When Iron Fist was announced, I had exceedingly high hopes for the Kung-Fu mastery of Danny Rand on the prestige Netflix stage. From Winter Soldier’s paranoid spy thriller to Ant Man’s miniature heist, Marvel has proven skillful at genre-smashing superheroes, and the mystical Kung-Fu of Iron Fist offered endlessly fertile visual territory.
Depressingly, Iron Fist, a book steeped in Kung-Fu since its 70s origins, resolutely refuses to become an off the wall martial arts showcase set inside the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Instead, Iron Fist is a boardroom drama masquerading as set-up for The Hand’s villainous role in Defenders, a slow burn in which Marvel simply forgets to light the candle.
* Spoilers for Iron Fist on Netflix follow *
Strategically, every decision behind Iron Fist’s storytelling vision is baffling. I have never once read an Iron Fist comic and thought “I really wish we could spend less time in this mystical Kung-Fu tournament, and more in closed door C-suite offices,” but that’s exactly what Scott Buck and the creative team deliver.
Whereas Daredevil season one merged Batman Year One with taking on the Kingpin of Crime, and Jessica Jones adapted the harrowing story of Purple Man’s abusive manipulations, Danny Rand largely deals with the challenges of proving he’s Danny Rand. Here’s the thing about watching a show about Danny Rand: We know who he is! In retrospect, Iron Fist would have been infinitely more interesting if after all that time it turned out Finn Jones wasn’t the real Danny Rand, and he was a Hand imposter with the real Iron Fist trapped in K’un L’un.
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Speaking of the mystical capital city of heaven where Danny Rand is raised, the refusal to flashback to any K’un L’un training is so rigid it feels an almost admirable overreaction to differentiate from Arrow, which so effectively mirrored Lost in season one. Danny’s affiliation with this magical realm is what differentiates the character from Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne, or Stephen Strange, yet Marvel tapped into almost none of this. Hopefully that magical realm budget is being used wisely for Thor: Ragnarok later this year, because it was clearly non-existent for Iron Fist.
Iron Fist’s crutch was always going to be in the choreography, but the action is brutally sparse, and embarrassingly forgettable when it occurs. Watch the first 10 minutes of AMC’s Into the Badlands after Iron Fist, and it’s like sitting courtside at the NBA after 13 hours of junior high bricks.
To be fair, there are brief moments of hope throughout Iron Fist. Once we get past the abhorrent slog of episode one, Iron Fist takes a deliciously Lemire and Smallwood Moon Knight turn, and episode 2 does play with interesting notions of whether Danny made the whole Iron Fist saga up in his head. Sure, FX’s Legion is doing laps around this type of superpowered psychoanalysis, but it’s a fine direction for early Iron Fist.
Likewise,Episode 6 finally delivers on kung fu challenges, with a surprise Bride of Nine Spiders cameo, but it’s the exception, not the norm.
None of this can save the series, though. Iron Fist is 13 hours long and it feels like 130. In the time it takes to watch Iron Fist ep 1, K’un L’un cycles in and out of alignment with earth. Twice.
There will be plenty of Marvel Netflix fans who enjoy this series, and obviously that’s the nature of opinions. For me, though, Iron Fist is the biggest disappointment of the Marvel Netflix output, and speaks to absolutely none of what I love about the character.
Marvel Cinematic Universe Power Rankings
Every time a new Marvel movie or TV series is released I like to update my Marvel Cinematic Univese power rankings. As we hit 20+ entries, I’ve broken the power rankings into tiers that started with my Dr. Strange review.
Tier 1: The Best
2) Alias aka Jessica Jones
3) Guardians of the Galaxy
4) Captain America 3: Civil War
Tier 2: Great
5) Daredevil (Seasons 1 & 2)
6) Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier
7) Iron Man 3
8) Iron Man
Tier 3: Good
9) Avengers 2: Age of Ultron
10) Dr. Strange
11) Captain America: The First Avenger
Tier 4: Mixed Feelings
13) Luke Cage
14) Thor 2: The Dark World
Tier 5: Sick Day, Sure, I’ll Watch
16) Agent Carter (Season One, pretending Season Two didn’t happen)
17) Incredible Hulk
Tier 6: Making Me Sick Day
18) Iron Fist
19) Iron Man 2
20) Spending hours on the phone with customer support and your problem never gets resolved
21) Agents of SHIELD
7 Reasons I Love Iron Fist
Since the vast majority of Netflix Iron Fist just makes me mad, and a giant negative nellie, I do want to share some highlights of why Danny Rand, aka the Iron Fist, is an awesome Marvel character.
For anyone wanting proof, I recommend you look no farther than Marvel’s Immortal Iron Fist
, one of my favorite comic book stories of the 2000’s.
For everyone else, below you’ll find the seven capital reasons I love Iron Fist.
- Danny solves business transactions gone awry by punching trains to death
2) Luke Cage & Danny Rand, pals for life
3) Misty Knight saving Iron Fist’s butt and wearing monogrammed belts
4) The Immortal Weapons Kung Fu tournament is the absolute coolest
5) The history of Fat Cobra voices over so many good ideas per square panel I had a seizure
6) Concussed Danny has a sense of humor
7) Iron Fist Fighting Legions of Hydra With Kung-Fu Moves
You know, I honestly don’t get why Iron Fist got so many negative reviews.
