Skip to main content

Iron Fist: A Postmortem

Danny, showing off his skinny jeans at Colleen's dojo.

Well, now. Marvel's Iron Fist on Netflix certainly was a major disappointment, wasn't it?

I'm a fan of the Danny Rand character and the mystical martial arts world he inhabits in Marvel Comics, which includes strong supporting cast members like Colleen Wing. I've read a lot of Iron Fist comics, so I was possibly more invested in this series than most people I know. So when the early buzz was terrible, my expectations started to plummet. It's wise to be wary of pre-release reviews, of course, especially in this case when they only screened the first six episodes of a thirteen episode series. Yet, in this instance, those early reviews were accurate. The show is a mess, and not an entertaining, b-movie style mess, but instead a convoluted and boring mess.

The first few episodes were so interminably dull that I seriously contemplating quitting after the second. Things picked up a little after that, with some decent middle episodes. Then it slumped again, then found decent footing for the final few episodes before stumbling across the finish line in a ludicrously stupid finale. For a show about a master of Kung Fu, there wasn't nearly enough Kung Fu! The fight scenes they did include were also pretty underwhelming, with a few exceptions. The now standard hallway fight scene was good, but even that paled in comparison to similar scenes from Daredevil. The rest of the fighting often felt rushed and unimaginatively choreographed and filmed. The long warehouse battle with a series of Madame Gao's Hand operatives was particularly bad. The Bride of Nine Spiders, who worked beautifully in the comics, was laughably awful here. In her Frederick's of Hollywood meets cheap Halloween costume, and spouting cringe-worthy dialogue, she would have been right at home in an episode of Silk Stalkings.

Finn Jones really struggled to make Danny interesting. He seemed more assured in the relaxed, more lighthearted scenes, but seemed directionless or to be trying too hard when he was called on to emote or be badass. I kept telling my wife he reminded me of a puppy: he was cute and it was hard for me to dislike him, but he seemed way out of his depth here. I don't blame him for all of this though; the writers saddled him with atrocious dialogue and inconsistent motivations. Finn was trying, that was clear, but he rarely pulled it off. That's a big problem; when your Iron Fist isn't very interesting, how good can your Iron Fist series be?

Jessica Henwick was a bright spot, kicking all sorts of butt as Colleen Wing.

A few of the actors did well with what little they were given to work with. Jessica Henwick as Colleen was equal parts strong, sardonic, and smooth. She was great in the action scenes, really selling Colleen's swordplay skills, and also handled the quieter scenes well. She didn't have a lot of good writing to work with, and was saddled with some stupid lines and character development, but she made the best of it. In other words, she was nearly everything Finn as Danny was not. Throughout, I kept daydreaming of a spinoff show about the Daughters of the Dragon, costarring the equally good Simone Missick from Luke Cage as Misty Knight. I'm sure we'll get a Colleen and Misty teamup within the upcoming Defenders series, but I'd much rather see an entire show devoted to just them at this point.

As the nefarious Harold Meachum, David Wenham was acting in his own alternative universe. The only actor who really embraced the silliness of it all, Wenham hammed it up throughout. He was downright hilarious at times, but over the course of the series his performance started to grate on me a bit. Still, he kept me hanging in there at times when the rest of the show was sagging badly.

Ward Meachum was one of the only characters with a clearly delineated and interesting character arc. Tom Pelphrey played the material straight, and really elevated his performance so far above this mess that it's a shame he wasted it on this. Ward went from stereotypical smarmy and selfish businessman to struggling abuse victim and drug addict to, finally, practically the hero of the piece. Whether he was reacting with subtle incredulity at Harold's insane scheming, or painfully opening up to his sister Joy, or just giving an eavesdropping dear ole dad the most hilariously emphatic double-bird salute I've seen in ages, Pelphrey was terrific. His constantly bemused  "WTF" expressions made Ward into an effective audience surrogate.

It certainly didn't help Iron Fist that it came on the heels of the powerful and heartbreaking Logan and also ran concurrently with FX's mind-blowing head-trip of a show, Legion. Both of those Marvel properties (from studios other than Marvel) were outstanding because they had strong narratives, characters we could care about, and experimented with the superhero genre in ways we hadn't seen in film or television before. Comparatively, Iron Fist didn't know what it wanted to be. Was it an over-the-top martial arts romp, reminiscent of the kind Quentin Tarantino loves? Or was it the overly serious exploration of identity and loss that it kept aiming to be? It was only ever either of these things halfheartedly, and in limited quantities. Otherwise it was just a slog to get through.

