Mystery, mysticism, action, and adventure
That’s the potent combination that makes Iron Fist a success as one of the Marvel Studios Netflix offerings. It isn’t as dark or gory as Daredevil. It isn’t as dark and creepy as Jessica Jones. And it doesn’t have the same comic book action hero feel of Luke Cage. But that’s what I like about it. It is its own story. In the long run, I think Iron Fist will be considered the Empire Strikes Back of the Marvel Netflix series. It offers a deeper insight into The Hand and the machinations of Madame Gao and does an excellent job of setting up what really should be considered one long mini-series for the finale – The Defenders.
The story in short is about the return of Danny Rand after 15 years of being presumed dead. Rand comes back and the entire world is changed – including the company that his father owned and ran. Now it is operated by his childhood friends who are not that thrilled he is back. Rand himself has undergone a change. He is now The Iron Fist, the protector of K’un-Lun and sworn enemy of The Hand (introduced to us in Daredevil). What happened to Danny’s world in those 15 years is the subject of the show as he seeks to unravel the mysteries he keeps uncovering, only to find out that very little is what it appears to be.
I’ve read other reviews that panned the show, saying that it moved too slow and the action was lacking, but I felt like the pacing of the show resisted the easy path. It would have been more fun perhaps had it gone the strict kung fu route, lots of fighting, great action sequences with tons of ninja and the weird but cool yellow and green outfit from the comic books. Instead it took time to establish the characters, define their roles in this corner of the universe, and do the hard work of creating the framework for the future. If you’re expecting non-stop action, yes, you’ll be disappointed (and to be fair – when you think of a kung-fu based series that’s probably what you would be looking for). This is really more of a drawn out mystery than an action series.
Another device that may have drawn criticism is that the tale of the Iron Fist is told mostly by ancillary characters instead of by Danny Rand himself (played by Finn Jones) making the character seem rather bland. But as is the case with most central figures (Luke Skywalker for example), we see the show through his eyes metaphorically. Rand is more of a tabula rasa – a blank slate and as the mysteries of the show are revealed through and around him. The surrounding characters like Claire Temple, Joy Meachum, Colleen Wing, Bakuto, Madame Gao, and Jeri Hogarth really are the life of the series. What’s nice about all of the Marvel Netflix shows is the sense of continuity the recurring characters give the show. Claire has been in every series since Daredevil. Jeri has been in almost every one. Madam Gao was revealed first in Daredevil and then appears here. All the actors who portray these characters are terrific.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that there aren’t flaws in the show. The pacing is slow if you’re expecting an action-adventure show (but just right for a mystery with some action thrown in). Harold Meachum seems to be a bit trite. Ward is a little too manic. How did Claire learn how to fight on a level with trained soldiers? And how is it that no one seems to notice all these ninjas all over the city? But this show is interesting because it obviously lays the groundwork for The Defenders. If you’re a fan of the Marvel Netflix universe, Iron Fist will whet your appetite until The Defenders arrives later this year.