I’ve gotta be honest here: I’m not very familiar with the Iron Fist comics, and therefore, I have a mostly blank slate when it comes to this series. When I turned on Netflix last night, I purposefully tried to avoid thinking about the overwhelmingly negative response the show received when it was first announced, and attempted to achieve a sort of zen-like state (heh) so that I could give the first few episodes a neutral view; however, I’ll be the first to admit that it was difficult to evade pondering about the unpopular opinions surrounding the casting choices. I did my best though, so here goes nothing.
Quick word of warning: While I’ve tried to keep this review mostly spoiler free, there are references to some scenes that some readers may find spoiler-worthy.
In short: I was pleasantly surprised by some things, and thoroughly bored by others. The show opens with a dishevelled, dirty and somewhat disoriented Danny Rand (Finn Jones, Game of Thrones) padding around the filthy streets of New York in bare feet and parachute pants. Although this look is popular in some trendy Inner West Sydney suburbs, it’s not exactly the aesthetic of most heirs to billion-dollar companies. Danny attempts to go back to his father’s offices in some massive skyrise building, and is, of course, promptly kicked out by security. Cue the cheese: we see Danny beat the veritable crap out of a bunch of thuggish guards with ease, and he makes his way to the top of the building to have a chat with his old childhood mates Joy (Jessica Stroup, The Following) and Ward (Tom Pelphrey, Banshee). Both Joy and Ward look like they’re getting really excited for Purge night, and are the children of Danny’s father’s business partner, Harold Meachum (David Wenham, Lord of the Rings).
Danny explains that he miraculously survived the plane crash which killed his parents fifteen years ago, and that he’s back (although we don’t really know why). Then he’s promptly kicked out by security again, as the siblings don’t believe a word he’s saying. Not surprising, really, as Danny looks like a Newtown hipster with that classic hobo chic look going on; on top of that, he isn’t wearing any shoes and has zero proof of his identity. This entire sequence was dull and predictable, although I’ll give some props to the writers for their attempt to keep the Meachum’s responses to Danny’s ludicrous claims pretty realistic. If your childhood bff died in a plane crash over a decade ago and then some random lunatic turned up claiming to be him, I think we would all have the same response. They also introduce what I’m assuming will be the sidekick character, fellow martial arts extraordinaire Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick, Game of Thrones), who actually seems like quite a cool lady, despite falling into several trope categories.
The entire first episode is lacklustre and repetitive, and although it introduces a couple of characters who have the potential to grow into something interesting, Danny Rand isn’t one of them. Although Jones is clearly trying his best with the source material, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and the character of Danny has all the personality of a wet blanket with some googly eyes popped on it to make it look funny. He has zero depth and what vaguely compelling lines he does say are tired and cliche. Nevertheless, I refuse to judge a show based solely on the pilot, and so I powered onto the next episode with my hopes only somewhat dashed.
Spoiler warning here.
Where do I start? Whilst the second episode is a vast improvement on the first, there are so many issues with it (ones I found pretty problematic) that I found it difficult to concentrate.
To break it down for you, Danny is sent to a psychiatric hospital where he is force-fed antipsychotic medications and generally treated unfairly. The majority of the episode focuses on Danny talking to the psychiatrist — a.k.a, an excuse for the writers to ham-fistedly explain what, how and why Danny is now a super ninja; discuss his history; tlak about how he escaped the plane crash, etc. We do learn a bit about Danny’s relationship with the Meachum children when they were growing up, and we see how childhood trauma has shaped some of the characters and how this affects them as adult, which I found to be a refreshing thing to see on an otherwise bland superhero show. To the doctor’s credit, after exploring Danny’s psyche, he once again has a typical response to the outlandish claims that his patient is making (he’s a superhero, he came from another dimension, he’s the Chosen One, etc). Again, I’ll give some praise to the writers for keeping everything quite believable. For example, any new-grad psychologist fresh out of uni would say that this patient is having delusions of grandeur and then treat him accordingly, because how could he possibly be the real Danny Rand?
By the end of the episode, the psychiatrist, Harold Meachum, his daughter Joy and Colleen Wing are all convinced that Danny is really who he says he is. (Gasp!) From there, without explaining it too much, Danny escapes from the mental institution by using his Iron Fist powers. There are a couple of lines that made me smile, with throwaway references to GoT‘s Red Wedding and The Avengers, plus some Luke Cage-esque musical choices that definitely helped set up the mood. We are also properly introduced to the villain, Harold Meachum, and I’ll have to say that while I find it super difficult to take Aussie Wenham’s American accent seriously, he’s probably the most convincing and slightly terrifying character of the lot of them. Harold has the most character development of the main cast, and I loathe him already — a good sign for a bad guy!
All in all, the first two episodes of Iron Fist were not nearly as bad as some people of the internet have declared, but so far, it’s not exactly groundbreaking either. Although I’m only a couple of episodes in, there has been very little character or plot development, and the otherwise exciting action sequences don’t quite make up for it. The writing relies heavily on overused and boring tropes to carry the episodes, but I give some kudos to the cast who are clearly trying to do the best they can with the material they’ve been given. Here’s hoping that it gets better throughout the season.