Iron Fist: the first and probably only season

"He's an insane, homeless acrobat."

I found Iron Fist to be uneven and underwhelming. I'm not sure I would have finished all thirteen episodes if I hadn't offered to review it.

In case you have decided to take a pass because the show is currently being mercilessly drubbed by the critics, here is a brief synopsis of what happens, which of course includes *spoilers*.

Iron Fist is about two families, the Rands and the Meachums ("Two households, both alike in dignity...") struggling for control of the corporation they founded together. Fifteen years ago, patriarch Harold Meachum caused the Rands' plane to crash in the Himalayas, killing Danny's parents but leaving ten-year-old Danny alive to be adopted by brutal warrior monks in a mystical city called K'un Lun. After many beatings and apparently some training, Danny became K'un Lun's mystical protector, the Iron Fist, which actually involves his actual fist glowing with a golden light and turning into something like Teflon.

At 25, Danny came home to New York for reasons never clearly defined, and with the help of a martial artist named Colleen Wing, he struggled against the now mystically immortal Harold Meachum and Harold's allies in the Hand. With the help of Harold's son Ward, Danny eventually triumphed. In the final episode, Danny (with Colleen in tow) returned to K'un Lun to complete his training with Master Yoda, only find that the mystical city was once again gone.

What was the casting director thinking, part one

With apologies to Finn Jones who is probably a very nice guy, casting him as Danny Rand was the biggest mistake the producers made. With artfully tousled and slightly too long blond curls and a fit, athletic body, Jones is very pretty, but as a character, Danny Rand is in desperate need of a personality transplant.

In the early episodes, I wanted Danny to take a bath and get his beard trimmed, hoping it would make me like him more. In later episodes, he was much cleaner and less bushy, wearing a power suit and white sneakers, and it didn't help at all. While I was discussing early episodes with my friend Josie Kafka, she referred to Finn Jones as a "charisma vacuum."

Danny's powers did nothing for me either, probably because the actor simply couldn't sell them. He could leap up walls and levitate over taxicabs, he could heal with the golden glow of his Iron Fist, and he could speak Mandarin, although that actually doesn't qualify as a superpower. But every time he spouted eastern wisdom like the lead in a second-rate martial arts movie, it made me cringe. And if Danny was such an amazing superpowered hero, how come he couldn't get himself out of Birch Psychiatric Hospital? They didn't even have him restrained most of the time.

For me, the best part of Iron Fist was Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), particularly in the early episodes when she was doing Fight Club for money as the Daughter of the Dragon. I wish that had continued. Colleen's role reminded me a bit of Carrie-Anne Moss' as Trinity in The Matrix, which started out as awesomely kick-ass but then turned into a supporting role as the hero's girlfriend.

What was the casting director thinking, part two

Harold Meachum (David Wenham), like Danny himself, felt miscast because Harold could have been the coolest, scariest and most interesting character in the series. An immortal who resurrected, each time becoming less human, who slept in a glass iron lung and ate health food? A prisoner of the Hand in an art deco tower, a secret from his daughter but not his son? Some of the scenes they gave Harold could have been some combination of scary, stunning or droll, like killing Kyle the ice cream lover with an ice cream scoop, or hammering the dead Hand bodies, or wandering around New York City regaining his memory while lusting after hot dogs. A really good character actor could have made memorable mincemeat out of Harold. Too bad.

Come on. A dead frog sandwich?

They did a bit better in the acting department with Harold's son Ward (Tom Pelphrey), who looked a bit like an evil Keanu Reeves and was a lot more interesting than Danny or Harold. But it felt like the writers couldn't decide how evil to make Ward before he ended up an ally of Danny's in the end. Ward murdering his already dead father and burying him in a swamp was somewhat hilarious, and of course, there was Ward's penchant for mixing stripes, dots and plaids. But why was Ward popping pills when it would have made a lot more sense plot-wise if he'd been addicted to the Hand's synthetic heroin? And what happened to that addiction in the end? It sort of just went away.

The thing is, we learned early on that Ward tormented Danny when they were kids, so I expected him to be a psycho. But then, it turned out that he didn't abuse his sister Joy, she adored him, and vice versa, which didn't make sense. In fact, the whole Harold versus Ward family conflict seemed to be about winning Joy's love as the ultimate prize. Joy was clearly supposed to be the good Meachum, questioning the role of the Rand Corporation, giving Danny the pottery bowl with his fingerprint on it, but she was a boring character and I never connected to her.

