Marvel’s Iron Fist

March 9, 2017

Home, Review, Television 22 Comments

"...not a complete mess, but it's a significant step down in quality."
Iron Fist

Marvel’s Iron Fist

Travis Johnson
Year: 2017
Rating: NA
Director: Various
Cast:

Finn Jones, David Wenham, Jessica Henwick, Tom Pelphrey, Jessica Stroup

Distributor: Netflix
Format:
Released: March17, 2017
Running Time: 55 minutes x 13 episodes
Worth: $12.50

FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

…not a complete mess, but it’s a significant step down in quality.

Following in the footsteps of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage (and presaging team-up series, The Defenders), the latest Marvel/Netflix series has a lot to live up to – and a lot of now-apparent baggage to shed. Sadly, Iron Fist does neither.

Which is not to say it’s a terrible time, but Iron Fist exhibits a lack of ambition and an inability to effectively define its own identity. It feels by the numbers in a way its predecessors, even when they were working to formula, didn’t. If Daredevil is the opener of the way, and Jessica Jones filtered that narrative model through the lens of a woman’s experience, while Luke Cage steeped it in African American culture and history, then this series does… well, nothing too interesting.

Which may in fact be the best argument for re-imagining Danny Rand as an Asian character, instead of the comics-canonical white guy trained in the mystic East. There’s engaging work to be done in viewing the hoary tropes of the ’70s born martial arts movie through the eyes of, say, a savvy second- or third- generation Asian American.

Instead we get Finn Jones (Game of Thrones) as Rand, long thought dead after being lost in a plane crash along with his parents in the Himalayas, returning to New York City 15 years after the fact. Where’s he been in the interim? Why, learning martial arts in the magical mountain retreat of K’un L’un – hence why he’s now presenting as a shoeless hippie wanderer, a look that doesn’t endear him to the current executives of his father’s former company when he fronts up and informs them that he’d like his billions back, please.

Perhaps the weirdest choice made in Iron Fist is to spend so much time focusing on the machinations and maneuvering involved in Danny wresting back control of his company from his former childhood friends, Ward (Tom Pelphrey) and Joy (Jessica Stroup) Meachum, who are acting as catspaws for their father, Harold (David Wenham, having fun), Rand Senior’s former business partner , who is currently pretending to be dead for nebulous reasons.  If nothing else, Batman Begins handled this entire plot much more quickly and adroitly.

Still we do get some martial arts action, largely from Danny’s reluctant ally, dojo-owner Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), who gets involved in illegal cage fighting in order to pay the bills. And Danny gets some moments to shine, too – his skirmish against a squad of hatchet-wielding Chinese toughs ticks the boxes nicely. But it’s all a bit underwhelming, lacking the audacity and brutality of Daredevil‘s fight choreography, and the casual superhuman power of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. And, forgive us, but isn’t Iron Fist’s whole schtick supposed to be spectacular martial arts?

If anything is a dealbreaker, it’s the series’ failure to fulfill the inherent promise of its premise. We should be seeing some Yuen Woo-ping style wire-fu, some scenery shattering displays of mystic kung-fu power (which we do from time to time, to be fair, but it’s underwhelming), something that takes us above the street-level beat-ups we’ve seen so far and bridges the gap between Daredevil and, say, Doctor Strange. It’s all there in the premise.

But it’s not there in the show.

So far, at least. Netflix put out the first six episodes for review purposes, and it’s possible that Iron Fist picks up significantly in the back half, but it wants to ramp up to an extraordinary degree to make up for its plodding opening act. If there’s one thing Netflix needs to learn – and this goes beyond their Marvel properties to encompass pretty much all their original series – it’s that length is not its own virtue. We shouldn’t have to trudge through hours of makework storytelling to get to the climax. It is, at base, bad writing beholden to a pointless production mandate.

Based on what we’ve seen so far, Iron Fist is for completists only. It’s not a complete mess, but it’s a significant step down in quality.

Comments

  1. Alexander

    Honestly I don’t care if he is white or black, your job is to review the acting, the martial art action, the plot, and the character development, which I did find in this Review, but there is no need at all, to shoehorn the Idea of Racism, when all they did was, respecting the source material.
    Marvel comics division has been getting a lot of controversy for changing their characters’ races and “being politically correct”, so I think that Marvel did the right thing by keeping Iron fist as a white character.

    1. Author
      Travis Johnson

      They could have made him Martian for all I care, but the problem is they made him boring. An Asian-American Danny Rand might have made for a more thematically interesting story, that’s all. As it stands, it seems Marvel decided they needed to have an Iron Fist series, but didn’t bother to figure out what that series should actually be about.

      Sorry that one paragraph out of ten pushed your buttons, though.

      1. Alexander

        I am not disagreeing with you. the Review itself is Fine, but I dislike that you had to mention the Comic book Characters’ Races dilemma. Don’t you think that, if they hired an Asian-American actor, He would have been more of a stereotype, which would have generated similar criticism. I think it is a no-win situation, Marvel would have to either appease the fans or the critics, and since fans are the ones who generate money for Marvel, they went on with it.

        1. Richard J.

          Alexander, just the mere mention of the main character’s race shouldn’t bother you the way it has. It’s relevant to the criticism that “white guy mastering asian stuff better than asians” is well-trodden territory in 2017 and the story could have used something new. And no, a 2nd or 3rd generation asian-american actor would not have been a stereotype. You don’t have those stories yet. Just ask the asians.

