Throughout his long, 43-year history appearing in Marvel Comics publications, Iron Fist has travelled an uneven journey. It’s one filled with plenty of promise at the start, occasionally attracting top-tier creative talent, and experiencing moments of potent storytelling, but always coming a little short of the greatness of other, more familiar Marvel headliners.
And after an early glance at the first six episodes of Netflix’s “Iron Fist,” it seems the same can be said of the hero’s streaming series.
The most basic critiques become apparent pretty early on: “Iron Fist” just doesn’t feel in the same league as the three other entries in Marvel Television and Netflix’s prior, largely well-received street-level-superhero series, “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage.” Part of that leading man Finn Jones not bringing the same high degree of screen-holding charisma to his role as Danny Rand that his soon-to-be “Defenders” colleagues Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter and Mike Colter do to theirs.
This is a bit unexpected, given that the series was adapted for the screen by Scott Buck, a veteran writer/producer whose prior work served as hallmarks of acclaimed and compelling series like “Dexter” and “Six Feet Under” (he’s also at the helm of Marvel’s upcoming “Inhumans” series). But “Iron Fist” struggles with a glacially paced narrative. Even more surprising, for a series adapted from a comic that itself was inspired by the kung fu pop culture craze of the 1970s, the show inexplicably skimps on martial arts action – at least in the early episodes.
Rather than leaning directly into the mystical origins of Danny inheriting the mantle of the Immortal Iron Fist in the extra-dimensional realm of K’un L’un, the series begins by attempting to evoke the gritty, grounded New York neighborhood vibe of its three predecessor series and hopes to create a mystery surrounded just who Danny is as he re-enters the world years after being lost in an Asian mountaintop and presumed dead. Much time is devoted to Danny presenting himself to siblings Ward and Joy Meachum, his former childhood friends – or frenemy, in Ward’s case – who now run his family’s company.
Is he the real Danny? Is he crazy, or is he running a clever scam? Unfortunately, the audience is a lot surer of Danny’s claims than the Meachums (one of whom is hiding their own secret). This drawn-out pseudo-mystery is more frustrating than satisfying in the initial episodes, particularly when coupled with the fact that early on the series seems determined to delay gratification on delivering any sort of kung fu action for as long as possibly it can. When it finally does come through, the actual Iron Fist effect is actually almost worth the wait. However, in another surprise, the martial arts sequences aren’t nearly as impressive as we’ve come to expect to witness in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially after two stellar seasons of stuntwork on “Daredevil.”
There is eventually some good news, too; once the storyline slogs through some of the early episodes, it does pick up a little steam, particularly when those trademark Marvel shared universe elements (#itsallconnected) start coming into play in ways both anticipated and (very) unexpected. By the end of the sixth episode, I was finally somewhat fully invested in where things were heading.
Coming back around to an earlier criticism, though he is lacking the same level of screen presence as the other Netflix/Marvel leads, Jones is a perfectly capable leading man, possessed of a light-footed charm that, frankly, I expect will work quite well when used in contrast to his weight-of-the-world-carrying co-stars in “The Defenders.” It’s also important and heartening to not that the series has discovered a bona fide star in Jessica Henwick as Iron Fist’s initially reluctant, no-nonsense ally Colleen Wing, who owns every scene she appears in, whether she’s kicking ass, or merely contemplating how she ever got mixed up with Danny Rand in the first place.
“Iron Fist” centers on Danny Rand, who returns to New York City to reclaim his family company after being presumed dead for 15 years. However, when a threat emerges, he must choose between his family’s legacy and his duties as the Iron Fist. The drama introduces the final member of Marvel’s “The Defenders,” who will unite this summer with Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock, Krysten Ritter’s Jessica Jones and Mike Colter’s Luke Cage for an eight-episode miniseries.
Arriving Friday, March 17 on Netflix, “Iron Fist” also stars Jessica Henwick, David Wenham, Jessica Stroup, Tom Pelphrey and Rosario Dawson.