Mar 27, 2017

TV Retrospective: "Iron Fist" - Season 1

Scene from Iron Fist
Everywhere you look, there is some superhero TV show. It's an inevitable part of life, and it's something that will only continue to get worse. Still, Netflix has reigned supreme as far as TV universes, creating their own Avengers-esque series of heroes that have in the past included Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. All of these shows have a formula while still managing to work at creating a universe that captivates viewers. The final entry before the planned The Defenders series is the scrappy little series called Iron Fist. It's a show that has gotten flack for a variety of reasons, most notably for having a protagonist that is an entitled white guy appropriating Asian culture. Yet the show doesn't have to be defined by the flaws of his outline. The other issue that is going largely ignored is that it's boring, and maybe shows the limitations for Netflix giving every hero for hire their own program.
While these shows aren't known for immediate and riveting set pieces, there's still something worrisome about the way that Iron Fist introduces itself. There's Danny Rand (Finn Jones), who looks like a bum and spends the first hour of his series trying to get into a building to talk to his rich relatives, of whom he used to own the business with. Rand is a millionaire who came about his powers when his parents died in a plane crash and he was forced to be trained in Kun-Lun. These details are scattered throughout the first episode, if at all. However, the time it takes to introduce them is antithetical to how long it takes the audience to care.
There's a lot to not like about Iron Fist in theory. It's a show that exists solely to set up The Defenders. It is felt in the way that it handles almost all of its details. The final half is stuck dealing with The Hand: an organization that those familiar with Daredevil know well (and probably loathe). There's no compelling bad guy for the series, which dampens the trajectory of the series. Daredevil had Kingpin, Jessica Jones had Kilgrave, and Luke Cage had Cottonmouth. These are all villains that are reasonably charismatic and have menacing screen presence. The same cannot be said for Iron Fist, who has no memorable foe and instead spends most of his time doing decent martial arts skills. If Netflix has had one achievement, it's making superhero shows that are rich with action set pieces. Even then, Iron Fist is no Daredevil in that respect.
The show has no choice but to feel inferior because of timing. While in part it has to do with Danny's spoiled brat history, it also has to do with the fact that this is all familiar. The story of a white man traveling to Asia for spiritual enlightenment has pretty much become a trope at this point. Even the stories of fighting local criminals is something that Netflix has done better in other ways. The issue is that Iron Fist does little to authenticate Danny's motives in a way that engages the viewer. He may fight his corporate rivals, but it doesn't have the same visceral impact of Luke Cage fighting local drug dealers or Jessica Jones fighting her rapist. It's merely a man who fights for wealth and power - a theme whose mileage will vary depending on how loathsome the viewer finds current events.
With all of this said, the show doesn't fail spectacularly in was that are embarrassing. It's merely a fine show that suffers from conventions. Had this been the first or second of Netflix's Marvel deal, there are chances that its reputation would be slightly different. It would still feel new. Instead, it doesn't do enough to raise interest in The Defenders. All it does is feel like a hatchet job meant to introduce a secondary character to the group. He's not a very interesting one - especially compared to Daredevil's B-players The Punisher and Elektra - and could've been introduced with little fanfare during The Defenders without losing much impact. The show doesn't feel essential, mostly because it doesn't tell a story that doesn't have much to say.
Iron Fist will likely remain an anomaly of the modern superhero TV show phenomenon. While it's far from the worst thing produced, it may be among the least interesting high profile gigs of the past few years. Even if it's only sin was that he was the least interesting of The Defenders, then maybe it would be forgivable. However, it's a show that feels so streamlined and obligatory to a greater cause that it loses all meaning. It has enough moments worthy of watching YouTube videos for, but little else will likely be remembered in more than a scathing way. It may spell doom for The Defenders, but maybe Iron Fist's problem is that he's not part of an interesting team. Maybe he'll be more acclaimed when he meets up with Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. One can only hope.

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5

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