Way back in 2012, I wrote an article on comic books that I felt should adapted to the screen. Note the top entry? Yes, that’s right. I have been pining for an Iron Fist adaptation for five years now. But unlike so many of my other dreams that never come true (damn it, I will own an actual X-Wing one day!), we’re actually getting an Iron Fist series in just a few days time thanks to Marvel and Netflix! And it apparently stinks! *sob*
This bit of soul crushing news comes courtesy of the first round of reviews that have popped up online after Marvel made available the first six episodes of the Netflix series – the fourth series following two seasons of Daredevil, and a season of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage apiece, all pretty well received by critics. And saying that these same critics have not been kind to Iron Fist is a severe understatement. Before I cry too much let me explain why this is such a major disappointment:
The Iron Fist comics are awesome retro Shaw Brothers-styled kung fu fantasy adventures that follows Danny Rand (Finn Jones), a wealthy industrialist who stumbles across the mystical city of K’un L’un when his plane crashes down in the Himalayas. There he discovers and is accepted into an ancient civilization and eventually becomes their “immortal weapon” aka champion Iron Fist, by literally punching a dragon in the heart. Returning home to New York after being assumed dead, he uses his newly acquired magical kung fu powers to battle villains and even engage in Mortal Kombat-esque fighting tournaments with other even cooler Immortal Weapons. Oh and he also tries to revive and run his family company.
Everything except that last bit sounds like it could make for an incredible story on-screen. Marvel have apparently chosen to focus on that last bit. And unsurprisingly, the result is an absolute bore. That’s according to some of these reviews:
The reality is that the Finn Jones-led, New York City-based middling Iron Fist is much more in line with a Big 4 show like Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.E.I.L.D. than what we’ve come to expect from the Marvel-Netflix team-ups. The fantastic Henwick’s cage match-winning Wing and Dawson’s Temple (back for her fourth Marvel series) kick it, but Jones’ Iron Fist simply lacks the swagger, originality and, despite thrusts at the corporate world, relevance of predecessors like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. With as well none of the artistry of FX and Marvel’s Legion, Iron Fist is too slow-paced with little payoff.
Netflix has only provided reviewers with the first six episodes of Iron Fist’s 13-episode season, but watching them was baffling experience. After Jessica Jones (a revelation), Luke Cage (flawed but still brilliant) and Daredevil (outshone by the competition but still very solid), I fully expected Iron Fist to be a decent adaptation ultimately hobbled by an unwillingness to stray too far from its dated source material. Instead, I found myself incredulously texting coworkers who also had screener access to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.
…the fight scenes in this martial arts hero show are, well, bland. Nothing in these episodes approaches what Luke Cage or either season of Daredevil did by combining choreography, cinematography and emotional stakes into scenes that riveted the viewer. An entire episode about Danny fighting Themed Assassins was barely worth sitting forward in your seat for.
The problem is that Iron Fist is virtually all talk — most of it painfully dull — and the fighting is both brief and unconvincing. It’s easily the worst of the Netflix Marvel shows — where the others tend to start off well and then run into massive pacing problems around episode 8 or 9, Iron Fist begins as if it’s already at that sag point — and an unfortunate illustration of the perils of miscasting…
The action scenes throughout the first six episodes are few and far between, and when they come, they’re filmed and edited in a manner where it becomes hard to tell what Danny is doing, or if he’s remotely the brilliant fighter he’s being sold as. The first few fights have all the actors, Jones in particular, moving so slowly and tentatively, it feels like they filmed the first rehearsal and moved on.
..Making a show about a glorious fighter who doesn’t fight all that often, or well, is a pretty big stumbling block, but it wouldn’t be a fatal one if the rest of Iron Fist weren’t such a drag.