The Rand versus the Hand

We spent way too much time stuck at offices and boardrooms at Rand as Joy, Ward and eventually Danny struggled to control the company. Maybe I got tired of Rand so quickly because my idea of cool corporate shenanigans is ED209 shooting up a boardroom. Plus the Rand takeover in the middle of the season made no sense; didn't Danny still hold 51% of the company? Is there something about the concept of 51% that I don't understand?


Is it mean of me to say that the best part about Rand was the artwork? There was the huge Marvel-like painting of the rooftop that hung behind Danny's desk, and the two similar complementary portraits of Wendell Rand and Harold Meachum that were changed to portraits of Danny and Ward in the final episode.

Was Iron Fist intended to more fully establish the Hand as a huge villain for the upcoming Defenders? If so, I'm not sure it succeeded because I still find the Hand way too amorphous and undefined. What we do know is that they are worldwide drug dealers, they subvert and control their young martial arts warriors in a culty kind of way, and they can offer immortality if they really, really like you. That's pretty much it.

I did think it was a good idea to move from Madame Gao to Bakuto, Colleen's sensei, who at first seemed to be a really good guy. While Gao was sufficiently villainous, our heroes can't beat up a tiny old lady, no matter how evil she is. Bakuto was killed near the end, but hey, big hints that he will resurrect, and I fully expect him to since he was one of the more interesting Iron Fist characters.

The better part of mostly unsuccessful casting

As mentioned above, I thought Colleen Wing was the best thing about this series, at least in the earlier episodes when she wasn't Danny's appendage. I also liked Danny's childhood friend Davos (Sacha Dhawan) who was able to project a constant emotional see-saw between good and evil and who was working on subverting Joy Meachum in the end.


Plus I got a little frisson of pleasure every time Claire Temple showed up, which was actually quite often. (Maybe as the series progressed, the producers realized how much help Iron Fist needed.) Personally, I think the first thing Danny should do now that he's free and rich is establish a fully stocked secret medical clinic for Claire and give her a freaking immense salary. Although I'll readily admit that a credit card taped over a chest hole and a staple gun used to close a wound are a lot more dramatic than a well stocked medical clinic.

Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) also returned a few times with her sarcasm intact. Could have used more of her.

Quickly as you can, snatch the pebble from my hand

The flashbacks (featuring stupid vertical lines) to the plane crash and Danny's childhood in K'un Lun could have been interesting and cool, but were underutilized, or possibly unrealized. I kept waiting for a lengthy flashback to Danny's childhood training, but they just kept showing him getting beaten, or sitting alone on the top of what must have been a very cold mountain. Did we ever even see the monastery itself? Did it really only appear to the outside world every fifteen years, sort of like Brigadoon? And if so, how long was it supposed to hang around?

The entire time I was watching Iron Fist, I kept thinking about Kung Fu, an old television series from the seventies about a Shaolin priest traveling around the old West in his bare feet, beating the crap out of bad guys while searching for his American roots. Caine (David Carradine), the orphaned main character, had a Chinese mother and an American father but grew up in a Shaolin monastery in China, and every episode of the series connected flashbacks to what he had learned as a child in the temple with what was happening to him in the present day.

Kung Fu had a strong lead, wonderful character actors as the temple masters, effective flashbacks ("patience, grasshopper"), an emphasis on peace and nonviolence (Caine was quiet, poor and chaste as well as a vegetarian) and the use of martial arts to defend the helpless and right wrongs. With so many similar elements, Iron Fist could at least have done what Kung Fu did. It did not.

And yes, I think Danny Rand, both the character and the actor who played him, should have had Chinese heritage. What if Danny's mother had been Chinese, and Danny had spent time exploring her background and culture? But honestly, I suppose it wasn't that Danny should have been Asian American. It was that Danny should have been exciting.

Bits and pieces:

-- Dogs bark when someone comes into their human's home. Joy's dog was there, and then it wasn't there. And then it was back.

