Iron Fist is a struggle. It’s not just the 13 episode run (too long), or the hour long episodes (ditto), but it’s also the fact none of it is terribly enjoyable or fun to watch. After you watch 13 hours (assuming you decided to stick with it until the end because you’re just that bored) of heroic declarations with no depth behind them, impromptu trips to China, subpar kung fu fight sequences, and a guy earning back his company with zero business integrity, you realize this show is about nothing, really. Marvel finally dropped the other shoe on this one and never attempted to pick it back up.
At the start of Iron Fist, Danny Rand (Finn Jones) returns to New York after 15 years hoping to get some answers. What these answers are and to what questions they correspond, only Danny knows. His plan consists of walking into his family’s company’s business like a homeless man, claim he’s Not Dead anymore, and demand to see Harold Meechum. After being thrown out by security, Danny finds his way in anyway, only to be faced with his childhood friends (frenemies?) Joy and Ward Meechum. They tell him Harold’s been dead for 12 years, and to get out of their office because Danny’s been dead for 15 years and they’re not in the business of giving handouts. Danny is super surprised by this turn of events and goes to pout in a park. The rest of the pilot is a back and forth battle of wills between Joy and Danny, and by the end of it, Danny ends up in a mental institution.
What Iron Fist lacks is character motivation. Or at least, a clear understanding of what Danny wants. For a good part of the first half of the season, Danny says different variations of “I’m the Iron Fist” or “The Iron Fist is the mortal enemy of The Hand, and I must destroy them.” The general audience barely knows about The Hand unless they watched Daredevil, and even then, the threat of The Hand was vague. But they know even less about the Iron Fist. For an origin story, the show is stingy with Danny’s origin of becoming the Iron Fist, only dropping back into flash back during episode 11 to somewhat explain how Danny became who he is. You don’t need to be an Ivy League scholar to understand that information comes far too late in the game. In fact, everything about the show feels like it’s late with its intentions. At some point during production, intention and story got out of sync, and the result was a show that’s haywire and off balance.
Danny is only the tip of the ice berg compared to other characters. Joy Meechum is rather bland, but I could maybe forgive it if her character at least made sense. She spends the entirety of the run time changing her view on business, Danny, her brother. Her slippery morals only change for the sake of the plot and to stir up trouble. Ward is a little more interesting. His drug addiction and his relationship with his father make for some gripping family drama, and it’s his character that shows even a glimpse of character development. The idea of Harold had potential, but the show never really capitalizes on him. Colleen Wing, a dojo owner Danny meets in the pilot, is probably the most likable, but she suffers from a drawn out story whose most intriguing aspects only come to light in episode ten and rushed into conclusion. The only character with real potential is Davos, but again, his appearance comes way too late, and his subsequent reunion with Danny and eventual falling out are difficult to understand because it all happens too quickly.
It’s easy to compare Iron Fist to Arrow. Billionaires return to their city with special abilities after years of being presumed dead. The difference between them is one explains his mission while the other simply declares it. As much as I sometimes thought Oliver’s narration on Arrow was a little too on the nose, it at least gave us an understanding of Oliver’s motives. Oliver returned to Starling City with a list of people he intended to kill because they were responsible for the city’s corruption. Danny says he’s the Iron Fist, and expects people to understand what that means. Although Iron Fist dabbles in the idea of flash backs, they could have taken a page out of Arrow‘s playbook and made them more of a fixture in the storytelling. That way, we could at least understand K’un-Lun, the importance of the Iron Fist, and why Danny has been called to take up the mantel. With no understanding of this, we’re left with hollow conclusions and no sense of what the disappearance of the gate to K’un-Lun means.
So, Iron Fist was a dud. The beauty of these Marvel universes though is the chance to fix it. I don’t believe Marvel has lost their touch, but there’s no denying there needs to be some conversation about the state of the Netflix shows. In a non-online streaming world, I don’t see Iron Fist getting picked up for a second season. But we don’t live in that world, and we’ll see Danny Rand again. Finn Jones was only okay. He wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t great either. My main concern will be how he fairs in The Defenders going up against the likes of Kristen Ritter, Charlie Cox, and Mike Colter. There’s chemistry there. Danny could use some of it.
Marvel’s Iron Fist is now streaming on Netflix.