Iron Fist is the final member of upcoming Marvel team The Defenders to have his own series. Said series has been steeped in controversy centring on accusations of whitewashing and reviews of the first six episodes have painted it as, in a word, bobbins. As my first review of something other than a videogame on this blog I’m taking a look at it, having finally made myself finish it earlier today. For the record I know nothing about the comic on which it’s based, but I loved the previous three Defender series Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.
The series focuses on Danny Rand, basically Bruce Wayne but with magic powers, who after spending the fifteen years prior to the story learning martial arts in a hidden city called K’un L’un returns home to take over his Father’s company. Danny has been declared legally dead however, thought to have been killed in the plane crash that killed his parents. The result of which is said company is now run by his childhood friends; Ward Meechum, a sweaty man with a drug problem channeling the villain from an 80s straight-to-video PSA about workplace conduct and his sister Joy, a straightwoman of sorts who believes and supports whomever the script needs her to. Herein lies the first major problem with Iron Fist: the dreadful, thinly-spread “Mr Robot”-lite corporate intrigue. See, Danny wants to take over his company and fulfill his identity as Danny Rand, head of Rand enterprises. He apparently wants this so much that it interferes with his destiny (a destiny he spent years working towards and fought for) as the Iron Fist- defender of K’un L’un. He even abandoned his post for it. So you may be surprised that apart from a few brief appearances early on once he regains control of the company he completely ignores it. Its primary function is to give Ward and Joy something to do, largely cleaning up the mess made by Danny when he decides Rand should focus on helping people over profits (this lasts a few episodes before being unceremoniously dumped) and to give Danny Intel on The Hand, who are using Rand as a front for heroin distribution. The Hand, last seen in Daredevil Season 2, are an evil ninja group who Danny, as the Iron Fist, is the sworn enemy of and has been trained to destroy. They also have a potentially interesting subplot involving a sect of The Hand apparently working for the betterment of New York and battling the more malevolent main group, but this goes literally nowhere when the very next episode it’s revealed that they’re just as evil. Plot holes and muddy characterisation abound, especially with whom the final villain turns out to be, and worst of all the times when Danny either doesn’t use his martial arts skills or, worse still, does use them and gets knocked flat on his arse. It’s compounded by often poor writing, with characters boldly claiming something along the lines of “No wonder [plot point]” when another character needs to know something. At one point when asked to form a team of warriors to fight evil, Danny replies “C’mon, I’m a billionaire!” despite having spent the previous nine episodes telling everyone he meets that he’s “The Iron Fist, sworn enemy of The Hand/defender of K’un L’un”.
The other main problem is the baffling lack of fight scenes, and the general poor quality of them when they do turn up. The titular Iron Fist is a weapon formed by Danny channeling his Ki into his fist, causing it to glow and become super strong for one hit, whether it be something hitting said fist (a bullet or melee weapon, for example) or Danny punching something. He barely uses it, and when he does its impact is on par with Luke Cage’s skin, but only for a split second. The rest of the time he relies on wushu mixed with various animal style stances, which mainly comes across as impractical compared to say, Daredevil, who brings out flips and spinkicks as finishing moves and when he needs extra power, and leads with more practical punches, knees, throws and the like. It also only works some of the time, as best exemplified by a fighting tournament Danny enters with a swaggering confidence that is almost immediately knocked out of him, only bringing it back at the end after stumbling through two fights he barely wins. Finn Jones handles himself fine, but does look a tad unnatural when compared to Jessica Henwick as Coleen Wing, whose fights have a lot more weight to them. Also it becomes increasingly obvious as it goes on that fights take place in dark locations to hide Finn Jones’ Stuntman/men. Occasional fun fight scenes like the one against a bodyguard proficient in Drunken Fist shine brighter still when contrasted against the usual fight scene structure of Danny versus a goon or two, after half an hour of corporate shenanigans.
It’s not all bad though. Wai Ching Ho’s Madame Gao plays a prominent role in the series, taking the main villain role until the very end when a far inferior option takes her place for a woefully bland finale. Ahem. Sorry, back to positivity. Gao is easily the best thing about Iron Fist, running rings around far less intelligent, less prepared characters with a sinister, reserved confidence. The change in tone from Daredevil works surprisingly well in her case, as if she understands she’s in a different world and adapts so as to better get inside people’s heads. Jessica Henwick is solid as Coleen Wing, Rosario Dawson is always good as Claire but her character transitions less easily than Gao, and it’s clear this material isn’t nearly as good as the previous Defenders series. Finn Jones does a decent job as Danny, but of all the characters hampered by the writing he arguably fares the worst due to being the protagonist.
Overall Iron Fist is really rather bad. It has its moments, and Madame Gao saves every scene she’s in, but all the corporate intrigue involving Rand enterprises, Joy and Ward is a pointless, boring waste developing characters I don’t care about, and Danny’s character is in a tug-of-war between business man and martial artist that results in him doing little of either, with not a lot of that being particularly interesting. The worst of the four Defenders and a big misstep for Marvel, it’s unfortunate that the best thing about Iron Fist is what it does to build on Season 2 and set up Season 3 of Daredevil, and not anything it does for its own character.
By James Lambert