Netflix continued its Marvel Comics love-fest with the release of Iron Fist this week. If you’re not familiar with the comic book – and by all accounts, not many people are – then it tells the story of one Daniel Rand who was lost in the Himalayas following a plane crash. He’s raised by warrior monks and returns to New York some fifteen years later to reclaim his legacy. Yes, he’s a secret billionaire … with no shoes.
It’s a story as old as time, but with a nice modern twist, or so we thought. The early showings have been mercilessly panned by critics who reckon it’s nowhere near as good as Netflix’s other Marvel collaborations: Daredevil (brilliant), Jessica Jones (not so superhero-y, but still brilliant), and Luke Cage (gritty and brilliant). There have also been lots of complaints of ‘white-washing’: why is a Kung-Fu master being played by a white guy? What, you couldn’t you find a Chinese actor who knows his way around the martial arts? This particular complaint you can pretty much ignore. Iron Fist has been around since the seventies. He started off white; he’s always been white. If he wasn’t white I’m not sure how they make the whole thing work. No, the real complaints are about the show itself.
Now, I’ve only watched the first two episodes, and I usually like to give it at least another one before I decide whether or not it’s a dud. I haven’t done that in this case because its predecessors were pretty damn good from day one, so I kinda expected the same from Iron Fist. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen so far, it’s not in the same league.
First off, the acting. It is a little bit wooden, from just about everyone involved. Daniel Rand is niaively spiritual, but sort of manic with it. The script isn’t much to write home about, and it’s taking itself far too seriously for something with such a familiar plot. The transitions between present and past are awkward, and the scenes between the protagonists are more laboured than tense. It all feels a little like everyone was only half-bothered.
Where Iron Fist should excel is the fight scenes. Admittedly, DareDevil set the bar pretty high, but Iron Fist is supposed to be the greatest living exponent of the martial arts; he needs violence to match. And here again, the series (so far) has failed to deliver. The sequences are bit like the acting: stiff, laboured, with no real sense of delivery. Everyone moves around each other in a carefully choreographed ballet that looks about as dangerous as the first week of Strictly Come Dancing. The director needs to watch the brutality of Daredevil and aim for something a bit more stylish but as equally intense. Of course, I’m talking about the ‘Hallway’ scene from Daredevil season 1, which one or two commentators have hailed as the greatest fight scene in television history (or it was until the ‘Stairwell’ fight scene from season 2), and not for its brutality, more for its lack of the superhuman element.
So is Iron Fist a dud? Well, I’m a huge fan of the Netflix/Marvel collaboration so I’m not ready to write it off just yet. I’ve seen lots of telly get off to a wobbly start and improve as the series goes on; I’m hoping Iron Fist will be the same. It’s a great story with lots of potential, so let’s give it time to bed in.