4YE Review: Iron Fist Is An Incoherent Mess That Has Flashes Of Something More Compelling

Credit: Marvel/Netflix

As I slogged through the thirteen episodes that comprised Marvel’s Iron Fist first season, I kept trying nail down the problem of the show.

Outside of the obvious ones, of course.

The whitewashing/white savior tropes that make Danny Rand so problematic are there. There’s the same issues I had with Doctor Strange‘s the Ancient One so predominant. Those are huge issues that I had going into the show. Those are issues everyone had going into the show. A lot of people have more eloquently listed these particular issues regarding Orientalism in their own ways. It’s there and it’s uncomfortable to sit through.

So, to be cliche, I’m not going to beat a dead horse any further. People far smarter than me have listed these problems a lot better.

One issue, though, which was my predominant issue with the series was well…

It wasn’t “street-level”. It wasn’t heroes on the streets in the way that Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage are. The focus on corporate high-rises and the machinations of the rich and powerful just feel like such a departure from the trials faced by others. Honestly? I could care less about the business dealings of the Meachums or Rand. Within that disconnect, if Claire Temple didn’t show up, I would have thought this was a separate endeavor from the rest of the Netflix/Marvel shows.

They, at least, felt cohesive and part of the same world. The grittiness mixed with the personal stories being told. That’s what I liked about these shows. I don’t want to see Danny mansplain kung-fu to Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick).

A large part of that loss of cohesion comes from the fact that the story is just a hot damn mess.

I had some issues with the storyline in the first season of Luke Cage, which goes off the rails halfway through with Diamondback, and season two of Daredevil, which felt like two seasons smushed together. YetI could look over those flaws because the stories themselves were interesting.

Iron Fist, however, does not have that luxury.

The plot? It’s just meandering along, hoping the viewers have goodwill from other Marvel properties to stay engaged with the material present. It’s like Scott Buck and his writers’ room had no clue what story to tell here. (Insert your own joke about the final seasons of Dexter wherein Buck was the showrunner here.) You can tell by how the plot takes forever to get started, doesn’t engross you, and makes business dealings more important than the Hand. Also after the misfire in Daredevil‘s second season and the bizarreness here, I am not looking forward to see how The Defenders will tackle this menace at all. I don’t know how but this organization of assassins who have supernatural powers has become boring.

For instance, if the Defenders had to go against Wilson Fisk? Fuck yeah I would watch that. I would watch it because I know Fisk. I know how devious he can be and how terrifying he is. I’m hoping that Sigourney Weaver’s character is something similar rather than the Hand.

Honestly though? Buck clearly needs to take a screenwriting class about plotting a TV series because clearly he really doesn’t grasp the finer points of telling a good story overtime. It was slow in the wrong places (Danny’s identity, the business dealings) and too fast in others (so Harold Meachum was the villain all along?). It was ill-paced, weirdly plotted, and didn’t have a nice tight narrative. If you’re making this for a binge-watching audience, then your story structure needs to be on a point so sharp that you can cut someone with it.  I would like to take this moment to apologize to you all eager for The Inhumans. If Iron Fist is Buck’s attempt at showrunning at a Marvel series, then I don’t think your show is going to go all that well.

Also for a show where the martial arts are so focused on. I can only mention a few moments where I was genuinely impressed with them in the show. Daredevil has better fight choreography than Iron Fist. To me, there is just something wrong about that because Iron Fist should look amazing. I’m not saying it needs to be Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but I felt like we should have gotten more than we did.

Shout out to Lewis Tan who had one of the best scenes in the entire show and made me wish that he actually got the part of Danny Rand. I hope his character of Zhou Cheng makes his return at some point because that was freaking awesome.

The performances in the show are something of a mixed bag. Jones is not the worst thing in the show, but it’s clear that he struggles to connect with the material. He’s not quite sure how to play Danny Rand: naive newcomer, competent martial artist, or a mix. With the lackluster material he’s been given, he does an okay job. He’s not going to set the world on fire. I did roll my eyes at his explanations of traditionally Asian concepts . He sounded like that guy you knew in college, you know the one. That’s my problem with it and my concern about a white guy playing Iron Fist. That he sounded like that guy from college because you usually ended up wanting to punch him.

No. The worst performance in the show comes from Tom Pelphrey’s portrayal of Ward Meachum. I’m sure that in real life he’s a pleasant man. But oh my God in the show he gives Ward this whine to his voice that makes him sound like he’s pouting because daddy doesn’t love him. And Daddy doesn’t love Ward but still! It just grates on my nerves and I found myself groaning every time he came on the screen. It’s a shame because Ward has one of the more interesting stories in the show.

David Wenham as Harold Meachum is fine. He’s another one note villain without the actively rooting for him to die part of Kilgrave or the insanity of Diamondback. So he just kind of exists and then doesn’t. I will joke about Daddy not loving Ward, but he does care about his kids. He just made me miss Wilson Fisk, who is still the best villain that the Marvel/Netflix shows have produced.

The main saving grace for this series is Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing. She clearly is from a much better show than the one I’m watching. I want to watch that instead of this. I would have loved this series to have been about her running her dojo and getting pulled into this world. Colleen herself is more of a street level hero than Danny. She genuinely tries to help her students improve themselves and their lives. Colleen was a character that was badass, easy to connect to, and compelling to watch. Even with the meh material, Henwick was able to turn into a performance that was really something to watch.

Honestly, I can say the same thing about all of the female characters in this show. From the return of the calculating Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) to Claire Temple (Rosario) meeting her fourth superhero, the women have really stepped up their game. Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup) was the best part of the corporate world building as she wrestled with her conscience as she tries to go about business.

I did also like Bakuto (Ramón Rodríguez) and Davos (Sacha Dhawan) who both were great reluctant frenemies to the group. I sincerely hope that we’ll see them around again because I think they would have made for a better story than corporations and shadowy organizations. But that’s just me.

All in all, I say give this series a miss or read the recaps. Of course, if you want to complete the Marvel/Netflix line before The Defenders (like me), then I say just take your time with it.

Bec Heim

Senior Editor at 4YE
Rebecca "Bec" Heim is the Senior Editor for 4YE. She has a BA in English Literature from the University of Scranton. She also has an MA in Film-Radio-Television from Syracuse University and an MFA in Screenwriting from Boston University. She enjoys reading through her ever growing mountain of books, talking way too much about superheroes, and trying to reach transcendental state.
Bec Heim