Ever since production began, there’s been some concerns about whether Netflix’s version of the Marvel martial-arts hero Iron Fist would work. One main concern was hiring Finn Jones from Game of Thrones to play Danny Rand, who survived a plane crash and was trained by monks to become the Iron Fist.
The real problem with the 13-part series that premiered last week is that it doesn’t meet the high standards set by Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. With those three heroes they started strong and dealt with the issues that affect their lives. With Danny, he takes way too long to get strong and then there isn’t a consistent main story arc that carries throughout the series.
There are two reasons that make the series worth it. One is Colleen Wing, played by Jessica Henwick (Game of Thrones). The other is Rosario Dawson’s return as Claire Temple. More to come about these ladies as we go further into this review.
When the story begins, Danny arrives in New York after leaving K’un Lun (kind of a Tibetan Brigadoon) and heads to the building where his company’s located. He finds that his childhood friends, Ward and Joy Meachum (Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup), have taken over the company after their dad Harold Meacham (David Wenham) died. They don’t believe Danny is who he says he his.
Thanks to the Meachams, Danny gets thrown into an asylum, which they conveniently own. Oliver Queen is lucky it hasn’t happened to him. Inside, Danny doesn’t do a good job explaining how he spent 15 years in a monastery that’s in another dimension, and that he’s sane. Not only that, someone is watching him from afar. Danny’s true power doesn’t show up until he bashes a heavy iron door with one punch, which the observer sees.
Overall, the stories are really confusing, and maybe some editing could have streamlined things and made it a more adequate bridge to the Defenders series. The worst part is how the Meachams are depicted. Even though Ward tries to show he’s in charge, he’s actually upset he has to answer to someone else…. his not-dead dad who has to stay hidden. It seems dad was dying of cancer, but the notorious Hand (the same group that plagued Daredevil last year) gave him a “cure.” The price he pays is being under its thumb, mainly Madame Gao’s (Wai Ching Ho) thumb. She has a floor of her own at the Rand building as she’s using the company to distribute a new type of synthetic heroin.
Ward’s hopes of being a powerful businessman are undercut by his dad, and maybe his lack of skill. There’s a scene where he tries to bribe someone into claiming Danny attacked her,and it’s done very clumsily. There’s also one where Ward plans to leave the company for a new life, but he’s stopped by his omnipotent dad. If anything symbolizes Ward, it’s when Harold kills two Hand thugs and tells Ward to dump them somewhere. In his car, Ward turns to the bodies (or is it the audience) and says “You think I don’t know how messed up this is? I’m not a child.” What finally happens to him, though, is very surprising.
Despite this, Harold does let Danny into the company, although Danny causes some trouble that ultimately helps the company’s image, but not Harold’s plans. Seems the reason Danny is with the Meachams is neither they nor Danny like The Hand, which ends once Harold doesn’t need Danny anymore. This is really strange compared to the other shows where the hero has an opponent that stays that way (Jessica Jones vs. Kilgrave, Luke Cage vs. Stokes/Dillard, Daredevil vs. Fisk/The Hand).
What the show does to Joy character is even worse. She is a very good businesswoman, but she is kept in the dark on what her brother and dad are doing. Joy even seems to have a conscience over what she did to Danny and how a company plant may have been responsible for several cancer cases in a town. Once she learns the truth, she comes back into the family fold. It would have been better if she was the Meachum with a soul and backed Danny.
Now, in the comics, Iron Fist was an American who learned mystical martial arts. There was some hope an Asian would be cast instead, but they chose Jones. If the story was better, he would have overcome accusations he was miscast. He could have been a good Iron Fist. Instead, he wasn’t shown to be strong enough. It seemed he was easily manipulated by the Meachums, Gao’s cryptic comments and a man named Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez) who seemed to be a future ally for Danny. Maybe Mr. Rand should have spent a year re-adjusting to the outside world before he went back to New York.
As a fighter, Danny is fine. There are a couple of good fight scenes such as in the elevator in episode four, followed by a gauntlet in episode eight that was directed by RZA (Man With the Iron Fists). While he won the challenge to save a kidnapped girl, Gao was there to change the rules and make him look bad. Overall, the fighting doesn’t come close to Daredevil.
Lets get back to those two reasons that make the series worth watching. Colleen Wing, played by Jessica Henwick (Game of Thrones) is portrayed as a martial arts teacher who believes she’s helping young people deal with the world. She has very unusual pop quizzes. As the show progresses, Colleen is shown to be a warrior deep down, and not just clobbering people in underground street fights either. She’s connected to Bakuto. Naturally, she and Danny get together, but their love is threatened by a deep dark secret. Her fight scenes are very impressive, better than Danny’s, with a fight towards the end pretty heartbreaking.
The other is Rosario Dawson’s return as Claire Temple. It was hinted in the end of Luke Cage that she and Colleen would cross paths. Sure enough, Claire starts taking classes at Colleen’s dojo and soon gets involved with Danny when she hears the Hand is back. Claire is not bad at fighting either, and wonders why she keeps meeting guys with unusual skills. If Claire’s back in Defenders, she and Jessica Jones will have a lot to talk about.
There’s also Carrie-Anne Moss as Jeri Hogarth, who’s more heroic this time only because she’s Danny’s old friend and doesn’t like the Meachums.
While the story is confusing (someone needs to design a scorecard), it goes out of control in the final five episodes. A person who’s thought to be dead is back, a big revelation about the Hand ruins some important alliances, and it’s discovered how old Gao really is. It’s pointed out that while Danny’s flashbacks show his dead father on the snow, mom’s body is not shown. She also knew Gao, too.
Then there’s Davos (Sacha Dhawan), who’s apparently come from K’un Lun to get Danny back to his real job, guarding the monastery against the Hand.
The last three minutes sets up Defenders as Joy hears a plan to deal with Danny (and she’s not the only one), and a homecoming turns out to be a disaster.
The real problem with Iron Fist wasn’t choosing the wrong guy to play him. The story was confusing, Danny wasn’t portrayed strong enough to be a convincing hero, and the villains were boring. Let’s hope Danny can be a better hero in time to meet his fellow Defenders later this year.