Iron Fist S1, E1-5 - Review: Lacking in Technique
“But the one thing they love more than a hero is to see a hero fail” according to William Defoe’s Green Goblin. That’s how it’s felt in the run up to the 4th Defenders show, Iron Fist. The 3 shows to date have been bombarded with praise. Each being brilliant but unique viewing experiences, placing this Marvel/Netflix venture at the top of the superhero TV show genre…. The genre hero if you will. Yet now that it’s got there, some people seemed determined to bring it down, causing even the slightest hints of weakness concerning Iron Fist to see people labeling it as a failure. Have people grown so tired of the shows being good that they actually want this one to suck? God, I hope not. So here is my verdict on the show’s opening punches with absolutely no consideration whatsoever to pre-release Rotten Tomatoes scores, any stories, characters, themes, controversies because it’s a damn entertainment show, not a political statement….. I just want you to know that so that when I say that I found these opening episodes underwhelming, you know I’m being fair about it. Iron Fist isn’t a bad show but it is a considerable drop in quality for Marvel/Netflix fans.
Episode 1, Snow Gives Way – After supposedly dying a plane crash with his parents 15 years ago Danny Rand (Finn Jones – Game of Thrones) returns to New York to a less than warm welcome with his family company now in the hands of his cruel childhood friend Ward (Tom Pelphrey – Banshee)
Well there’s no use denying from the early goings, the Fist haters are not without cause because the series starts really slowly. It jumps into things far too quickly with the conflict of Rand and Ward Meachum before we’ve even had chance to take stock of who these people are, let alone comprehend the significance of what we’re seeing. This continues throughout the episode with the story being very sedate and Rand’s reclusiveness, making him difficult to relate to as the main protagonist. Really, this is following the same approach as the prior Netflix shows in showing an individual with existing powers on the start of their journey to being a hero while telling their origin story gradually through flashbacks (in this case, with a distinct Oliver Queen feel). It should be a plain sailing but it doesn’t quite seem to come together, and a lot of that is down to the cast and characters. In Iron Fist, there is no Foggy, no Misty, Malcolm, Karen or Trish. None of the supporting cast comes across as likeable or overly entertaining. While Jessica Henwick’s (Game of Thrones) Colleen Wing shows potential to join those ranks, she doesn’t overly impress in this first round.
The early teases of Rand’s Iron Fist abilities work better. The opening minutes see him dispatching security guards with total composure and merely half interest like such opponents are beneath him. Even if unexplained, the early harnessing of chi forces over the natural world creates some good curiosity over the nature of his training and origin story, just like bursts of Eastern philosophy. The episode gives us a nice taste of the martial arts action to come courtesy of the China Town parade set piece. Danny mentions K’un Lun and the Shau-Lou the undying. These are connected to the origin of his powers and the latter is a dragon.... more on that later.
The episode delivers some interesting mystery setups like the more complex workings of the Meachum family and just how exactly Danny went from a child surviving a mountain plane crash to being a martial arts master. Yet for now, at least it doesn’t make us care enough about finding those answers. This first punch is less Iron Fist and more tin foot. If these Marvel Netflix shows have taught us one thing above all else, it’s never judge them until a few episodes in when the main villain emerges.
Episode 2, Shadow Hawk Takes Flight – While being detained in a mental institution Danny not only protests the truth of his identity but reveals that he is also part of a warrior line known as the Iron Fist. Others are starting believing him, at least about the first part.
So for episode two, its one Defender flew over the cuckoo’s nest as Danny is confined to a mental hospital. While it's more of the same in terms of being a slow-plodding episode, it’s setup does have some merit. Firstly, this is a very different setup for a Defender character to date and Danny having no more evidence of his identity than his word linking in well to themes of delusion and believable doubt for the doctors involved. The fake passport makes for a nice twist and bonus points for a Matrix nod with the surname Anderson. This pulls well into the show’s first tether into the wider MCU as the doctor remarks seeing a lot mental cases of people believing they have super powers, “since the incident” aka since the Chitari attack on New York. Joy’s coming around to Danny was a nice touch, drawing from childhood memories and it broke up the gloom up Danny’s incarceration well by giving him something to smile about. It also seems like there might be a link here between this institution and the IGH corporation of Jessica Jones; responsible for creating Killgrave and Will Simpson/Nuke’s pills from Jessica Jones. Fellow patients mention not being crazy or suffering from certain conditions until given particular pills. That smells like some experimentation is going on.