Finally, people far more qualified than me have addressed the problem with casting a white actor as Danny. Yes, Danny is white in the comics, but there's so much more to it than that. Do a little searching online and you'll find some cogent essays on the issues at play, and why Marvel missed a golden opportunity. All I'll add to the conversation is that Marvel had a chance to correct the character's troubling 1970s white savior origins. Instead, they cast Finn Jones. 'Nuff said.

When it comes to Iron Fist, I think Ward speaks for all of us here.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

RIP Chris Cornell

He was Louder Than Love.
When we were younger and knew nothing, people like Chris Cornell were our mentors, leading us down some interesting paths. They didn't have answers and they made that clear; they just made incredible, invigorating, heartbreaking, and memorable music that helped us get through most anything. "My Wave" was like a mantra:  Don't come over here
Piss on my gate
Save it just keep it off my wave I used to scour liner notes back then and when I discovered Cornell's music publishing name was "You Make Me Sick I Make Music" I thought, that's perfect. Take your defiance, your anger, your disgust with how cruel the world can be and channel it into something. Music, art, your friends and family, anything productive.

His death is devastating. To me, my friends, the world. Every time someone of his stature dies, people ask "You didn't know him personally, why do you care?" And I feel anger and a fury inside well up because t…

Even walls fall down

Memories rushing in, like waves crashin' on the beach.
I'm a bad boy, 'cause I don't even miss her / I'm a bad boy, for breakin' her heart
Young and selfish, unhappy and escaping to a brighter, better place, self-preservation conquers regret, self-loathing replaced by a tentative confidence. A perfect song, this was on constant rotation during those years, both on MTV and inside my head.
I'll be the boy in the corduroy pants / you'll be the girl at the high school dance
Summer '95, outside, evening air, then-girlfriend, me, and 25,000 other voices, singing every word at the tops of our lungs, as if our very existence depended on it.
Sometimes you're happy / sometimes you cry / half of me is ocean / half of me is sky
'96, then-girlfriend is now ex-girlfriend, but hearing this then-new song helps me remember, and appreciate, a heart so big it could crush this town.
The waiting is the hardest part
Must've included this song on every mixtape I …

It Came From the '90s: The Shock and Awe of Divinyls

This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

Peeling out of the church parking lot after Sunday night religious ed class, Divinyls' "I Touch Myself" blasting from the car stereo. This makes the passengers giggle like the immature dorks we are, while the friend behind the wheel is grinning out the window at the religious education teachers. The rest of us, shy and non-confrontational, smile sheepishly from the backseat.

The teachers look extremely displeased. I think one shakes her head in disgust. Each generation looks at their successors this way at one point or another, it's unavoidable. The old timers, shocked and appalled, plus a little envious, when confronted with the temerity of youth.

While I'm just an accomplice in the car—I didn't know the driver was going to do that when he turned the ignition key and the song started playing on the radio—each of us has at least a little fun in…

It Came From the '90s: Not For You

This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

Generation X. Alternative Nation. Slackers. Kids in flannels.

In the early and mid 1990s, teens and young adults of a certain age were given all of those monikers, and several others too. Full disclosure, I was one of those kids. Every generation goes through a period like that—when they're the up-and-comers trying to break free of the previous generation, A period of endless media and societal fascination leading to unfair stereotyping and marginalization.

Pearl Jam's "Not For You," from 1994's seismic blast of an album Vitalogy, seemed to be directly addressing this divide between the members of Gen X and their elders. Vitalogy was the most anticipated album of the year. Kurt Cobain killed himself that spring, leaving Pearl Jam alone at the top of the rock mountain, whether they wanted to be there or not. They were the biggest band in the world d…

Michelle Pfeiffer: Frankie and Johnny

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.