-- Similar thing with Harold's penthouse. The Hand knew Harold had gotten out, but how come they didn't know that Danny had gotten in? Also, with all of the bodies everywhere, why didn't Harold have a twenty-four hour mob-related cleaning service?

-- Joy recognized Danny because he took all the brown M&Ms out of the bag and sent the rest back to her. Come on. Doesn't everyone eat M&Ms in order by color when they're kids?

-- There were little hints that something happened to Danny's father Wendell after the crash, but we never learned what that was.

-- Every Marvel series seems to feature a major hallway fight. This one had hatchets. The big fight in the gorgeous courtyard in the rain was better, though.

-- Like Daredevil and Luke Cage, Iron Fist featured a lot of dirty mustard yellow as a background color. It did make Iron Fist feel like a related property, but I hate mustard yellow.

-- While episode six featured Danny's fights against three strong sets of opponents (the tag-teaming butchers, the spider lady, and the karaoke murderer), I think the episode I liked best was ten, with the reveal of the Hand's ninja Hogwarts facility.

-- Danny Rand was 25 years old and had never had coffee. It was almost enough to make me feel sorry for him.

Quotes:

I usually post witty, clever or memorable quotes in this section, but there really weren't any. But there were several lines that made me laugh out loud when they probably weren't intentionally funny. Here they are.

"How the hell did he learn martial arts?"

"You are really pushing the limits of karma."

"They're like the Illuminati, only real."

"What's the Hand doing in Rand?"

"You're holding our knickknacks hostage?"

"That's your story? That she's the bad Hand and you're the good Hand?"

"Wow. You are the worst Iron Fist ever."

"Why does everything have to be so goddamned hard?"

"You know me. I always enjoy a good cremation."

And that's it for me. Two out of four throwing stars made out of aluminum foil and let's hope for better with The Defenders (which we will definitely cover!),

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television, especially science fiction, and spends way too much time writing about it.
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13 comments:

sunbunny said...

I'm haflway through and really struggling. It's picked up a bit since Claire showed up but it's far from a worthy sequel to Daredevil or Jessica Jones. Finn Jones is indeed a charisma vacuum. What were they going with with his character? Did they want him to be likable? Because major fail. I hated him from the first (or was it second) episode when he said, somewhat derisively, to the homeless man "people think we're the same." He was supposed to be a force for good but it seems like every time he comes up against an obstacle he throws his money or privilege at it and it's disgusting. AND WHAT WAS WITH THE WHITE SNEAKERS AND SUIT THAT IS NOT A LOOK!!!

Nick said...

I do wonder how much of the problem with the show was the actors, and how much of it was due to writing, which went nowhere, and didn't really flow.

Did they really have to write Danny as such a whiny kid?

And growing up on Hong Kong Martial Arts flick, the fight scenes here were really lacking.

Billie Doux said...

Sunbunny, it was hard for me to tell if Danny wasn't likable because of the actor or the writing. It was probably both. And Nick, good point about the fight scenes. Not a single one of them was memorable -- except maybe for Colleen's at the fight club.

Mark Greig said...

What does it say about the decision makers at Marvel Television that they took one look at this mess and went "Hey, we should let Scott Buck make another show for us"?

Peter Roberts said...

Painful to watch, like a train wreck. The characters are wooden and unbelievable. I have been trying to get through the season but can only watch half a episode at a time before I become bored. I think that the writers are the main reason for the failure of this show

Remco said...

Hm, I feel compelled to defend the show, even though it's probably the weakest of the MCU. I'm only half-way through, but the first few episodes were pretty good. I like how each successive Marvel show seems to take more and more time to set itself up. The first two episodes we didn't even know what his powers were. And I like Danny, actually. He is immature for his age, like time has stopped since the plane crash. But that's a good place to start for character growth. The strongest complaint I have so far, is that I would have liked to see him struggle a little bit more before he got the company back. It's more compelling if he has to 'earn' it, so to speak.

Lamounier said...

I hear you, Peter. I gave up after the first twenty minutes, although I had the intention to watch the rest of the episode eventually. But I forgot to do it until this review went online. Then I resumed watching the episode and liked the cliffhanger, but before the curiosity took over me I read the review and all its spoilers. Now I'm free. Thank you, Billie.

