Netflix’s “Iron Fist” continued Marvel’s story of their grounded heroes, trying to clean up things at the street-level in the MCU. It focused on Danny Rand, wielding the mystical power of the Iron Fist, and coming back home to New York to try to regain pieces of his old life following a fatal plane crash that killed his billionaire parents as a youth, leaving him for dead.
However, it wasn’t as well-received as shows like “Daredevil” and “Luke Cage,” with the series dragging a bit in the onset. The plot felt a bit muddy at times, with Finn Jones’ performance as the lead garnering heat as well. That said, there were commendable things to note which managed to stick to the character’s comics essence and overall story. As a result, CBR decided to look at some of the positives and negatives from the show!
SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers ahead for Netflix and Marvel’s “Iron Fist”
15. DIDN’T WORK: FINN JONES’ PERFORMANCE
Finn Jones’ performance as Danny Rand wasn’t as bad as critics made it out to be. However, he left a lot to be desired when it came to his Iron Fist persona, which missed a necessary intensity. As Danny, he did the doe-eyed routine with charm, but when the time came to turn things up a notch as a mystical ass-kicking martial artist, all the lines he delivered felt so cheesy and lacking in terms of aggression.
A lot of things weren’t believable when he went into war-mode. His delivery was off, especially when he ranted about being unbeatable. Another issue that failed to make him intimidating was that his physical frame didn’t really seem imposing. He was likeable as Danny, and had great chemistry with Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing, but this story needed more than a nice guy, especially as a big part of Iron Fist’s arc dealt with P.T.S.D. from the plane crash, and anger issues over the course of the 13 episodes. It needed someone with a buried aggression, and Jones just couldn’t bring that facet of the character out.
14. WORKED: THE BADASS COLLEEN WING
Henwick as Colleen Wing was one of the biggest positives of the season. She came off as a badass, whether it was in training her students, standing up to Danny, or helping him diffuse the drama with the Hand. Their romance also helped to counter things as it felt believable and organic, but the bulk of her worth came as a combatant. The big twist with her being part of a secret Hand faction was the icing on the cake, spicing things up and placing Danny in a bind.
She was one of the few who pulled off her martial arts choreography quite well, and actually felt the part. Apart from being physically fit, her disposition was also always of someone that you didn’t want to mess with, especially when she wielded her sword. Henwick really brought the character to life straight from the comics, showing a lot of range. She was loving when needed, a shoulder to lean on at other times, and then an able comrade in the war against injustice.
13. DIDN’T WORK: CLAIRE TEMPLE AS A SIDEKICK
Netflix’s Claire Temple shtick is getting stale now. In “Daredevil” and “Luke Cage,” she actually felt like part of the shows, but in this series, she came off a bit shoehorned. She was training with Colleen to be able to stand up for herself, which is a plus as she always ends up in fights against criminals. However, throwing her in to help Danny and Colleen against Madame Gao, the Meachum family and the Hand felt so forced.
When Danny and Colleen went to China to take out Gao’s operation, she went along as well, despite repeatedly saying throughout the show that these situations weren’t for her. Lumping her in here felt similar to Black Widow in “Iron Man 2,” who was just there to push an Avengers connection. With Claire feeling like nothing more than a lackey in all these situations, it was highly apparent her role was to tether Iron Fist to the “Defenders” and link all these heroes together. If she is to be deployed like that, the writers need to be focused with her and find that central role like Phil Coulson with the Avengers.
12. WORKED: THE EASTER EGGS
There were a lot of easter eggs packed into “Iron Fist,” truly painting the landscape that the “Defenders” will have to unite for. Joy Meachum used Jessica Jones as part of a corporate blackmail scheme to keep control of Rand Industries, Gao made mention of Daredevil and Luke Cage, Danny ended up actually borrowing a bullet-riddled tee belonging to Luke from Claire, and we even saw the Bride of Nine Spiders as one of the Immortal Weapons.
Jeryn Hogarth also crossed over from “Jessica Jones” to help our hero regain his stake in his family’s business, while Danny also dealt with Karen Page to help build his company’s image in the press. Overall, all the dots started connecting for Netflix’s street-level heroes, as they get set to encounter Stick and what we can assume to be, a bigger feud with the Hand. The biggest fanboy moment though, would have to be when we saw a previous Iron Fist donning the classic costume to defend the gateway to K’un Lun.
11. DIDN’T WORK: THE SOUNDTRACK
The soundtrack to “Luke Cage” set the bar high for Netlifx. It brought a distinct character and personality to the show, as well as breathed life into Harlem. Here, that feeling wasn’t recaptured. These opening credits promised so much with a theme that felt like it was scored by Daft Punk, so to see the series flop like that in terms of sound was thoroughly disappointing. Every now and then, Danny would put on some old-school rap, which was what he was listening to when his plane crashed, but sadly, this wasn’t played up more. It was odd given that it helped sooth his soul.