And then there was the time my two favorites starred in one of the most starkly honest and mature films about grownup relationships this viewer has ever seen. Frankie and Johnny (1991) is a beautifully melancholic tale, laced through with rich and sincere humor aimed at adults—people who've lived long enough to have loved and lost and felt real longing and despair.
Al Pacino is fantastic as Johnny, the new short-order cook at the diner where Michelle Pfeiffer's Frankie works. Johnny is a good man who truly believes that he and Frankie are meant to be together. Johnny is fully alive now to the realization that life is short, so he's resolved to cherish every minute of it moving forward. Frankie is the cynic, the beaten-down diner waitress who masks the pain of previous relationship failures with biting sarcasm and avoidance. She's the…

It Came From the '90s: For D’arcy (Sail on Silver Girl)

This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

Search any dorm room across campus, circa 1995, and you'd likely find a copy of Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits. Many copies would've been acquired through BMG's or Columbia House's music clubs ("12 Hot Hits for a Cool Penny"). "Cecilia" was always a hallway jam favorite, especially in the girls' dorms, but "Bridge over Troubled Water" was deep, man.

Sail on silver girl Sail on by Your time has come to shine All your dreams are on their way See how they shine Oh, if you need a friend I'm sailing right behind Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
That image of "Silver Girl" was particularly evocative to me—of what, I wasn't quite sure, but it was all so lovely and damaged in its own twee way. Who was this Silver Girl? Was I s…

It Came From the '90s: Kelly Bundy and the Alternative Family Ideal

This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

Very few television series in the 1990s were as polarizing as Married...with Children. People either loved it or they loathed it. TV critics and good upstanding Catholic families like mine fell into the latter category. Soon after it debuted during my first year of junior high in 1987 (not quite the '90s, but on the brink), my parents made it clear that we would not be watching. I believe the words they used were "vulgar," "unfunny," and, one of their perennial favorites, "risque." Of course, this meant it immediately took on a prurient appeal for me. Parents can never win, honestly.

Kelly Bundy—the talented Christina Applegate, who never gets enough credit for elevating the blonde airhead trope into an art form—only further piqued my interest. She was like the girls in school with the absurdly voluminous hair and ridiculously short ski…

Gonna make you, make you, make you notice: The musical constancy of the Pretenders

That's Chrissie Hynde's face staring back at you on this blog's header. I've written about Hynde and the Pretenders here on more than one occasion. So it was only a matter of time before I wrote at greater length about her music and influence. She's provided me with a lifetime of deeply personal music to which I can relate to and also be constantly surprised by. There are several other artists, writers, and musicians whose work I've been equally invested in over the years, but my affection for Hynde and the Pretenders goes back to my formative years and is so intertwined with my life that it's almost impossible to separate the two.

Their debut album, Pretenders, was one of the first rock albums I ever owned and, as I like telling anyone within ear shot, a stone-cold perfect album that I've been comparing other great records to ever since. It's a masterpiece and one of the most impressive debuts in rock history. It contains everything you need to kn…

It Came From the '90s: "I want to write her name in the sky"

This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

It wasn't just Tom Petty's words and music that imprinted on us, it was also his videos that resonated, their images forever stored inside us, helping guide us through life. They seemed to originate within us, as if Petty was simply reflecting back our own lives and experiences.


We were the MTV generation, and for a stretch during the '80s and '90s, words and pictures melded together in perfect harmony, a perfect pop cultural storm. None more perfect than Petty's videos.


"Free Fallin'", from 1989—when the earliest and bravest explorers of the uncharted '90s first started beaming back messages to the mother planet— is one of Petty's more straightforward video-stories, yet it's still packed tight with an unassuming yet sharply wrought commentary on contemporary Americana—Petty's stock and trade, after all.


Our teenage hero…

It Came From the '90s: Against the '70s

This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

"The kids of today should defend themselves against the '70s."

Fewer lyrics better encapsulate growing up in the '90s than those in Mike Watt's "Against the '70s" (shrewdly sung by Eddie Vedder). We teens and young adults of the decade were often subconsciously measuring ourselves against the mustard-yellow, shag-carpeted "Me Decade." We expended an awful lot of energy raging against and fetishizing the 1970s.

The '70s provided several underpinnings of the '90s, including of course the notion of authenticity. In the '90s it was enormously important that we be, above all else, authentic. As authentic as Bowie or Springsteen or Scorsese were in their '70s work that we idolized. We were utterly obsessive about not selling out, about keeping it real. Maybe it's because so many Gen Xers were born in the '7…