TV Review – “Iron Fist: Season One”

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

6 replies on “TV Review – “Iron Fist: Season One””

  1. pythor says:

    Personally, I rank Luke Cage lower than Iron Fist. The pace of Luke Cage was off, and the story was somewhat scattered. Iron Fist kept things moving, and seemed at least like it had a smaller cast.

    Some of the acting in Iron Fist is off, though. Pelphry threw me off in almost every scene. Jones seemed fine in his calm moments, but I had trouble with his angry moments. Frankly, I think the writing was a little off in his angry moments anyway. They did add in near the end of the series some questions about his anger management, but that should have been highlighted earlier in the series to really explain some of his dumber decisions in the early episodes.

  2. JD DeLuzio says:

    Interesting. I won’t see this one for awhile, but we may have different responses. Luke Cage had many things going for it, but I would rank it below Jessica Jones and either season of DD. Individual eps of Luke Cage were among the best of the Marvel TV lot, but overall, I felt its uneven pacing and mediocre Final Boss hurt it as a whole.

  3. Blackadder says:

    This is an interesting piece of work. Its weaknesses as a stand alone entry are off set by the setup it places for the Defenders. It would have been stronger had it introduced The Hand and the DD season 2 been after it.

    [spoilers]Finishing one episode earlier while completing the Harold Meachum arc would have left a more interesting place to go post Defenders.[/spoilers]

  4. Ogre says:

    For the most part I agree with you on the show getting unduly blasted by the critics. I definitely feel it’s the weakest of the Marvel series so far, but that doesn’t mean it was bad. All that being said, there are two points I’ve seen made that I tend to agree with:

    First, the action sequences/fight scenes don’t seem as fluid or well choreographed as the other series. Danny is basically supposed to be THE master of martial arts and there were times where I feel like he seemed to be getting his ass kicked by someone much lower on the scale than he is. However if it’s something they expand upon in the future series as part of his growing into/learning to be the Iron Fist, it will make this a moot point.

    Second, the lack of Asian characters. The people who are saying that Danny should have been Asian don’t know what they’re talking about. You’re point on this is the perfect argument to that criticism. That being said, I feel like they could have put a little more effort into casting Asians in some of the “goon” rolls. That might come off as a stereotypical comment and if it does, I apologize. But there were multiple fight scenes where he was going up against what looked to be mafia type bad guys and I feel it would have been more…. believable? …. if the characters were of Asian descent.

    All in all though, I enjoyed it and I’m stoked to see The Defenders and The Punisher.

    • JD DeLuzio says:

      I have yet to see it, but I feel this piece makes the “Asian Danny” case intelligently. Whether it would have improved the show in any significant way is an open question, especially for me, but I don’t think the idea should be dismissed out of hand.

      Personally, though, I would have preferred an Asian actor as Dr. Strange.

  5. I agree with just about every point Blaine makes, but I’d remove about two points on each individual score.

    My biggest problem was that Danny and Colleen did not hold themselves like masters of a martial art. Both felt like they’d gotten their black belts at a McDojo after a few quick years of training. Many of their co-stars at the end (Bakuto, Davos, and Zhou) looked more like actual life long martial artists. Marvel/Netflix did it amazingly well at Daredevil, but for the actual Kung-Fu movie of their series, you’d think they’d step it up a notch, not abandon it like a collegiate senior project.

    (Admittedly, this is probably more of a problem for me rather than the general viewing public since I’ve actually trained in an art for over a decade.)

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