Iron Fist is the latest venture into the Marvel Cinematic Universe by Netflix, following the last member of the upcoming The Defenders – a team of heroes from New York including Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. Unlike its predecessors, Iron Fist has caused quite the controversy, and also been quite underwhelming.
To start with, its controversy – the story follows Danny Rand, a billionaire heir from New York who survives a plane crash, gets taken in by monks in the Himalayas who train him in martial arts, and he eventually becomes their saviour, the sacred Iron Fist. Netflix and Marvel were accused of whitewashing, casting a white man to become the saviour of a culture who invented and practice martial arts.
With the original comic being borne out of the 1970s American obsession with kung-fu movies, the protagonist being white then is, perhaps not justifiable, but forgivable. However, when news broke that Iron Fist was being developed for Netflix, fans and audiences demanded that Danny Rand be of Asian descent. Despite this, producers decided against it and stuck to the source material. Clearly Marvel were stuck between appeasing their long term fans by following the comic by the book, or by adapting it to fit modern audiences.
Controversy aside, but also widely covered upon its release, Iron Fist is quite plainly the weakest of the Netflix superheroes series – the quality of Daredevil and Jessica Jones in particular are a tough act to follow. As described above, it follows Danny Rand (Finn Jones) as he returns to New York after being presumed dead for 15 years after a plane crash killed his parents and he was rescued by monks. He comes back to reclaim his place in his father’s business empire, to find his old childhood friends and future business partners have taken over following their own father’s death. Danny soon discovers that an old threat to his community of K’un Lun are rampant in New York and he must do what he can to stop them.
Finn Jones (who you might recognise from Game of Thrones) plays the eponymous character, and unfortunately his performance falls quite flat. As Danny Rand, he is perfectly amicable and can pull it off, but as soon as he is in Iron Fist mode, he becomes tacky, cheesy and forced. Perhaps if an Asian actor had been used, these scenes would have worked, as Jones just never quite seems to fit the role. With his blonde curly locks and almost hipster-esque demeanour, he comes across too much as an over-privileged white kid who thinks he understands wider culture, than the Iron Fist who is expertly trained in martial arts whom he is meant to be – it is almost painful to watch at times. He does progress throughout the show when it becomes more about the outcome of his battle than his identity, but still never quite works.
The progression of the story is quite slow, but about halfway through the season it does take it up a notch and the intensity heightens. The character arcs take a while to come into play, but when they do they make for an effective and entertaining watch. Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) is one of the stronger characters here, and she becomes Danny’s side-kick and confidante. She runs a dojo in New York which helps kids to come off the streets and train them in martial arts and teach them discipline. Rosario Dawson also makes a further appearance as Claire as she, once again, gets swept up into the unfolding events of the show, however far more involved this time round, but playing her key role in keeping all of the other Netflix shows connected.
One thing which Iron Fist does well at to set itself apart from its predecessors is the way in which Danny Rand helps his community. Rather than purely to be a vigilante, his alter ego as the Iron Fist is for strictly personal reasons and in keeping with his teachings in K’un Lun. He takes advantage of the extremely powerful corporation his father used to run for the greater good; he defies his fellow board members in order to help people, offering medication for cost price, shutting down factories that are poisoning the air, and all very publicly. He isn’t hiding behind a mask or an alter-ego whenever he helps people, making you really root for him as a character.
Whilst Iron Fist doesn’t quite match it’s predecessor Netflix Marvel series, it is still good fun and entertaining, despite an incredibly slow start. We reckon he will get a better chance of a good reception after appearing in the upcoming The Defenders, which will allow more room for interesting character clashes between the superheroes – a release we can’t wait to see!
We give Iron Fist 3 stars – it’s certainly flawed and disappointing in comparison to others of it’s kind, but still delivers an entertaining watch.
Iron Fist is available to stream on Netflix now.