There were three very rookie directing mistakes:

(1) At Ward’s office, Danny tells him to back off, but there is a table between them and Ward is not getting near him. It’s a very off moment and the acting doesn’t help. I wonder what the script said.

(2) Outside Joy’s house, when her driver is arriving, Danny decides to walk onto the street because the story demands that Joy sees him doing something super. Danny has barely put his foot on the street and he is already in the middle of it, nearly being hit by a car.

(3) The big fight scene starts very poorly. After Danny knocks out the first foe, there is a shot of another one at the other side of the street taking out his gun very unnaturally. He waited until the first guy was beaten? It’s such a bad moment that I laughed out loud and replayed it.

To be fair, the fight scene improved, then the momentum was lost when Danny arrived at the festival, and finally things picked up again near the end.

I didn’t understand what was the point, storywise, of the homeless man. Was Danny supposed to have some kind of character arc in which the homeless was fundamental? If so, I missed the arc.

Colleen was easily my favorite, and I call her a trap character: a good character on a bad series that makes you want to go back and keep watching it. There is also Claire and Hogarth to look forward to. But I won’t be watching it anytime soon.

I loved the title of this review, but do you think it's going to be their only season, Billie? I mean, it's Marvel, The Defenders are coming, all the other solo series are getting new seasons... They can always change the showrunner and redeem themselves with a better second season. Then again, what Mark said isn't good news.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

I did not like this series. However it's obvious there is a huge critic versus audience divide here. It's not impossible the show will get a second season.

Billie Doux said...

I suppose we could get a second season, for reasons. I might even feel compelled to review it. But I'd rather rewatch three seasons of Kung Fu.

Mark Greig said...

I'd rather they forget about Iron Fist and make a Daughters of the Dragon series with Colleen and Misty Knight. If The Punisher can get his own show why not they?

Billie Doux said...

That sounds great to me, Mark. Especially if there was a lot of Claire Temple in it, too. What about an all female series and include Jessica Jones?

Josie Kafka said...

I still haven't made my way past Episode Nine yet, but I might never get to finishing this series, so I'll just post my thoughts now:

1. The emphasis on "That can't be Danny Rand!" in the first two episodes gave me the false hope that perhaps he really wasn't Danny Rand. Or at least really wasn't the Iron Fist. Maybe Colleen was the Iron Fist.

(I was wrong.)

2. I think the show lost me when Danny was chatting with the friendly helpful homeless guy, and he said something like "Huh, it's funny that people must think we're alike." I wanted to shout at the screen: You are alike! You are both humans with no homes! Our shared humanity dictates that we find commonality rather than emphasize our differences, you pretentious twat!

But, no. Danny Rand has such wealthy privilege that he was bemused that anyone could mistake him for wacky and homeless even when he was wacky and homeless.

It could have been a fascinating moment in which the show acknowledged Danny's insufferable security in his own position, but this show lacked that sort of awareness in all regards.

3. Like with him explaining martial arts to Colleen in her dojo, and I'm not even going to finish this paragraph because it will end angry.

4. Perhaps most importantly, though, it's boring. I don't care about any characters other than Colleen and Claire. The Ward/Joy stuff is boring and inconsistent. Is Ward an evil bully or a sympathetic victim? It seems to change from week to week.

Ugh.

Patryk said...

While I agree with the sentiment that this is the weakest of the pre-Defenders Marvel Netflix shows I think that people are also getting tired of the format. Isn't it the 3rd season in a row where halfway through the season a different villian takes over the plot (just like the Hand in Daredevil 2 and Diamondback in Luke Cage).

The fights could have been bettter. The best one was I think against the drunken master in China, but there was nothing like Daredevil's 1:30 minute fight without camera cuts or the stairway fight with the bikers in season 2. And that's srange for a show about a kung-fu chamipn.

Also annoying when Your hero can't defeat his enemies cause of some no-kill clause and anti-heroes (Davos) or villians (Ward) have to do the dirty work to eliminate the bad guys.

I understand why they didn't do many flashbacks, the ones they did were obviously filmed in front of a green screen. Like Davos and Danny guarding the pass to Kun'lun and talking. So budget was issue no doubt.

They did setup for a 2nd season, I guess it's one of the downsides of releasing all episodes at once. Can't adjust the ending to fit the reception. ;)

But all-in-all I can't wait for the Defenders.