Iron Fist is a show of two very contrasting halves: the first half slowly introduces the story of Danny Rand (played by Game of Thrones’ Finn Jones), who has returned to New York after a 15-year absence, in that time undergoing training to becoming the Iron Fist. The second half steps things up several gears and explodes into a pulsating final stretch that ties the wandering and unfocused stories together nicely. Unfortunately, Netflix and Marvel’s latest offering spends far too much time in the boardroom and not enough time with the few compelling characters it does have. Despite this, it delivers an interesting show that, whilst not without its flaws, is at least entertaining in the story it (eventually) gets round to telling.
Danny Rand, as we find out in the opening episode, is the rightful heir to the Rand Corporation which is being run by his childhood friends, siblings Joy and Ward Meachum. The premiere is, by some distance, the strongest of the early episodes, setting out the major players and Danny’s fish out of water routine, as well as having to deal with the grief over the mysterious circumstances surrounding his parents’ death and his subsequent disappearance.
So far, so promising. What follows, however, is a mind-numbingly dull series of episodes that deal with boardroom wranglings, with Danny Rand’s emotions ranging from out-of-touch gap-year student to someone stupid enough to trust the Meachums again and again despite being betrayed and even institutionalised. Thought previous Marvel shows lacked fight scenes? Iron Fist doesn’t have anything worthy of being called an action sequence until episode 5(!) and boardroom scenes with the Meachums (we get it, corporations are evil) outweigh fight scenes three to one. Not great for a show called Iron Fist.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Iron Fist could be renamed Movin’ on up with the Meachums, although the family patriarch, Harold, (menacingly played by David Wenham, despite his Australian accent making a few stray appearances) makes the interminable sibling relationship between Joy and Ward somewhat bearable. Remarkably, it’s his presence as the antagonist for Danny which made me root for Rand, not Finn Jones’ portrayal of the Iron Fist. Rand just isn’t as likeable as Daredevil, as charismatic as Luke Cage, nor as wickedly funny as Jessica Jones.
Thankfully, it’s not all about the infuriatingly inconsistent lead. Colleen Wing (played by Game of Thrones’ Jessica Henwick - yes, another HBO alumni) is a genuine joy to watch and, without a shadow of a doubt, the MVP of the show. Her fight scenes are the most intense, her motivations are the most interesting, and she’s easily the best female character the MCU has produced thus far. It’s hard to care about the selfish, conceited members of Iron Fist’s ensemble so Wing is a bright spot in a show which desperately needs something going for it in the early episodes. Don’t be surprised to see a Colleen Wing spin-off in the near future.
A frustrating lack of flashbacks for Danny’s training means we never really see (or care) about how great the fabled Iron Fist is meant to be. This is from a company that loves to liberally sprinkle flashbacks wherever they can so the fact they chose not to here really hurts Danny’s character. He seriously needs to be fleshed out.
Those looking for an ass-kicking Danny Rand will be left disappointed as he fights other, more abstract foes, such as his self-doubt and his burgeoning feelings for Colleen Wing. Yawn. However, when we do get fight scenes, they’re up there with some of the best from Marvel’s Netflix offerings. One scrap in particular, with a drunken member of The Hand, makes you yearn for more and I was left wondering why the ball was dropped.
Speaking of The Hand, unlike the second season of Daredevil, their presence fits and is mostly welcome. Their shadowy influence permeates much of the show and, in the beginning, they’re the reason why you’ll want to keep watching, especially when a returning face from Daredevil shows up to give Danny’s quest for redemption purpose with a real foe to fight.
But these moments of genuine intrigue and suspense are too few and far between for the show to be on the level of its predecessors. A change of locales in the second half of the season freshens things up considerably, but things are still bogged down by Danny’s unlikeability and the Meachums’ tendency to bring things to a halt every time they show their face. Being a Marvel show, there’s still the same checklist of forced connections to the rest of the MCU. A character hiring Jessica Jones for some PI work feels less like a smart nod and more like a closed universe where only 12 people live in New York and they all know each other.
And Claire Temple. Oh boy. The queen of forced connections: she may as well be replaced by a giant Defenders logo at this point, as she’s introduced with all the subtlety of a roundhouse kick to the head. It’s a waste of Rosario Dawson’s considerable talents that she amounts to nothing more than a walking scalpel at this point. Here’s hoping The Defenders does a bit more with her because she’s wasted here.
Iron Fist is undoubtedly the weakest of the current quartet of Marvel’s Netflix offerings, but it isn’t without promise. The more exciting second half of the season really improves on its lacklustre start and it’s just a shame that the show is held back by a lead you never care about. All in all, it feels like a necessary evil to complete The Defenders puzzle, but it’s a piece that’s far too inconsistent, unfocused, and downright boring in places.