Marvel’s latest entry has been getting an unduly bad wrap. I’ve moved away from written reviews as a way to manage my tendinitis, hence all the podcasts, but this is getting so much negative criticism that I disagree with that I had to say my piece. It’s not perfect, and it’s probably the weakest of the Marvel Netflix series, but naming the weakest Marvel Netflix series is like naming the shortest player in the starting lineup of a professional basketball team. This is flawed, but it’s still good.

Cast and Crew

Finn Jones as Danny Rand / Iron Fist
Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing
Jessica Stroup as Joy Meachum
Tom Pelfphrey as Ward Meachum
David Wenham as Harold Meachum
Wai Ching Ho as Madame Gao
Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple
Ramon Rodriguez as Bakuto
Sacha Dhawan as Davis
Carrie-Anne Moss as Jeri Hogarth

Adapted for the television format by Scott Buck
Scripted by Scott Buck, Tamara Becher, Pat Charles, Quinton Peeples, Scott Reynolds, Ian Stokes, and Cristine Chambers
Directed by John Dahl, Farren Blackburn, Uta Briesewitz, Deborah Chow, Andy Goddard, Peter Hoar, RZA, Miguel Sapochnik, Tom Shankland, Stephen Surjik, Kevin Tancharoen, and Jet Wilkinson

Original Airdate

The series launched on Netflix on Friday, March 17, 2017.

Synopsis

Danny Rand has returned to New York after 15 years in K’un-Lun, where he was trained to become the latest Immortal Iron Fist, a series of living weapons tasked with the protection of the ancient city. His closest friends don’t find it easy to bring him back into their lives.

High Point

Emphasizing the theme of identity. The original character struggled with being an outside, first in K’un-Lun, and then when returning home after knowing only K’un-Lun, but this element that plays a large part in the series was a subtle undercurrent that was underserved.

Low Point

Finn Jones isn’t as perfectly cast as the leads in the other series. He’s not bad, but the rest stepping into their roles so effortlessly just makes his flaws show through a little bit more. It’s also arguably the most demanding role of the four Netflix leads (five if you count Punisher), with a wide range of emotions and some incredibly physical moments, so casting would have been incredibly difficult. Having so many different directors (12 individuals for 13 episodes) may lead to inconsistency, but the fact that this is standard operating procedure for Marvel’s Netflix shows and they are pretty consistent within a season points to the power and control given to the showrunners. (In this case, the showrunner is Scott Buck, who previously showran Dexter and Six Feet Under.)

Some of complained that this martial arts master was cast as a white guy. Frankly, the character shouldn’t have a heritage associated with martial arts. His story needs him to be an outsider in K’un-Lun, and to expect to fit in when home in New York for this to be the comic book character. His history with Misty Knight and Luke Cage in the comics also firmly cements him as a major part of the first major biracial romantic and bromantic relationships in the medium. As such, I’d say that he certainly doesn’t need to be white, but he shouldn’t be southeast Asian or black. Anything else is fair game.

The Review

This is the first appearance of Danny Rand in live action, and they’ve added a lot to the initial story not present in that original 20 page story. In that sense, it feels somewhat original, but it’s still an adaptation. I give it 4 out of 6.

The effects were primarily some wire work, some moments of mass destruction (particularly the final episode), and the glowing effect for the Iron Fist. The glowing effect is excellent, and genuinely seemed like the light was being filtered by actual flesh. That effect is consistently impressive. The rest all work well enough, I give it 6 out of 6.

The story is well structured. Early reviews criticized this series a lot in this regard. Those reviews were based only on the first six episodes, and most of those criticisms are addressed directly in story in episodes 8-10, which would have been completed before the first six went out to reviewers. This works well enough, but it also feels like the most formulaic of them, not because it’s repetitive, but because it feels the most constrained by what came prior. The Hand from the Daredevil series is a huge part of this, so Iron Fist was beholden to mythos established by a series that aired before the showrunner was even chosen. Similarly, Rosario Dawson’s role as Claire Temple, and the final status quo heading into The Defenders this fall just left the creators of this series a little less “wiggle room” to do their own thing. It can still be watched in isolation, but it references all previous seasons, particularly Daredevil, so watching them all will help inform your viewing experience. I give it 4 out of 6.

The acting is inconsistent. Finn Jones is good, but he feels like an actor, while Krysten Ritter and Mike Colton just embody the characters they play, and let the audience forget they are watching actors. Jessica Henwick and Jessica Stroup achieve that level in their work as Colleen Wing and Joy Meachum, while Tom Pelphrey’s Ward and David Wenham’s Harold are on par with Finn Jones, working well enough, but still showing signs of acting at times. I give it 5 out of 6.

The emotional response is good. It’s not as riveting as the other series (although I still managed to watch it much faster than the others, thanks to changes in the demands on my time) but it’s certainly entertaining. As I said in the preamble, it’s the weakest of the bunch, but that doesn’t make it bad. I give it 4 out of 6.

The production is solid, which is not surprising, since Netflix and Marvel Studios are both very experienced, and Marvel’s Netflix deal has the highest budget on record for on-location shooting in New York. The money and talent are both in place. I give it 6 out of 6.

Overall, it’s a solid series, and well worth watching in preparation for The Defenders. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, Iron Fist: Season One receives 34 out of 42.

Additional Notes

For the record, this is how I would personally rank the Marvel Netflix shows to date:

  1. Luke Cage: Season One
  2. Daredevil: Season Two
  3. Jessica Jones: Season One
  4. Daredevil: Season One
  5. Iron Fist: Season One