      2. Nick Fisher

        This is the thing with every reaction to either a) gender/race/whatever swapping a character, or b) the call to do so in franchises where the main character’s straight-white-male-ness has become problematic.

        It’s not just about hurka durka PC culture precious snowflakes take a concrete pill and harden the… hell… up.

        It’s also just not interesting any more to watch straight white guys (SWGs) do stuff (and I say this as a straight white guy myself). I’ve watched SWGs do -everything-, from wake up in a girl’s body to give us a *cough* hilarious SWG’s perspective on women, to immersing themselves in black/asian/indian/whatever culture, usually to be the saviour of that culture. I’ve seen SWGs rescue the weak woman 347147628346643 times, and take revenge for the weak woman who was killed or raped to get at them (as the centre of the story) just as many times.

        IT’S. JUST. NOT. INTERESTING. ANY. MORE.

        Race/gender/whatever flipping and the change in perspective that comes along with it opens up a whole bunch of new stories, or new ways of looking at old stories, that are just more interesting because we haven’t seen them infinite times before. You don’t even need to be a feminist to think that, just a goddamn movie goer with a brain that exists outside and thinks beyond one’s genitalia.

  2. ComicFan

    I see the Marvel apologists are out today. To the OP above, the reviewer is only saying that we have seen this story a thousand times before and it’s boring…. and he/she is correct.
    To be honest the fighting in the trailer and clip we saw looked subpar so these reviews do not surprise me.
    It’s a utter shame really the concept of Iron Fist at its heart is intriguing but it sounds like as it looks like from the trailer it falls short.
    Add to the fact that they aren’t even giving Rand his suit it just sounds disappointing to be honest and that in itself is disappointing.

  3. Devon

    I don´t think an Asian protagonist coming to save a town from bad guys would have made the character any more intersting, at all. If the writing is flat, the actor is just a pretty face, the plot is boring and the fights are not impressive, then your problems are not complying to PC diversity qoutas.

    1. Author
      Travis Johnson

      Clearly what I’m talking about here is not simply recasting, but using race to stimulate new and hopefully better story ideas. No PC diversity quotas in that, just something we haven’t seen a thousand times before. But yes, you are right in that the show’s issues go well beyond casting but, as I said above, that’s one para out of ten people seem to be getting hung up on.

  4. Neil Mackenzie

    In the comics Danny Rand is a white caucasian character and his nationality has never been confirmed. I think the show is staying true to that. Personally I don’t care what race or nationality the character is, as long as I enjoy the show.

  5. Emily

    I love the idea of a second or third Asian a American being the main character. I rarely see those characters- I’m hoping they are out there and I’ve just missed them- and it would be great to make it the norm rather than something that warrents comment. Cheers for the review. ?

  6. Grant

    Frankly any critic reviewing Iron Fist who *doesn’t* reference its problematic racial politics is either ignorantly or deliberately ignoring an elephant in the room. It was more than appropriate to be referenced here.

    1. Alexander

      There is no problem, Grant. There is no need to make a big deal out of it, But Thinking, that every Martial artist should be an Asian, is quite racist in itself

      1. Grant

        I don’t follow. Iron Fist specifically goes to Asia to become the supreme martial artist. The generic “Asianness” of the concept is right there in Marvel’s comic books, and translated to Netflix. The character was originally created to cash in on the 1970s craze for Shaw Brothers kung fu flicks.

  7. Jonathan Reyes

    Care to elaborate and enlighten us what elephant your speaking of ?…Cause as far as my familiarity with iron fist they have addressed that just fine since the creation with that character making multiple ethnic versions of iron fist

  8. Jonathan Reyes

    You Are Aware Tha Danny Rand Is White In The comics Right ? And You Are Also Aware that there has been more than one iron Fist ? Both An Asia And Female Version, Stop Crying That The Version They Chose Was White And Be Happy It Wasn’t A Stereotypical Asian, As The Character And Especially That Marvel Is Staying True To The Source Material.

    1. Author
      Travis Johnson

      I’d be happier if they made a decent series out of any version of Iron Fist, instead of what we got, which is average at best. Fidelity to the source material is a dodgy metric at best, especially considering people seem to not mind other broad changes, but tend to balk at race. You don’t see people jumping up and down insisting that Luke Cage and Iron Fist should be set in the ’70s, but ruminate on whether a change in cultural background might be an idea and watch the sparks fly.

  9. David

    Dudes. 1 paragraph out 10 said different ethnic casting may have made for a more interesting story. That’s it. Stop already.

  10. Tim

    Damn, I hope that you are wrong in the review. But I’ve felt a slow decrease in quality of the shows.
    First season of Daredevil was great, so was Jessica Jones. But the second season of Daredevil was only great until the second half of the season, then it started to feal unfocused. And Luke Cage (in my opinion) was a bit boring. It was great to see a show with mainly African American actors and what not, but I never felt that Luke Cage as a character wasn’t that interresting.
    When you make a character bassicaly immortal the plot loses nearly all stakes. Then it mostly comes down to his morality, and when that fails, make a gun from alien material that can kill him.
    So, I hope you are wrong, but it feels like you could be right.
    (sry for bad English, it’s my second language ^^’)

  11. Michael

    Jesus, can we review anything anymore without race/gender/etc coming into play? All of you people trying not to be racist end up being the ones who sound more racist. Marvel is just sticking to the source material, bottom line.

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