The show featured Anderson Paak’s “Come Down,” as well as music from the likes of Run The Jewels, Vince Staples, Outkast and Killah Priest to jumpstart it in intervals, but other than those, Trevor Morris’ compositions failed to resonate. It’s not that they were bad, but that they weren’t prominently used. Deploying the tracks sparingly hurt the series because when you heard them, you could feel Danny’s struggle to reclaim his birthright and connect with him.
10. WORKED: DANNY BEING SELFLESS
One of the impressive things about the show was how it portrayed Danny as being selfless. Early on, he made it clear he was not about the money, and he simply came back to reconnect with the Meachums, his childhood friends, as family. Even when he got back into the corporate game, you could see he cared for Colleen’s students, that he wanted to sacrifice company profit to ensure the poor could afford medication, and this generosity was further compounded when he threw his company’s reputation on the line in environmental lawsuits and drug links.
Danny was all about helping people through their struggles, which is something we didn’t see much of with Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark in movie depictions on a person to person level. This was a more intimate good-samaritan scenario, and he was much more giving than the other heroes we saw in New York on Netflix also. With Ward Meachum redeeming himself at the end to run Rand Industries, it was clear Danny’s altruism rubbed off on him. Despite Danny’s personal demons, K’un Lun definitely taught him to put others first.
9. DIDN’T WORK: THE PACING
The writing and dialogue throughout the series felt very weak. The plot ended up being decent, but when it came to stripping it down into individual episodes, showrunner Scott Buck (“Dexter”) and his team of writers produced material that felt more like network television than Netflix. He had directors like RZA (“The Man with the Iron Fists”) and Kevin Tancharoen (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Mortal Kombat: Legacy,” and all DC’s television shows), but there was still a certain flair missing which we were familiar with on “Daredevil.”
The cast had cheesy lines and the show’s tone felt so inconsistent, not sure when to be campy or when to go bleak and dark. The pacing was off at times, and honestly, it only picked up with about four episodes to go. A lot of the earlier material felt like filler, which was a problem “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage” ran into, and it’s something Netflix needs to remedy. Having a good plot is one thing, but not being able to strip it down into smaller pieces could detract from the overall picture.
8. WORKED: THE NEW VILLAINS
“Iron Fist” had quite a few villains to contend with, and it helped add depth to Danny’s journey to rediscovery. From the unstable Meachums to the murderous Immortal Weapons to the sinister Gao (who was new to him), there was a versatile picture painted of all who would oppose Danny. Later on, the Hand and Bakuto would end up unleashing more hell on him, as well as Davos, his former best friend. What these players did was create a strong emotional tension within Danny, playing off his self-doubt and hunger for revenge due to what transpired with his parents.
The last time such emotional turmoil emerged in the opposition was with Kingpin and the Punisher, where the stakes felt very high, violent and real. Kilgrave wasn’t bad against Jessica Jones, but he felt too one-dimensional, as opposed to this swath of haters Danny would encounter. What made things intriguing was that he didn’t know who to trust, and when to trust them, mostly because of how he was trained in K’un Lun to be a weapon himself.
7. DIDN’T WORK: THE LACK OF MYSTICISM
“Iron Fist” had a big hurdle to overcome in terms of being a copycat. The predicament was that it was about Danny returning to civilization. A billionnaire white guy returning after a long absence is something we already saw in “Batman Begins,” “Arrow” and “Iron Man.” Had they done things more in K’un Lun, it may have been too similar to “Doctor Strange.” That said, there’s no excuse for not playing up the mysticism of the source material. We didn’t explore inside K’un Lun much, nor did we see the other Capital Cities of Heaven.
We got flashbacks of Lei Kung and company training Danny, but didn’t get to soak in where he was or see the diversity he encountered. Another flaw was not seeing the dragon, Shou-Lao, which sucked because “Game of Thrones” spoiled us silly on dragons, and the fact we couldn’t see something so integral to Danny’s lore felt underwhelming. Netflix dropped the ball on the mysticism, especially with the comic arc of his father (Wendell Rand) being up for the Iron Fist in the past. When we saw Christopher Nolan dealing with Bruce’s training, we learned so much about the League of Shadows and where he was, but here, when Danny spoke of his experience, it felt like a madman’s fables.
6. WORKED: DANNY RECRUITING THE YAKUZA
After Danny and Colleen realized they would need assistance against the Hand, they did the unthinkable and approached the Yakuza. The Yakuza had come after the Meachums following a botched business deal, and Danny ended up whipping them. He returned with news that they had a common enemy and needed to unite to bring the Hand down. It showed that he was ready to get his hands dirty and also, willing to forge an uneasy alliance for the greater good.
He knew that there would be strength in numbers and didn’t want to underestimate his enemies, especially with Colleen professing her love for him. They both wanted to ensure it wasn’t a suicide mission, and the way he played the Yakuza reminded fans of when he posed as Daredevil in Marvel’s “Civil War” comic event. It showed that he was a strategist and tactician, because at the end of the day, Danny was just using them to achieve a goal, which just so happened to be getting rid of evil elements in the city.
