Iron Fist Review – I (don’t) Know Kung Fu

Written by Drew Madsen

To start things off, I’d like to address the elephant in the room, and that’s the controversy surrounding the casting of a white actor to play the Iron Fist.  I honestly had no problem with it, despite there being several major outlets pushing for an Asian-American or female Iron Fist.  Other than Tilda Swinton as (sigh) the Ancient One, Marvel generally tries to stay true to what their characters look like in the comics and it’s just about always worked out, so why change?  As long as those movies and shows are critical darlings and make billions of dollars, they have very little impetus to change, despite how much clamoring there might be for a Black Widow movie.  Well, that might have changed due to the dumpster fire that was Iron Fist.

In several ways, this series feels less a story about the Iron Fist, but a bridge to the eventual conflict between the Hand and the Defenders in the next Netflix Marvel series.  Throughout the show, it seems that the writers (and thus the characters) do not trust the audience, because there are several times where something happens and they immediately have to explain what just happened.  It’s almost like they knew that people would have to stop watching and walk away from some of the dumb things that happen in the show.  Danny Rand seems to have two sides to one character page, spoiled rich kid, or warrior monk who defeated a dragon with his bare hands.  The character is never a convincing mix of those two, a child of means who grew up into an adult with the discipline of some of the greatest warriors possible.  He flies off the handle at the slightest provocation, never displaying the zen of a master, which negatively impacts his chi and provides very little chance to use the actual Iron Fist ability.  Almost every time he uses it, it serves just to move the plot or the VERY poor fight scenes forward.

Put that sword down, Loras, you look ridiculous.

Based on the previous success of the Netflix Marvel series, I expected the combat to take another step by taking a character that was a living weapon, a master of Kung Fu that was rarely seen out of the hidden city of K’un-Lun.  Based on his fight scenes, this dude needed another 15 years of Lei Kung the Thunderer beating him up before he was ever ready for a crack at Shou-Lao the Undying.   I hate to place all of the blame on Finn Jones for this, because he has since talked about how some fight scenes were learned just ten minutes prior to being filmed, which explains a lot.  Fight scenes are another way of storytelling, and Iron Fist’s were too stiff and obviously simplified because more often than not they turned into brawls.  Now brawls can be entertaining, just look at Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, but those characters haven’t been studying Kung Fu for more than half their lives!  The two best fight scenes in the show involved a cage fight with Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) and one between another actor who actually read for the part, Lewis Tan.  Bruce Lee once famously said, “Be like water,” and in this fight scene, Tan’s drunken boxing was water and Finn Jones’s Kung Fu was heavy cream.

The villains of the previous series have been just as important for the success of the show as the heroes,  Kingpin in Daredevil, Kilgrave is Jessica Jones, and Cottonmouth in Luke Cage (for the first half at least).  Unfortunately, we don’t have that in Iron Fist for the most part.  Madame Gao, previously of Daredevil, provides the major threat for the most of the show before being taken out of the picture and never being heard from again.  Wai Ching Ho chews the scenery and provides an aura of menace as she always seems to be one step ahead, revealing just enough to drive the plot forward as you learn about her history and her connections to Danny’s family and the Rand Corporation.  If she had been the utter focus of the show it might have turned out better, but, we have the Meachums to deal with.  Harold, Joy, and Ward seemed at times like caricatures of every shady boardroom warrior that has ever come into being in fiction.  Harold (David Wenham) is erratic but never truly terrifying (or entertaining) throughout the show, and gets even more so in the second half and is the victim of the least surprising plot twist in the MCU.  Ward (Tom Pelphrey) is the young businessman who has always been a jerk (*GASP* He cheats at Monopoly!) with a drug problem and really doesn’t show much to scare us or in the later episodes, empathize with him.  Joy (Jessica Stroup) has some redeeming qualities, as the show goes to great lengths to show that she is the smartest person in the entire company and is the first to realize that this hipster homeless man might actually be Danny Rand.  Unfortunately, we never get the chance to get a real sense of her as she is jumping from good to bad and back throughout the entire show.  If they were treated as minor characters they would not have been as large an issue as they were, but it felt (I don’t have an actual breakdown) that they got about half the screen time in the show and dragged down the pace whenever they showed up.

At this point you may be asking, well damn Drew, what did you like about Iron Fist?  Well, some of the characters were cool!  Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) is great as always, and in this series especially she feels and acts like she were the audience brought into the show.  There are several great moments where she remarks on the absurdity of the situations and the decisions the cast makes that actually made me laugh out loud.  Colleen Wing, unfortunately limited in screen time as a love interest, is shown to be tough in her fight scenes and a convincing sensei to underprivileged youth.  Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) is just as tough a lawyer as she’s always been, but shows a soft spot for Danny, who she knew as an intern.  Davos (Sacha Dhawan) is the villain that I was waiting for the entire show, though that will have to wait for Season 2, and had my favorite line in the entire show.  His fight scenes (of course, there were less of them) felt more convincing and his underlying rage about Danny earning the Iron Fist at all and then having the audacity to leave K’un-Lun defenseless was my favorite part in the second half of the series.

All in all, this was a bad show, and the worst Marvel production (movie or TV) thus far.  The main characters weren’t compelling enough to carry throughout what felt like a very rushed production just so we could get to the Defenders.  The Kung Fu was insulting to the character of the Iron Fist, as we all had to think there was no way this guy would ever defeat a dragon, let alone a dragon powerful enough to fuel a mystical city.  The villains were underwhelming and the only ones I hope to see more of are Madame Gao and Davos.  I think I feel so strongly about this show because I like Danny Rand in the comics, but about 12 (of 13) episodes in I could not remember liking an episode of the show and I started thinking about everything that had gone wrong up to that point.  If you feel like watching something with Iron Fist in the name and at least getting some good fight scenes that are worth your time, look up RZA’s The Man with the Iron Fists.