I find myself, once again, short of words when it comes to describing Iron Fist as a show but unlike before it is not for good reasons. We are introduced to a homeless Danny Rand as he attempts to return to western society and reintegrate into his family’s company whilst convincing the world that he’s not actually dead. We then learn that in the 15 years since his supposed death he has been training to be the ‘Iron Fist’: a warrior of martial arts who is able to focus his chi and enhance his hand as a weapon. He has returned to use his strengths for good and then things happen. But that’s precisely where Iron Fist falls short as a show: things just happen. It’s not that the show is bad but that it’s also not particularly good either. It lingers in the fuzzy zone which leaves you a feel of “well…that happened” and I feel this for several reasons.
Firstly, plot. As I mentioned, not a huge amount seems to happen and the show seems to lack a focussed plot. That’s not to say that a show needs a simple and straightforward narrative resulting in the defeat of a clear villain, such as how Daredevil season 1 panned out, but you shouldn’t get 2/3rds through a show and still be unsure as to what is even happening. Now I will say at this point that one of the things Iron Fist did well is by not ending in an explosive and character-defining battle. It’s very easy to end a story with an epic fight and then happiness all around and they avoid this but for 11 (out of 13) episodes the entire show felt like a loose prequel to upcoming Defenders tv show and with little of its own standing.
On that note: universe building. Marvel have continued to go from strength to strength with their vast and integrated universe. Iron Fist seeks to extend that by broadening the street level antics of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage whilst also delving into the mystical elements (no doubt, facilitated by the release of Dr Strange). By in large, Iron Fist pulls this off well. There are cameos, to varying degrees, which do not feel gratuitous, as well as name drops which, whilst at times are quite coincidental, fit well with the story. However, it felt as if it was doing this at the sacrifice of the shows own development and left it hanging in a similar way in which Iron Man 2, Age of Ultron, and Daredevil 2 did. These examples aimed to provide bridges between parts of the MCU and were thus rendered quite fragmented in places. Iron Fist didn’t quite have so many boxes to tick, and thus wasn’t as chaotic as the aforementioned, but still felt as if it was devoting more of its time to broadening a world than actually providing its own piece of that world.
Thirdly, characters. Iron Fist has some excellent and intriguing characters throughout. There are a couple of returners from other shows which continue to show development (one of which takes quite a surprising turn which is nice) as well as some new faces. The newer ones are largely well presented, convincing, and have some enjoyable development in places. The downfall here was truly in Danny Rand himself. The protagonist of a show should not be one of the least interesting things about it but that is what we were given. His portrayal came across as a less-good Oliver Queen from Arrow and the character similarities only enforce this. He wasn’t very strong in his dialogue and didn’t deliver much in the way of range. His supporting co-stars, on the other hand, really stole the show whether it was the sidekick, the Night Nurse, the tortured son, the disturbed father, or the leader of The Hand. Hell, when a kung fu Jack Sparrow is one of the best characters in the whole show despite being in a single scene, you know something’s off with the lead.
Lastly, and not entirely separate from plot, action. The action is fine, ok? The fighting is nice and well put together. It’s always fun to see these sorts of actions performed well. The trouble was that none of it was gripping. The action came across as more of a show and there was very little sense of danger for the main characters throughout. Within the MCU tv universe I think of Daredevil being beaten and thrown off buildings, Jessica Jones being trapped by Kilgrave, or Luke Cage being short by armour-piercing bullets. Real threats to these characters which could have taken a turn for the worst. However, Iron Fist brings Danny the threat of martial-arts fisty-cuffs and yes, whilst he does get battered at times, there’s no tension. Even when vastly out-numbered there is no sense of danger for his life; as if they are all going to take a bow afterwards. There is one gripping scene towards the end where you start to really feel it for the Danny character but even that is eclipsed by one featuring his sidekick only moments before.
Overall, Iron Fist did not even whelm me. It was fine, intriguing but not gripping, fun at times but largely immemorable. As I said at the start, it’s not even bad it’s just not much good either. I hope they do something good with him in The Defenders but if they don’t there are alternative choices for the role of Iron Fist in that show. For now, though, Iron Fist goes close to the bottom of my Marvel list, firmly in the ‘won’t watch again’ pile. About on par with Daredevil 2 but for very different reasons.