As the latest Marvel character to get the Netflix treatment, Iron Fist was always going to be a tricky sell. To say that a blond-haired, Buddha-quoting kung-fu master — whose 1970s origins stem from a trite attempt to cash in on the Chinese martial arts fad at the time — couldn't be played straight up in 2017 is understating things.
For the uninitiated, Daniel Rand is a wealthy New York City kid whose destiny took a turn after the demise of his parents on a fateful plane trip over the Himalayas. Rand crash landed in the realm of K'un-Lun, learned magical martial arts and, 15 years later, returned to America to avenge his parents' death. Touted as "the final Defender," Rand's Iron Fist is slated to be a key part of the forthcoming The Defenders Netflix series, featuring the already-established Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.
A team player in the comic books, Iron Fist will likely be a better fit there; as a solo series — or at least in the first six episodes that were screened in advance — Iron Fist suffers from "who cares-it is," a chronic condition caused by casting a character who would charitably be a C-player in the Marvel Universe as a lead. His recognition factor is virtually nonexistent, even considering he's made recent guest spots on Marvel-themed cartoons and video games, and his origins as a blue-eyed character whose kung-fu game trumps even those of the original practitioners of the Chinese martial art are rickety at best.
Finn Jones (Game of Thrones) portrays Danny Rand with poise, selling the over-worn "I was gone but now I'm back for answers" origin story with a quiet fierceness, a hurt but quick-kicking soul who's determined to set things right while living up to a code of honour. Calls for changing Rand's ethnicity to Asian-American went unheeded — presumably for the sake of staying true to the character (notably his traditional "sweet and sour" comic book pairing with Luke Cage, and how that racial dynamic might play out on modern screens) — but this makes it even more incumbent on the show to recognize his standing in a traditionally Asian martial arts world, and not ignore the potential "white saviour" aspects of it.
Unfortunately, the faux mysticism and Dragon Lady orientalism that bogged down the later parts of Daredevil — shadowy ninjas, oh my! — threaten to do so here, as well; one hopes that the mystery they are building with call-backs to foes Madame Gao and The Hand will pay off in a convincing manner. Here's hoping the supporting cast (most notably Jessica Henwick as badass martial arts dojo operator Colleen Wing) get a key role to play in building out the world, too.
The series has a ton of heavy lifting to do to set up the corporate intrigue of Rand acclimating himself to running his father's business, in addition to establishing why the audience should stick along for the ride as he learns the super hero ropes, and fares adequately. His power — the ability to channel his life-force, or chi, into his "iron fist" — is adequately represented, as he gets to kick butt, but the fight scenes aren't as emphatic as we've seen in Daredevil. That's particularly disappointing considering that Iron Fist should have a much more stylistic and demonstrable fighting approach as "a living weapon." Here, the choreography — including the now required "hallway fight" scene — feels a bit staid.
When you add to the mix that the main corporate plot moves at a glacial pace, Iron Fist threatens to be the least admired of the existing Marvel Netflix shows. But here's hoping that this isn't the case — Iron Fist is a fun character that deserves a fighting chance to make a good impression. (Netflix)