Danny’s drugged state is also used well to divulge a little more on his Iron First persona and it even gives his our first hint towards the show’s bigger Defenders picture by making Iron Fist a sworn enemy of The Hand (previously seen in both Daredevil seasons). This immediately makes the show feel more promising by teasing a mystical faction war conflict rather than the corporate scheming we’ve had up until this point. We know our current reclusive villain is against The Hand but we don’t know why but a certain window message raises a lot of curiosity. Then there’s passing mentions on warehouses on Brooklyn being purchased by Rand industries. Could this be a counter-Hand move? We’ve seen on Daredevil that their plans require specific property accusations due to the locations of mysterious big ass holes deep into the Earth. Maybe Rand Industries is buying them up to help keep them out of Hand control?
The episode even concludes with our first glimpse at Danny Iron Fist powers in action. The simple visual effects look good and the end note door blast is an effective money shot, demonstrating just how powerful he can be. For those unfamiliar with the comics character, Danny mentions the 7 capital cities of heaven in this episode. Danny spent his last 15 years in one of those, K’un Lun (that can only be accessed once every 15 years or so). Each city has an “Immortal Weapon” that acts as its defender and Iron Fist is the defender of K’un Lun. Let’s leave it at that for now. I can’t say I’m a fan of the show’s soundtrack and scoring though. The main theme sounds 13-year-old mixing about with the Stranger Things music. This might be an after effect of Luke cage’s awesome “Wu-Tang-ification” but what seems to be the Iron Fist audio theme sounds rather bland and generic.
The fledgling warrior of a show is still ranking at grade, “meh” for now but this episode gave me much more motivation to continue watching than the first.
Episode 3, Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch – When Danny encounters an old friendl he may have found a way to prove his identity. Although it goes against her principles, Colleen finds a new solution to her dojo’s financial problems and through some shrewd negotiating Joy closes the pier deal.
Third time’s a charm, this is a much improved episode. Firstly, from the outset it’s a much better action offering to keep things feeling for pacey. Granted, we need to see less of the Rand Industries security team. We’re only 3 episodes in and already they look like the show’s Sideshow Bob, doing nothing but lose each time. Everything else though is great. Wing’s cage fight against the friendly neighborhood Brock Lesner is a good hard hitting affair while also signaling a change in Wing’s character. Her fighting name, “Daughter of the Dragon” is an Easter egg for the name of a team up and publication between Wing and Misty Knight (a team up we may even see in Defenders as both characters will feature). We get some good Danny/Iron Fist action too. Even if every one of those hospital records boxes looked empty as they were falling and flying off the shelves this was still a good fight with an awesome Iron Vs brass knuckles money shot.
This episode sees the show spread its Netflix wings in a very enjoyable fashion. Firstly ,we have Carrie-Annie Moss reprising her Jessica Jones role as Jeri Hogarth. Like her male comics counterpart, Jeri is introduced as the executor of the Rand family estate following their deaths. There’s an interesting contrast to this side of Hogarth from that of Jessica Jones. In a fun twist, Hogarth is pledged as an intern on her first job at Rand industries back when Danny was young and it feels like reuniting with him awakens her younger self, before her career path and choices made her colder. This provides good means for the season to progress as Hogath becomes Danny’s means of legally proving his identity. Then as a bonus, although we don’t see her face, it’s pretty clear a certain shadowy visitor is Madame Gao reprising her role from Daredevil. It had been previously implied her character had left New York for K’un Lun or some other mystical destination. Yet her presence here leaves us questioning just who she really is. Not only does she appear to be calling the shots for our current big bad (who is deliberately not being named as an episode 1 spoiler) but it she seems to have some degree of mystical powers. She certainly didn’t walk/hobble in and out of the room and her words implied she was behind last episodes ominous hand print.
To top it all off, we even get a Bran Stark worthy cliff-hanger ending. This is an episode that progresses key stories rather than just stalling them, answers questions while still providing more mysteries and feels much more like the show it should be.
Episode 4, Eight Diagram Dragon Palm – After an unexpected reunion, Danny finds himself legally declared alive and the majority shareholder of Rand Industries but unsure what to do next. When the Triads seek retribution of Joy’s pier deal Iron Fist will find a calling. Colleen continues to fight for money but is she getting too cocky?
