximation of the Stars and Stripes, a Norse God, a genius billionaire in a metal exo-suit etc. Iron Fist is a hero that veers more towards the more fantastical, but the writers beat this into submission with a big stick and gone is any of the sheer joy associated with a character who is a super-powered Chuck Norris!
Previous Netflix Marvel shows had some great fight scenes, particularly Daredevil, for a show about a supposed kung fu master, the fights in Iron Fist are nearly all tame, poorly choreographed affairs and there’s far too few of them, what there is a lot of, is standing around and talking but the talk isn’t particularly interesting and stops any impetus the story has stone dead.
While star Finn Jones isn’t very good with the fight scenes, co-star Jennifer Henwick, who plays the comic’s Colleen Wing – ‘Daughter of the Dragon,’ fares somewhat better, helping Rand/Iron Fist in his tussles with the Hand (evil ninjas, formerly seen in Daredevil) and brandishing a katana.
Colleen Wing really is the breakout character of the show, being that Iron Fist is an insipid shadow of his comic book self – and a fight in the rain against her former master in the latter half of the season, is probably the highlight of the whole series.
Speaking of the Hand, in both seasons of Daredevil, the organisation and its members were portrayed as mysterious and deadly mofos, Iron Fist seems to encounter a branch that is a bit more sedate in the villainy department, though there is a good twist with Colleen Wing mid-run, but the Hand and other main villain, Harold Meachum, played by the talented David Wenham (Lord of the Rings) are no match for the Daredevil’s Kingpin, Jessica Jones’s Kilgrave or Luke Cage’s Cottonmouth.
The final episode has a climax that is limp, unspectacular and cliché and I wasn’t left with wanting to see more Iron Fist. In fact, I’m dreading watching the Defenders, which follows this and teams up the costumed Daredevil with two guys and girl dressed in jeans t-shirts and hoodies!
Along with standout Collen Wing, Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple shows up in some episodes and thank the comic book gods for that, as Dawson is a steady pair of hands, her character is the voice of reason in this show and she gets to kick some arse too!
* Re Iron Fist’s costume, at some point Rand is played some vintage, grainy black and white film of a previous Iron Fist in action (in the Noughties, an Iron Fist series developed the concept that being Iron Fist, was a bit like being The Phantom [incidentally, the first costumed mystery man/superhero]), the photo below is a behind-the-scenes shot from this sequence and actually shows that an Iron Fist costume can be pulled off in a series of this type.
"The next wave of fascism will come not with cattle cars and camps. It will come with a friendly face." - Bertram Gross, "Friendly Fascism"