This isn’t to say that Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage have been shows without flaws… Each show, though, has had virtues of tone and aspiration that made it feel like a complicated superhero TV code had been cracked. Iron Fist feels like a step backward on every level, a major disappointment that already suffers from storytelling issues through the first six episodes made available to critics and would probably be mercifully skippable in its entirety if it weren’t the bridge into the long-awaited Defenders crossover series…
It’s unclear if Jones’ lack of physical authority is dampening Iron Fist’s ability to be an action show or if Iron Fist’s lack of interest in being an action show has negated Jones’ ability to display physical authority. For five episodes, Danny’s fights are weakly staged and all-too-brief, without any effort to even pretend that the show’s leading man is doing any of his own stunts. Danny’s strength and his enhanced abilities are barely explained and inconsistently depicted, and an inordinate percentage of the early episodes is spent on Danny Rand, Generic Corporate Regulator, rather than Danny Rand, the Iron Fist. The sixth episode is the first time Danny participates in any sustained action, but even with renowned kung fu cinema aficionado RZA behind the camera, little in the choreography or presentation is memorable.
Quite a few dramas in the streaming arena have pacing problems, and even Netflix’s better Marvel programs have displayed an affinity for contrived, time-killing subplots. But “Iron Fist” is the most frustrating and ferociously boring example of Netflix Drift in some time.
Not one element of this plodding piece works. The action scenes lack spark, snap, and originality. None of the flat, by-the-numbers characters makes any lasting impression. And as origin stories go, the tale of Danny Rand (Finn Jones), at least as rendered by this creative team, is about as exciting as a slice of Velveeta cheese left out in the sun too long. It takes forever for anything to happen on “Iron Fist,” and as it stumbles along, the uninspired production design, unexceptional cinematography, and painful dialogue fail to distract the viewer from the overall lack of depth, detail, or momentum.
Good luck, bingers: Getting through two episodes was a challenge.
According to lore, a boy punches a dragon in the heart in a mystical dimension and gets bestowed with an otherworldly power. When we meet him, he’s a man coming back to run a corporate conglomerate. It feels like we skipped the best part. With Iron Fist, why he comes back isn’t answered with any haste. Instead, we’re distracted by hatchet-wielding Triads, and hypnotized into naps by long meetings involving corporate tax strategy. It leaves Iron Fist a confused, choppy mix of the supernatural seen through the lens of business casual.
Some have written about the fact that The Hand was incorperated into Daredevil’s second season as a way to open up the supernatural aspects of this world in a more overt way, because Iron Fist is the most “out there” of the Defender storylines. But the Iron Fist series takes no real joy in this, and instead gives us a plodding tale of corporate injustice, only flirting with a more engaging visual and storytelling style. Any of these elements could be interesting on their own, but they come together here in a largely humorless melange of tone.
The sad truth, however, is that Iron Fist is the weakest of Marvel’s Netflix series to date. As far as diversity, representation, and appropriation go, the series fails in a number of ways. But, over the course of its first six episodes, it also manages to fall short on basic levels like storytelling. Its creative laziness bankrupts the entire show. Marvel’s new series is a disappointing case study in studios needing to try harder to tell difficult stories well.
Yet again, Marvel devotes a whole hallway fight scene to its new hero, but instead of the bruising chaos that came with past Netflix series, Iron Fist gets a stiff sequence, complete with hatchet-wielding Yakuza fighters, where it feels like no one is in any real danger. To be clear: Iron Fist is a hero whose main power is punching people really hard. Buck and company have done a decent job of making Jones’ hand glow in the dark and punch through walls. But more often than not, Danny comes across as a college student come home from studying abroad, perplexed as to why no one gets his newfound love of yoga.
Well, ouch. To be fair though, irrespective of how damning these and other reviews get, all of them acknowledge that the show has some very good moments, most of them seemingly surrounding Jessica Henwick’s actual martial arts badass Colleen Wing. This still sounds pretty terrible though, like showrunner Scott Buck has just doubled down on everything fans did not like about Marvel’s previous Netflix series, and then also decided to ditch all the great action choreography fans actually loved.
As the final chapter before crossover Defenders miniseries that sees Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist all teaming up, I will still be watching this just like so many other fans out there. But I’m probably going to doing so while fighting back the temptation to punch my fist into my TV screen. We’ll find out next week, when Iron Fist premieres on Netflix on 17 March.