Nearly three and a half years after initially being announced, Marvel and Netflix have finally brought together their Defenders team. While not a functioning unit just yet, the groundwork has been laid out and we’re finally up to Iron Fist, the proclaimed “Final Defender.” The controversy and press around this series has been, to say the least, polarizing, but what does a casual Iron Fist fan such as myself have to think?
The truth: it’s not that bad! In fact, I’d say it’s pretty good and I don’t think much of the criticism was entirely warranted. Sure, it’s not perfect, but I enjoyed it more than Luke Cage, even in its earlier and arguably weaker episodes. Iron Fist follows Danny Rand, an orphaned billionaire as he comes back to New York City. However, he’s now the Iron Fist, a mystic warrior from the city of K’un-Lun, and with that title comes its numerous share of problems. As you can imagine, bearing powers of this caliber aren’t going to make things easier for Danny, as he soon finds out.
As the oddest of the four Defenders, Iron Fist carries a good amount of mythology and mysticism with him. While this has been seen in the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, attempting to do it on a television budget is a complicated endeavor. The show itself does a solid job at bending the mythology in ways as to making Danny and his baggage fit in with the likes of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. Sure, you get glimpses of this fabled city, as well as relying on Danny’s backstory and mythology to add some mystical aspects to the show, but it’s quickly stated that you’re on the streets here, not in the clouds. In particular, in the show’s opening episodes, Danny deals with a massive struggle to prove that he is, in fact, Danny Rand and that the story of the Iron Fist aren’t a product of insanity.
Finn Jones of Game of Thrones fame assumes the titular role of Iron Fist/Danny Rand. Jones does a fine job as Danny Rand, but not without some stumbles along the way. Danny isn’t an overly complicated character, and for the most part Jones delivers. His interactions with Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) and both Joy and Ward Meachum (Jessica Stroup and Tom Pelphrey) are genuine, and you can tell that he’s a good person. However, Jones at times struggles with making some of the already weak lines any better, often coming across as a bit too childish. Danny is still learning what it means to be the Iron Fist and isn’t fully grown as a character, even by the series’ conclusion, but those childish behaviors are often a source of his own moral conflicts and PTSD he struggles with throughout.
The show’s supporting cast also plays it safe as well, doing their best with the material given to them. Both Pelphrey and Stroup have a great dynamic together and with their father, Harold. (David Wenham) Pelphrey receives the more interesting of development of the two, and the characters are quick to let him know how unpleasant of a person he is, showing a sense of awareness to everyone. Rosario Dawson also re-appears as Claire Temple, who only grows more humorous and enjoyable with each season she takes part in. At times, Danny is saying something so overly-dramatic and ridiculous, to which Claire will respond with the most realistic of responses, often giving levity to a dire situation.
It’s Henwick’s Colleen Wing who comes through and makes her mark on the show, though. While Marvel Netflix isn’t lacking in solid and varied female characters, Colleen’s own arc is intertwined with Danny’s, as both characters seem to grow off one another. Truth be told, Colleen can handle herself and she, at times, is the one who gets him to move forward with the task at hand. Even by the series’ conclusion, she has gone through her own arc and drastically changed as the character you see in the show’s opening scenes.
With praise also comes flaws, as to be expected, but Iron Fist differs from Marvel Netflix in which there are indeed numerous problems, none of which cripple the entire show to making it unwatchable or boring. (As so many claim) The most obvious is that the stunt work, especially early on, lacks. By comparison to Daredevil, Netflix’s golden standard, the show seriously is a few notches under it at the beginning. Even as it gets better and becomes more refined, it still never has a moment of wonder like each season of Daredevil has. One would expect it to have been the best of the best, given the martial arts and various styles present in the show, an aspect that should have definitely been better handled.
The acting itself is also, as previously mentioned for solely Jones, just fine. While Jones works as Iron Fist, Dawson continues to excel as Claire, and Henwick does fine as Colleen, everyone else does an alright job. There’s no stand-out performances here and it definitely shows that there’s a limit to everyone’s acting ability (And the direction) when the weakest of the dialogue comes their way.
While the writing in itself is hit or miss, the show does an excellent job of incorporating every aspect of the plot and making it important and relevant. Past seasons of Daredevil, for example, had sub plots with Foggy and Karen (Namely season one) where it would ruin the momentum of what was going on with Matt. Iron Fist does the opposite and keeps the momentum going, as Danny’s duties as the Iron Fist and his ongoing issues with Rand Enterprises become one in the same, of which are best not spoiled for the sake of going in without much prior knowledge.
Iron Fist, as previously mentioned, becomes more interesting and engaging as the show goes on, seeing as it becomes more and more obvious as to where the possible future seasons will go, including what may be in store for The Defenders. Without spoiling it, the show stumbles a bit in its final episode, as it hits a high point in episode 12. Episode 13 is a solid way to wrap up the first season of the show, but the level of drama and intensity reached in the penultimate chapter simply isn’t matched upon its conclusion.
While it never reaches the level of excellence that Daredevil or Jessica Jones had in their previous seasons, Iron Fist manages to defy the critical reception and deliver an enjoyable take on the Iron Fist character, setting up big and interesting things for the Netflix mythology being worked upon. While not without faults, it manages to be better than Luke Cage in many aspects, and even manages to carve out its own identity in the ever-expanding MCU. There’s a high standard set for Marvel Netflix, that I often contribute to, but just because it isn’t among the highest of highs the service has created doesn’t necessarily mean it’s of the lowest of lows, either.