Marvel’s Iron Fist REVIEW
Available on Netflix from Friday
Before we get into specifics, we need to say a couple of things. Firstly, we’re big fans of the previous Marvel Netflix shows here at MCM Towers. Matt Murdock’s appalling life choices aside, all three previous shows are either fun, brilliantly dark, brave or combinations of all three.
Secondly, there are elements of Iron Fist’s production that you simply cannot avoid talking about. Marvel has been mired in various diversity controversies for a while now and one of the biggest is Iron Fist. Lewis Tan, who shows up later in the season as a villain, actually auditioned for the role of Danny before the show went in a more traditional direction. Tan himself has spoken out in defence of this choice but the simple fact remains that the production team had a choice between a white actor with no martial arts training and an Asian actor with years of experience, and went with option one.
Even moving the diversity issue aside – if you can – that training or lack thereof is going to define the show. And believe us, it does.
Iron Fist is hard work. On every level. For a long time. The first two episodes, directed by John Dahl, have almost no manner of pacing and are shot through with this weird green-tinged light that makes everything murky. There are precious few references to the rest of the MCU, or even other Netflix shows until episode three. The origin story of Danny Rand, or rather his attempt to take his origin back, only just finishes by episode five.
For four episodes, at least, this is mostly a corporate drama with occasional face punching. And not a fast-paced one either.
Worse still, the sporadic fights are, with a couple of exceptions, far inferior to anything you’ve seen from Marvel and Netflix before. Jessica Henwick’s work is always impressive but the show takes a full six episodes to settle into the way Finn Jones moves, and the transitions between him and his doubles are janky for a good chunk of that time. Episode six, directed by massive kung fu fan RZA, is a noticeable step up but you have to get through some bad beats to get to it.
Plus, Danny’s harder to like than any other Marvel Netflix character we’ve met to date. Yes, Matt makes terrible life choices. Yes, Jessica is sarcastic and spiky. Yes, Luke is… actually Luke’s pretty adorable isn’t he?
Danny on the other hand varies wildly from arrogantly mansplaining martial arts to moments of random cruelty to childlike compassion and sweetness. And this is not a bug. This is a feature. The show is very clearly written this way and episode six in particular makes the dual nature of his personality overt.
It’s a brave choice. And frequently a very irksome one. You don’t like this guy, quite a lot, for six full hours of the show and that’s a hard ask for anyone to sit through. And this is categorically not Finn Jones’ fault either. His physical work ethic is right there on the screen and his presence in the role is calm and involving. But he can only work with what he’s got and what he has, a lot of the time just isn’t very good.
So is it worth watching?
The gear change in episode six is sufficiently confident and assured that it bodes well for the rest of the season. Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing is flat-out brilliant every time she’s on screen. Jessica Stroup (Joy Meachum) and Tom Pelphrey (Ward Meachum) do good work often despite their scripts. David Wenham’s character (Harold Meachum) is too early to call but he has some good moments in these opening episodes. The guest stars from previous shows that you knew were coming are even more fun than you dared hope for.
And Jones? Jones has worked his behind off for this and that’s impossible not to admire. We think he’s been badly served by the scripts, terribly served by at least one director and handed a role that should never have been his through no fault of his own. He’s made mistakes. Several of them. Publicly. But he’s in there swinging and on a show like this, you have to admire that, just a little.
Iron Fist does very nearly everything wrong. The racial connotations of Jones’ casting, and the way the show treated Lewis Tan, will echo up and down its entire lifespan. The way it treats the martial arts for the first few episodes is profoundly depressing for anyone who’s a fan or a practitioner. The bizarre obsession with the politics of the Rand Corporation almost kills the show stone dead before it even gets going.
And yet, six episodes in, it finally claws some momentum together. Honestly, we’d advise either watching the first and sixth episodes and then pushing on – or maybe the first, fifth and sixth. What you miss won’t be important. What you’ll see is a show fighting the one enemy everyone faces in the end: itself. We hope it wins. But judging by these opening six rounds, it’s going to be one Hell of a close fight.
Come back here on Friday for some episode-by-episode analysis…
Review by Alasdair Stuart