There’s no way of reviewing Iron Fist without wading into some of the more controversial aspects of the series. Let’s just get the big thing out of the way upfront: I firmly believe that the part of Danny Rand should have been played by an Asian actor. There would have been more you could do thematically while also making The Defenders even more diverse.
With that out of the way, I’m also going to point out that Iron Fist is nowhere near as bad as the early reviews have made it out to be. Its biggest crime is that it is mediocre when compared with some of the other Marvel/Netflix properties, but still leaps and bounds better than any of the DC/CW series.
Finn Jones is fine as Danny Rand, and while he is a man-child at the beginning of the series, I could also argue that his character had the most growth of all the Defenders. He’s wide-eyed, naive, and all smiles at the beginning, but is betrayed at every turn and his decisions have really bad consequences by the end. He creates as many problems as he solves.
The writing is very b-film, but it felt like it was done on purpose. Each Defenders series borrows heavily on other genres, with Jessica Jones very much a hardboiled detective series, and Luke Cage borrowing heavily from blaxsploitation films. Kung Fu films from the seventies were not the best written, and their tropes are present here.
But this is where we get into the big problem with Iron Fist. Finn Jones is not a Kung Fu master and it shows. Worse, the beginning of the series is very light on any Kung Fu fighting, and is strangely more concerned with being a family drama. While it isn’t the worst fight choreography in a Defenders series, as that distinction goes to Jessica Jones, it also isn’t on par with what we saw in Daredevil seasons one and two.
The silver lining here is that while Iron Fist starts off as the slowest of the connected series, it does end stronger than it began. That’s unlike Luke Cage, which seemed to deteriorate as it went on. The mid-season slump that shows up in all the Netflix/Marvel series, where it feels like the series spins its wheels for a few episodes, is absent here, but seems to have loaded those slow episodes at the beginning.
The supporting cast is actually the strongest aspect of the series, with Jessica Henwick as Coleen Wing and Jessica Stroup & Tom Pelphrey as the Meachum siblings. Rosario Dawson is once again awesome as Claire Temple, but I’m still not sure what the hell they were doing with David Wenham as Harold Meachum.
In the end, Iron Fist feels less like a high-octane 70s Kung Fu film and more like an 80s American remake. Think less Enter the Dragon and more American Ninja. Marvel should have hired the people who made AMC’s Into the Badlands in order to get the tone and fighting right.
There are problems with Iron Fist, and some missed opportunities, but it was still enjoyable once it really got going.