Take a moment and imagine: A rich, privileged white guy with more arrogance than brains loses everything. After going missing in a foreign land, they return after many years as a brilliant fighter having trained with a powerful mentor. Sound familiar?
It's been done a dozen times, not least of all by Marvel who recently released Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as an arrogant neurosurgeon who trains with the mystical masters of Kamar-Taj. Iron Fist follows a very similar story that falls down all the same tropes.
Travelling with his parents, Danny Rand’s flight crashes, leaving only the young boy alive and stranded in an unknown, frosty land. Monks take Danny in, training him in martial arts and mastering Chi, all to fight the villainous Hand.
Fifteen years later and the young man - played by Game of Thrones alumni Finn Jones - is back in New York, trying to get his father’s old company back. However, the Meachum family - who are old family friends - have taken full control of the company and don’t believe the now shoeless Danny is the same boy who went missing all those years ago.
Whereas viewers may expect a person who has trained with monks for 15 years to be a thoughtful, caring person, Danny is a complete asshole; a self-absorbed, narcissistic, naive man who demands billions from the Meachums without offering any real proof of his true identity. Unlike the equally arrogant Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne or Stephen Strange, Danny has no redeeming features; the audience is given no reason to like this unfunny hero - we’re just expected to because he’s the titular character.
Perhaps, if the villains were interesting, we would be united in a common enemy. But the Meachum family - Jessica Stroup’s Joy, Tom Pelphrey’s Ward and David Wenham’s Harold - are no Kingpin, Kilgrave, or Cottonmouth. They’re merely a wealthy family looking to retain their billions of dollars and have an entirely boring family dynamic.
Unfortunately, for the first three episodes, they’re the main attraction. That is until The Hand finally come into the fray. As anyone who has seen both Daredevil series will tell you, when The Hand - a group of heroin-producing ninjas - appear, it’s never a good sign for the show’s quality.
While that was the case with Daredevil, here it’s the opposite as The Hand inject a faster pace the show so desperately needs. Really, these first six episodes should have been condensed to three, maximum. Maybe even two.
Why? Because Iron Fist refuses to have anything inferred by actions. Everything must be said, repeatedly. Two people have sexual chemistry? Make sure to tell the audience. Two characters form a father/son bond? Don’t let that go unnoticed. It becomes tiresome, particularly in episode two when the characters basically explain what happened in episode one - a huge issue for a Netflix show people will no doubt binge watch.
When Iron Fist does touch upon interesting subjects, it barely scratches the surface, deciding to flippantly ignore topics that could make brilliant storylines and, instead, hammering home how Danny is an asshole.
For instance, in episode two, Danny is admitted to a mental asylum filled with people who were promised to be let go after three days, but, after each being diagnosed with further controversial mental problems, were kept imprisoned against their will. One such person befriends Danny, shouting at him to escape while there’s still a chance. Lobotomising Danny is suggested by one of the Meachums.
You almost expect the show to investigate a One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest type storyline, our hero perhaps befriending some of these misfits and discovering their true nature. No. Instead, the episode ends with Danny finally wielding the underused Iron Fist to punch a door wide open and exit, the asylum storyline being forgotten thereafter.
There are multiple instances when this happens - one Martin Shkreli-esque storyline being particularly underused - leading me to wander what could have been. Surely, the writers should have decided on just a few storylines to really focus on, instead of this underwhelming scatter-gun approach that accomplishes nothing particularly significant?
What doesn’t help matters are the actors, none of whom give particularly great performances. Jessica Hernwick as Colleen Wing - a dojo master who takes up street fighting to pay her way - is by far the best new addition to the Netflix Marvel series. She gives everything a certain believability and gravitas that Jones fails to accomplish. If only she were the Iron Fist.
When Carrie-Anne Moss reappears as Jeri Hogarth from Jessica Jones, again, there’s a certain levity brought. She once again nails the role, as does Rosario Dawson who - while shoehorned into the series - manages to steal the spotlight once more.
These two characters, though, act as a reminder to Marvel series past. Luke Cage, Daredevil, and Jessica Jones all had something going for them. Daredevil presented us with Foggy, Matt, and Karen, a loveable trio of characters who were fun to be around. Jessica Jones featured Jess and Trish, two formidable foes that shared a wonderful friendship. Luke Cage brought Harlem to life with great characters like Cottonmouth, Pop, and Misty.
Iron Fist only has Colleen at the moment, and that’s a huge problem. There’s no humour despite Danny being a fish-out-of-water type character (although Marvel has never nailed these jokes, case in point being Thor). The romance is stilted and slightly creepy. There’s no script for these actors to work with, one moment between Danny and Colleen seeming particularly ironic. (“I’m not good at this,” says Colleen. “What?” asks Danny. “Talking,” replies Colleen.)
There is, however, potential. The last episode we’ve been given sees Danny take on a challenge set out by The Hand. There are three stages he must accomplish to progress. While there are some cheesy elements with a master watching over, there’s a The Raid-like vibe. While the fighting sequences - including a very disappointing hallway scene - have so far been lacklustre, Iron Fist could turn things around in the second half. Sure, it would be the first Marvel show to have a better second half than first, but there’s always hope.
So far, though, as you’ve probably noticed, I can’t say Iron Fist is particularly interesting. At this stage, it’s a struggle to get through and by far the worst of Marvel’s Netflix series. I’m here because I loved the other three and want to be fully informed for The Defenders later this year. I hope things pick up - I really do - but, right now, I can’t see Iron Fist being worth the investment.
Postscript: I’ve tried to separate this review from the white-washing controversy that has surrounded Iron Fist. I did, however, speak to Finn Jones about the subject. If you wish to read that interview, go here. You can also read my shining reviews of Jessica Jones (here), Daredevil season two (here), and Luke Cage (here) for comparison purposes.