Okay, so the cliff-hanger resolution is a bit meager but considering the stakes, they didn’t have a lot of options. What comes immediately afterwards is a much more interesting cards on the table affair with Ward and others resulting in Danny wrongly being pointed towards routed out hand infiltration in Rand Industries. Meanwhile, if now seems abundantly clear that the Meachums are working in service for The Hand and pier location was acquired for their needs. This clears up the uncertainty of the last few episodes leaving us clear as an audience which side everybody is on even if Danny has it wrong. There were some nice comparisons between Danny’s duel life as himself and Iron Fist. He fought for many years with everything he had to receive the honor yet now, isn’t sure if knows what to do with. Similarly, Danny Rand has gone against all the odds to return home and reclaim his family company. Yet now he has that he’s struggling over what to do with it. It’s a good collective allusion to the theme of destiny.
I like how Colleen’s story is progressing as cage-fighting seems to be having a drug-like effect on her, pusher her further for a deeper thrill like going 2 against 1. This echoes back nicely to Danny saying that he only truly finds himself in a fight and Colleen appears to be doing the same. Obviously ,this will eventually end in tragedy when she pushes it too far but for now, it makes for enjoyable action offerings. The same can effeminately be said for this episode’s slice of Iron Fist action. The hatchet-wielding Triads down a corridor fight feels like a fun mashup of Oldboy and Kung Fu Hustle followed a gorgeously red drenched close quarters lift showdown. My only gripe is over the way they’re using the actual Iron Fist power i.e. hardly at all. We’re not really seeing Danny fight with his main weapon, just occasionally using it for reactive defense like the hatchet block here. When you think about how the prior Netflix have used their heroes' powers much more creatively, it makes Iron Fist look a bit more clueless. Still, overall the action gets an iron thumb up.
Getting our first glimpse at Danny’s dragon chest tattoo was a nice end of episode treat and although this is not as strong as episode 3, this is still an improvement on the blander opening pair of episodes.
Episode 5, Under Leaf Pluck Lotus – When a new form of chemical-based heroin is about to hit the streets via Rand Industries newly acquired pier, Danny and Colleen try to stop it before the drug floods the city. Elsewhere, Danny’s determination to do the right thing lands his company in trouble while Colleen has a new student: Claire Temple.
It really shouldn’t have taken this long but now we’re finally seeing Danny actually in action and fighting crime as Iron Fist as the season starts to find its groove. Rather than just being attacked, this is the first time we see him on mission as it were, with Colleen as a side kick, culminating in the pair of them deciding to take on The Hand’s operations in New York. It feels like a good chapter ending point for the season even if the show’s really taken 5 episodes to reach this point. This takes everything back to the core strength of the Defenders project in showing us fledgling heroes finding their way one mission at a time. While Danny can handle himself in a fight we see his tact and infiltration has room for improvement while Colleen is coming into her own in getting her fighting thrills outside of the cage. Sadly, it does draw attention to a big problem with the show at this stage. The chemistry between Danny and Colleen really isn’t there. This is less the actors' fault and more the dialogue they’re given in their exchanges. It just feels rather bland, almost crying out for some decent wit. Thankfully, the episode does find this from another….
Enter the almighty linking character and queen of vigilante stitch jobs, Claire “Night Nurse” Temple. We last saw Claire at the end of Luke Cage, taking an advert for Colleen’s dojo and now catch with her in those lessons. At first glance, Claire and Colleen seem quite acquainted like they’ve had many sessions together, implying the shows are still progressing in roughly real time. As well as being an ever enjoyable presence on screen, Claire provides a good link between the prior Hand activities of Daredevil Season 2, recounting the hospital attack and how it was covered up. The final act injury solidifies her character nicely for any newcomers as the hero’s off the books medical go to. There’s even a nice playful nod to way she’s fallen into the path of another vigilante, “My mother says I can’t escape meeting people like you”. The only thing that seems odd about Claire’s character is why she never names the other heroes she’s known. The likes of Luke and Daredevil are public knowledge so why not refer to them? Maybe she will late in this season as a gateway to Defenders?
This is an episode with direction and a better balance of lighter moments than we’ve seen previously. Danny’s version of ordering take out is hilarious, and I love the episode opening with the trio of glamorous pharmaceutical sales rep ladies (Barney Stinson was right, they are “hot-chick” profession) entrancing their respective clients of different customer sectors like a coven of witches. With The Hand and Madame Gao now aware of Iron First’s presence in New York, it feels like they’ll be sending a few specialists his way, which should make for some great fights. For now though, after its first third Iron Fist has interested me enough to continue watching but also left me hoping things improve. Right now, it’s entertaining me but it certainly isn’t wowing me.