5. DIDN’T WORK: THE HAND
The Hand felt really weak in this show and lacked that killer instinct which we saw from Nobu and company in “Daredevil.” While Gao hung overhead like a dark cloud, the ninjas the Hand used felt so average and didn’t even intimidate like they did against Matt Murdock. They lacked a field leader and even when Bakuto and Colleen’s secret faction was revealed, they still couldn’t bring the heat down on Danny.
It may have been smarter to pit Colleen against Danny as with Daredevil and Elektra, but Bakuto managed to suffice. A major disappointment was how Zhou Cheng was depicted as nothing more than a drunken doorman. He gave Danny a great fight, but in the comics he was a hunter of the Iron Fist, who tortured Danny and a predecessor called Orson Rand. Here, Cheng was reduced to nothing more than a peripheral thug. The fact that Danny could recruit Yakuza against them sums up how mediocre they were, and how they never came off threatening, except when Gao entered the fray.
4. WORKED: THE MEACHUM FAMILY DRAMA
This family drama was quite complex and took up a lot of Danny’s story as he grew up with them. Harold, who was Wendell’s business partner, faked his death with the Hand and took viewers on an emotional rollercoaster as he manipulated Danny, as well as his own kids. Ward, Harold’s son, also schemed against Danny but eventually redeemed himself when he realized he was heroic. Joy, the daughter, initially sided with Danny, but it seemed the drama took a toll on her later on.
What made all of these threads work is that they impacted on Danny, who saw the Meachums as a second father and siblings. He grew up with them, so he was accustomed to being part of their inner-circle. The fact that they were tied to the Hand, as well as inadvertent drug-running, were things Danny tried to remove to preserve their sanctity, and he did so blindly. The dynamic with the Meachums showed just why he left K’un Lun, and it was because he longed for a real family.
3. DIDN’T WORK: THE WEAK FIGHT SCENES
It’s tough to call this a martial-arts series when “Daredevil” had better fight scenes. Maybe, had the setting been in K’un Lun where we could see them chasing the Hand all the way back to New York, then we could have seen the art-form in its purest essence. These fight sequences felt like a step down from “Daredevil,” which is odd as Iron Fist is supposed to be elite in terms of fighting. Colleen looked better at times, but overall, the show’s choreography never felt quick nor fluid. There’s only so much you can milk from a hallway fight, after all.
It would have been nice to see the pace that Danny saw when he watched the footage of the old Iron Fist, similar to what Davos brought into the show. This consistent kung-fu frenzy (a la “Ong Bak” or “IP Man”) would have been perfect and helped differentiate the show from its contemporaries. It’s either that the actors or stuntmen weren’t up to the task or that better head choreographers were needed, because it felt like we were watching network television again.
2. WORKED: DAVOS’ EMOTIONAL TRIP
In the comics, Davos was the son of Lei Kung, the master teacher at K’un Lun. He lost the opportunity to gain access to the Iron Fist to Wendell, who ended up declining. Davos still wasn’t chosen and he ended up becoming the Steel Serpent and enemy to K’un Lun out of jealousy, under the tutelage of the villainous Crane Mother. In this show, he’s seen to be jealous of Danny gaining the fist, but more so, he hated Danny for abandoning his duty to safeguard K’un Lun.
The show tipped him over when he saw Danny compassionate and contemplating not killing members of the Hand, which was what K’un Lun trained them for. Davos also realized that his love for Colleen compromised him, and feeling betrayed, he turned on Iron Fist. At the end of the season, we saw him coaxing Joy into a plot to eliminate Danny, with Gao (who speculation has could be the Crane Mother) monitoring, possibly hinting at a wicked alliance for the next season against Danny and K’un Lun.
1. DIDN’T WORK: MAKING K’UN LUN A CULT
The show didn’t really display Danny’s training, ideals and philosophies like “Doctor Strange” did for Stephen Strange. Danny was merely conditioned, as if in a cult, like the League of Shadows. We saw him flogged, pounded with the concept of murder, and thrown into gate duty like a robotic servant, which painted K’un Lun as something without much honor. It didn’t feel like a city that was ethereal or on a higher plane, a la the comics.
There was discipline but not much teaching or opening of the mind. All Danny’s meditation sessions couldn’t make up for the fact that he was trained to be an assassin, which made his monks feel like an extension of the Hand. Given that they were called the Order of the Crane Mother, there’s something more sinister to Danny’s training because in the books, the Crane Mother belonged to K’un Lun’s enemies in K’un Zi. The fact that Gao also visited K’un Lun raised eyebrows and answers are surely needed now that K’un Lun has disappeared. If they are retconned to be the earliest incarnation of the Hand, expected a lot of disappointed fans.
Thoughts on our assessment? Let us know in the comments what did and didn’t work for you this season!