Marvel’s collaboration with Netflix has produced some truly excellent television in the form of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, and the flawed but still pretty good Luke Cage.
The most recent result of this collaboration comes in the form of Iron Fist, the final stand-alone series before the highly anticipated Defenders crossover mini- series, which has so far been met with a rather hostile critical response with many critics panning it as the worst thing to come out of the MCU. However, while the MCU can and has done a lot better, Iron Fist is hardly deserving of the hostile reaction it has received.
After long thought to have died in a plane crash, Danny Rand suddenly reappears in New York City, having lived in a monastery for the past 15 years and now gifted with a high proficiency in martial arts. As Rand attempts to gain control of the company his father built, he finds himself locked in a battle that he was destined to fight and fulfil his duties as the legendary living weapon dubbed the Iron Fist.
Finn Jones takes the lead role as Danny Rand in a performance that has been largely criticised by critics, but in fairness to Jones, he doesn’t do the worst job in the world. For the most part, Jones is a solid leading man, capable of being a somewhat likeable protagonist and equally adept in looking and acting like a proficient fighter.
Although I will admit that Jones’s limitations are somewhat apparent when a scene calls for him to be intense and aggressive, with it feeling very forced and not quite believable. While not as lucky as his future Defenders co-stars who all managed to nail their characters from the start, I’m still willing to give Jones the benefit of the doubt and am confident that time will ultimately allow him to grow and become the Danny Rand that I’m sure he is quite capable of being.
In the supporting cast we also have some fine turns from Jessica Stroup and Tom Pelphrey as Joy and Ward Meetchum respectably, Danny’s childhood friends who now own his families company, with Pelphrey in particularly giving a fine turn as the deeply conflicted Ward whose alliances are constantly in flux, driving him down a dangerous path of desperation and substance abuse. Although much of the Meetchum’s subplot is devoted to frankly boring corporate boardroom antics, that I frankly really didn’t care much for, with much of it feeling like padding.
Jessica Henwick easily gives the best performance of the series as Colleen Wing, a martial arts master who becomes Danny’s ally in his fight against evil. Henwick makes for a wonderfully charming and likeable sidekick, but one who is no mere pushover with her coming across as a formidable presence, with great martial arts skills to prove it. Henwick is that good in the role that I honestly wouldn’t mind if the series was re-focused around her as the Iron Fist, she gives a much more engaging performance than leading man Jones does at the moment, and her character is just a lot more likeable.
The crucial thing for every great superhero is that he has a great villain for which to do battle against, and in the previous Marvel/Netflix shows we’ve had a largely great slate of villains. We’ve had Daredevil’s formidable mastermind, Wilson Fisk, Luke Cage’s sympathetic and complex Cottonmouth and Jessica Jones’s downright monstrous and terrifying Kilgrave is easily one of Marvel’s best villains in both film and television.
With such great and interesting villains in the previous series, it’s such a shame that Iron Fist doesn’t really have any effective villains. Instead, the series largely alternates between the secretive group dubbed the Hand, returning from season 2 of Daredevil and eventual villains in The Defenders, and the Meetchum’s supposedly dead father Harold, with neither being particularly intimidating or even that interesting.
Harold Meetchum in particular as played by David Wenham is a particularly disappointing villain, with him spending most of the series strolling around his luxury penthouse giving clichéd villain speeches. I’ll give Wenham credit on his performance though as he is clearly having great fun with the role and that while he’s a lacklustre villain overall, I did find him to be an incredibly entertaining one, with his somewhat hammy performance being great fun to watch.
The series also suffers from the same problem that blights all of the Marvel/Netflix shows, in that it has too many episodes and not enough of a story, with much of it feeling painfully padded and stretched to fit the 13 episodes, with the pace often slowing to a grind to fill the episode runtimes.
There are also several plot threads that could have ended much earlier such as the Harold Meetchum story, but for whatever reason the writers feel the need to stretch it out longer, and the business with the Hand soon becomes tiresome and frankly boring with it often feeling like the actors are spouting the same dialogue worded differently throughout the series.
What the series lacks in good villains and a story it just about manages to make up for with its action and in this department Iron Fist is largely successful, with some pretty entertaining fight sequences.
While the fights in the first few episodes are a little bit disappointing, the fights in the later episodes are, in my view, some of the finest action scenes seen in the Marvel/Netflix shows since Daredevil, with it relying heavily on strong fight choreography and stunt work, which is a welcome change from the rather dull and one-sided ragdoll tossing-fests that dominated Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.
While Iron Fist is the weakest of the Marvel/Netflix partnership, it’s hardly the abomination that some of the harshest reviews suggest. With mostly fine performances, especially from an excellent Jessica Henwick and an entertainingly hammy David Wenham, coupled with some decent action sequences, Iron Fist is a decent addition to the Marvel canon that with some refining and better writing has the potential to grown into a show that ranks among the best that the MCU has to offer.
[rating=3] | Graeme Robertson
Crime, Action | USA, 2017 | 15 | 17th March 2017 | Netflix Originals | Creator: Scott Buck |Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick, Jessica Stroup, David Wenham