The early reviews to Iron Fist weren’t very kind and it seemed like maybe Marvel was on the cusp of its first misstep after truly impressive showings on Netflix with Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. While the series is probably the weakest of the four shows, suffering from some muddled plot lines and questionable story choices, the first season does a lot of things exceptionally well, and perhaps most importantly serves as a proper introduction to Danny Rand as the Iron Fist.
Finn Jones fits into the role well and brings a sort of childlike naiveté and lightheartedness to the character, while others tend to be more into brooding and/or drinking. This is in spite of the fact that his origin is no less tragic than that of his fellow Defenders considering that his parents perished on the plane crash that brought him to K’un-lun, the mystical monastery where he trains to become the Iron Fist. Due to this, Danny’s nature is often humorous when it clashes with the harsh realities that come with living amidst a generally greedy and fickle society, not to mention having to deal with the murderous ninja organization known as The Hand. This should play well when he finally unites with Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Daredevil in The Defenders later this year.
One of the most pleasant surprises found in Iron Fist is the character of Colleen Wing, played wonderfully by Jessica Henwick (Game of Thrones). For starters, she’s a total bad-ass throughout the series and they did a great job of developing her character. There are a lot of levels to her and she really grows as a character as the season progresses. Really, they would have been justified if they had included her name in the title of the show, because it feels like it’s just as much her story as it is Danny’s. Though our other heroes certainly had allies, none of them were as involved in the action as Colleen is. In a way, this too speaks to Danny’s character as he doesn’t constantly insist on doing things alone the same way Daredevil and the rest of the street level heroes seem to operate.
While Henwick and Jones are both good in their respective roles, Tom Pelphrey needs to be recognized for his work as Ward Meachum in this season because he’s absolutely phenomenal. Pelphrey’s role required an astounding amount of subtlety, nuance and flat out unadulterated emotion at times and he delivered on all of that. Though Ward is definitely an ass most of the time, with his actions often being detrimental to Danny’s well-being, you can see that he’s being manipulated by his devious father (played by Lord of the Rings’ David Wenham) and he really struggles to get out from under his thumb. There are a couple of legitimately heartfelt moments between Ward and Danny where the latter takes down the wall he seems to keep up at all times which give us a glimpse at the good side of Ward.
As you’d expect from the show, the fight choreography is really good as is the editing of the fights. There are a few that really stand out like the hallway fight with a bunch of hatchet-wielding Triads, or the bout with a master of the drunken fist fighting style. Surprisingly none of the fights feature a long one take like we’ve seen in Daredevil and Luke Cage, and in general seem a little less flashy than the brawls The Man Without Fear has found himself in. Really though, it’s only a slight detraction from the series on the whole as there are plenty of entertaining displays of martial arts.
More distracting is the story, which does have some problems, mostly due to it being overly complicated. The focus shifts too often and too clumsily from one story beat to another. Whether it’s Danny’s struggle to prove his identity to Joy and Ward, the persistent dangers posed by The Hand or Harold Meachum’s devious plans. Flat out, there are too many antagonists without any of them truly feeling like the big bad of the season.
Strangely, Rosario Dawson’s reprisal of Claire Temple felt so out of place this season that it felt forced in just so she’s aware of Danny, as it seems like she’ll help bring them all together for The Defenders. While she makes several references to her other “friends” and having dealt with The Hand before, it becomes somewhat inexplicable that she doesn’t contact Daredevil. For one, there a nemesis of his as well and unlike Danny, he actually has experience fighting them. While he certainly has skulls to crack in Hell’s Kitchen, you’d think that the threat posed by The Hand would be enough to draw him away from his neighborhood.
Overall, the first season of Iron Fist is not the train wreck early reviews made it out to be, nor is it quite as great as Marvel’s previous Netflix shows, it definitely falls between those two points. The season builds steam as it goes and has a pretty strong finish that certainly leaves the door open for a second season that we’ll hopefully get.
GEEK Grade: B-
Images: Marvel, Netflix
Series Creator: Scott Buck
Writers: Gil Kane, Roy Thomas, Dwain Worrell