I only just finished the series, as me & my wife were watching it with friends and time wasn’t always available, but we all enjoyed it a lot.
I CAN understand people not liking it, it’s all a matter of taste. But to more-or-less objectively say that this is a bad show? That goes beyond me: I really, honestly, did not see any difference in quality as compared to the other Netflix Marvel series. If anything, Iron Fist had a better handle on the 13-episode format, at least when compared to Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. Much more seemed to happen within a single IF ep than in five episodes of LC. Shifting dynamics between characters and their personal developments (Colleen, Ward, Harold, Joy, even Davos) kept us very interested in the series’ progression.
Sure, I would have also liked to see more of K’un L’un, but I was fine with the focus of the series on someone who grew up outside of the other world trying to find sense and purpose in ninja-cult tainted NYC.
Criticisms I could get behind are the strange uses of characters from the Immortal Iron Fist comics. Bride of Nine Spiders was cool & creepy, but her use will now completely stand in the way of an adaptation of the other Immortal Weapons. Even worse was Gao’s drunk protector in China, where they somehow felt the need to have him say that his name was Zhou Cheng, from the awesome ‘Mortal Iron Fist’ story: the only resemblance there was that Danny defeated both the comics character and the TV character with rage, but the TV show didn’t give that any depth or reasoning.
But those comic-book source nitpicks are really my only issues with the series.
I thought the end of Luke cage got pretty bad. I liked iron fist better for that reason. My Netflix order is probably Jessica jones (seems like most agree) then daredevil season one, parts of dd season 2 were better (punisher) then iron fist, then cage. But honestly the first half of Luke cage was strong enough to climb to the top- maybe only because it was such a marvel meets David Simon.
I’d say at this point we have broken free of the mcu being an amazing connected universe- like the best comics, and moved towards them being forced into a barely recognizable universe- like the worst comics. Exceptions being well crafted, standalone stories. But if I’m being honest…… I don’t really like the stuff that isn’t shared universe, I want them to be connected.
Basically what I’m getting at: defenders better be good, and infinity war should be better. I have faith that infinity will pull through.
Also that list of yours is about to have runaways and cloak and dagger. So……it will be like comparing Netflix to freeform.
Agents of SHIELD still at the bottom of the rankings? Come on Dave, the LMD arc was some of the best super hero television I’ve seen in a while!
Alright, alright, I’ll give it a fair shake 🙂
Been catching up on the second half of Season 4. Not finished yet, but the Framework story arc is fantastic.
Sock of Ashanti's Iron Wrist says
I liked parts of the corporate setting. I thought they nailed Wade Meacham’s descent into psychosis, as he reduced himself from power addict to opoid addict. That was great to watch and Wade walked a nice shade of gray. He’s not his dad, but he’s made by his dad. Good stuff.
However, Iron Fist is the name on the tin and totally agree w/the article. I think the key w/Iron Fist, is he has to go totally gonzo destructo each episode, and should take a severe beating every few episodes. Otherwise zzz
Ward, Joy, Harold… all reasonably strong characters, especially since I could draw a straight line from Faramir to Harold Meachem. As you say, though, they’re ultimately defined for me by Danny’s maddening trust in them as “family.” I liked Ward’s general snark and disdain, but he was even a jerk to Danny as a kid! How many kids grow up idolizing their childhood bully, and place unwavering faith in them (especially after they’ve been poisoned and locked in a mental asylum)?
I’ve been enjoying Luke Cage. Only halfway through, but I’m getting a kick out of the “blaxsploitation” through a Marvel lens.
IMHO Agent Carter deserves more love. If I had to make a choice between more Agent Carter or more Jessica Jones, I’d be hard pressed, but I think I’d go with Carter. Season One started off a little shaky, almost gave up after episode 2, but it found it’s feet and improved. Season Two was great.
I thought Luke Cage was relatively strong for 6 eps. Fell off hard after that for me. Curious what your thoughts will be upon completion.
I may need to give Agent Carter S2 a second look per your rec. Peggy was so charismatic I really pulled for the series, but the stories just let me down.
Hopefully there is no season 2 for Iron Fist. This is bad, bad television. Luke Cage is the best of these Netflix series so far which makes me think this would have better if it were a Misty Knight series as opposed to Danny Rand.
I’d have preferred a Heroes for Hire with all these characters joining together. The insistence on splitting them all up seemed like it had potential, but instead we just missed out on some of the better character relationships in Marvel.
Luke Cage?! At it’s high point Luke Cage was mediocre. He could get shot and not die, and he wasn’t even very good at that.
Also feel like Iron Man 3 and Agents of SHIELD should switch places on this list (otherwise pretty reasonable).
Patrick M. says
I’m glad I’m not the only one who was genuinely let down by this. A few of my friends were raving about how great the first season of Iron Fist was, and one of them said that he enjoyed it more than all the other Marvel Netflix series. I don’t even know how I managed to get through it all. In my opinion it was a huge disservice to the character and offered none of what I was hoping for. Hopefully they learn from their mistakes when season 2 comes around.
Yeah, opinions on the best of Marvel Netflix vary pretty wildly among fandom. In some ways, it’s great for comic book media, there’s something for everybody. But yes, personally I find Iron Fist love endlessly confusing 🙂
I would hope Marvel hears some of the criticism around this series and responds accordingly, rather than act defensively like nothing was wrong. Iron Fist should be one of the best TV shows on Netflix, so here’s to a strong season two!