Iron Fist, the final Defenders-related show before the big team-up event in Marvel’s Netflix universe, has arrived. I’ve loved most things about the Marvel Netflix universe since its premiere with Daredevil, but they can’t all be winners. I was excited to crack open Iron Fist with a buddy of mine, but it falls short of the bar set by previous Marvel Netflix shows and even further still below the bar for a cohesive show in general. I’m not sure what went wrong, but Iron Fist is a failure of writing, acting, special effects and, probably the worst offense for a martial arts hero, choreography. I just don’t know how they made such a huge mistake here.
Let’s start with the writing. This show has a lot of plot lines and a lot of threads that they try to weave, but they are so incohesive that it just gets lost in a knot. They shoehorn in a lot of pretty uninteresting plots that are clearly a setup for Defenders while not giving you the backstory and the reasons to care about the characters that you’d expect, especially since the showrunner, Scott Buck, said in interviews it was such a “character driven” show. The corporate plot and the martial artist plots mix like oil and water, and the episodes find themselves inventing throw-away scenes to keep characters involved even when they just don’t have anything to do with what’s going on in the show.
However, even when a show’s writing is bad, sometimes the actors can carry some of that weight and keep you interested. Unfortunately, while there are some strong supporting character performances (particularly Jessica Stroup as Joy Meachum despite her not being very involved in the main plots), Finn Jones as Danny Rand is not impressive. He is a okay at first and then just keeps deteriorating. I’m sure there’s a way to play the childish optimism of Danny Rand in a likeable way, but this is not it. Finn Jones jutting his chin out grumpily whenever he’s supposed to represent an emotion or pressing his fingers into his head like he’s constipated really doesn’t convey any kind of emotion to me. I’m not sure if it is a lack of direction or Finn Jones’s role in Game of Thrones was just too small for anyone to notice, but he bombs this portrayal; and I’m actually sad that he’ll be side by side with the other heroes in Defenders.
In regard to the special effects, it seems like an intern walked in and hooked them up with bootlegged Photoshop. The Iron Fist is named for his iron fist and they really make you wait for it in the show. With the impressive budget, you’d really expect they’d make it special, but it’s not just his main attack that’s sloppy. Every scene in K’un-Lun is cast over a terribly unrealistic green screen with the contrast turned up, and his flashbacks come in and out with a bunch of scribbles copied to the screen. It’s not that I need great special effects, but when they are this bad, it takes you all the way out of the show. There is one scene where they really paid for the special effects near the end of the show, and you can tell the difference, which begs the question: what the hell went wrong with the rest of the show?
The show’s biggest travesty is my last point. This character is the Iron Fist, a martial arts master in a world with super-humans. So why are the fight scenes so tired and lazy, looking more like teen musical than a battle of life and death? The punches and kicks don’t have any impact to them. The poses Finn hits in every moment have no confidence, not to mention half the time it feels like Danny Rand forgot martial arts all together and is just some rich white boy getting mugged. Especially in a universe with Daredevil and his visceral no-holds-barred boxing, this is a pathetic attempt at an action series and honestly makes me think the Defenders are probably better off without him.
Maybe I’m being too harsh. There is promise in there somewhere—somewhere in the web of half-implemented plots within this show. I think there’s a version of this show that could’ve been good. Which honestly makes it that much more upsetting that it’s just a mess. But what it honestly looks like as you go through each episode is that, no one really gave a shit about this show. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage they all had a style they were going for and a purposeful focus that gave the show heart, and this show has none. But honestly as it is, this show doesn’t justify its existence. It feels like it was corporately mandated to be made to set up the Defenders, and then they dropped it on some poor writers’ and directors’ laps. It could’ve been a show about corporate espionage; it could’ve been an ultimate fighter series about being the strongest; or it could’ve been cleaning up the streets cop drama with a kung-fu star—but it didn’t have a true vision…and it’s just bad.
This one gets a 2.2 out of 10 from me. I really hope Scott Buck gets his shit together after this failure because now he has the reins of Inhumans, and I don’t want to see that project go the same way.
Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick, and Jessica Stroup: Stars