Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What’s On Netflix?: MARVEL’S IRON FIST

Welcome to another installment of WHAT’S ON NETFLIX?, where we pick out a film or series currently playing on Netflix and review it for the fans. This week’s selection is something that has been dividing fans for months and sparked particular attention due to its release this past weekend. We’re talking MARVEL’S IRON FIST.

Iron Fist is the fifth season of television produced by Marvel for the Netflix platform, following the massive success of the first two seasons of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. It tells the story of Danny Rand, also known as The Iron Fist (a kung fu warrior with magical powers trained in the mystical monastery of Kun Lun), as he returns to New York seeking reacceptance by his childhood family friends and a role in his family’s Rand Corporation. Upon returning, his story gets embroiled with the evil organization The Hand (a group he has sworn to destroy) who are influential in his city and company in ways he cannot yet imagine. The show stars Finn Jones as Danny Rand alongside Jessica Henwick, Jessica Stroup, Tom Pelphrey, David Wenham, and Wai Ching Ho and Rosario Dawson returning from the other Marvel Netflix shows.

Iron Fist is certainly the character in the Defenders lineup I knew the least about going into the show and, unfortunately, the show really let me down in introducing me to a new and compelling character. This is possibly Marvel Studios first real failure as an overall matter, and is a massive stain on the sterling record of the Marvel Netflix Universe. Is Iron Fist the worst show ever? No. Are there good things about it? Of course. But that does not a good show make and Iron Fist failed to get me invested and keep my attention and didn’t make me want to explore this character any further.

I’ll begin the details of this review with some positives. The most notable positive in the show is the introduction and portrayal of the character Colleen Wing. Portrayed by Jessica Henwick, Wing was a character I instantly connected with and thought had the most exciting and interesting action of any of the heroes in the whole show. She also had considerably more personality than most others and played well of Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple and could probably go toe to toe in terms of quality with any of the great secondary characters introduced in the other Marvel Netflix shows.

Further, I thought that Iron Fist did a great job at expanding the scope of things going on in this universe. The previous four Marvel Netflix shows have felt very provincial to certain communities in New York City and personal involving one specific conflict between individuals. Iron Fist shows a much more expansive world. It is predominantly in New York but we also get to travel elsewhere in the series and the stuff going on with the Hand showed a more extensive degree of control and nefariousness than anything we got to see in Daredevil or any of the other shows. This aspect is definitely important heading into Marvel’s Defenders (a crossover series with the four Marvel Netflix heroes) because that series is going to need to embrace more expansive concerns to justify the commitment of all of the characters.

In addition, Iron Fist actually shows that, given the budget, these Netflix shows can feel like more traditional superhero properties in terms of having high quality and interesting visual effects. Though highly underused throughout the series, the actual effect they applied for the “Iron Fist” power itself looked great on screen. This is promising for the future and, if given more opportunity and use, could be important to the future of this corner of the Marvel universe.

Finally, this is the first of the Netflix series that progressively gets stronger as the series goes on. After a wildly sluggish and drab beginning, Iron Fist picks up over the course of the series and finishes on a high note considering everything that came before. Each of the series (and Luke Cage in particular) have had too many episodes for the storylines set out from the beginning and this is no exception, but at least it flips the script in a way that leaves you feeling marginally positive about the experience as a whole.

As alluded to in my final positive, Iron Fist has some serious issues, starting with a horrible introduction to the series. The first several episodes of the show are trying on the patience of most viewers in all the wrong ways. I am more forgiving of boardroom and courtroom scenes than most other viewers and those were not what got on my nerves (like they did with others). It was the principles that cut through the plot at that stage of the series, as well as the performances that accompanied that plot. It was grating to say the least. Everyone came off as unlikeable, especially the Meachum siblings played by Stroup and Pelphrey. The titular Danny Rand did not escape this fate either in this early arc or, frankly, the series as a whole.

It is troubling in an Iron Fist series to not actually like the Iron Fist character. Finn Jones is merely adequate throughout this, but the way he is written is so poor I had almost no ability to get behind the different actions he would take. Unlike Daredevil, Jessica Jones, or Luke Cage, he had almost no personality and certainly didn’t command the screen like those characters. He was frequently outshone by small side characters and Colleen Wing revealing this gaping weakness even more so.

In addition to Iron Fist’s character not being great, the series really lacks a fundamental element this needs to succeed: good marital arts. At its core, this is a Kung Fu show. There are moments that are fun, certainly, and there are some great classic Kung Fu movie call backs as well. The limited examples of those reveals a serious problem in a series that should be great in terms of the martial arts throughout, however. The notable centerpiece of this issue is with Finn Jones and Iron Fist. He doesn’t look like a fighter and I was almost never convinced he could take half of the experienced fighters he ends up dealing with. Further, I didn’t buy that he could even remotely match up to the likes of a Daredevil which is equally problematic in terms of buying him as a long term member of the Defenders as a team.

Finally, and maybe most significantly, Iron Fist lacks a clear focus and intention for the series. It doesn’t establish any particularly strong villains or storylines like the other shows did, and really was drawn in many different directions throughout. I often found it to be disjointed like it was rushing through too much material and also couldn’t commit to executing any one thing particularly well. This is what hurt most for me, especially since it is starting a trend after Luke Cage had some similar issues. I hope future Marvel Netflix shows can get a little more focused but this really hurt my experience with Iron Fist.

Overall, Iron Fist was a major disappointment and was the first time I felt legitimately let down by the Marvel Netflix universe. The series is not devoid of good things. There are some good references, some nice sequences, decent special effects, and a wonderful new character in Colleen Wing. But those are not enough to make this series good. I hope that Defenders gets us back on board because this really didn’t live up to the standard set for it.

Ryan’s Score: 4.5/10

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1 comment:

  1. It was very obvious that Finn Jones is not a trained martial artist. He was too stiff and awkward in the fight scenes and you could clearly tell when it was Jones or the more experienced stunt double (the same one used as Dare Devil in the fight scenes.).