I have not seen this whole show. I fully recognize that there could be more past where I am, but 6 hours of content should be enough to form an opinion on the quality.
This is bad television. Every task required of Iron Fist, it fails at. It’s not just bad for the Marvel Netflix shows or for the Netflix shows or for any other subgenre category that it falls into, it’s flat-out bad. It would be bad at any time, in any context, with any weight behind it.
Let’s head this off at the pass. This is a controversial show, mostly for its leaning into Orientalist stereotypes inherent in a character from 70s Exploitation comics. Its politics may be unfortunate, but that’s not why this show is bad. Danny Rand should have been an Asian-American man in this show, but that’s not why Finn Jones sucks in the lead role. These things are symptoms of a fundamental brokenness at the core of this show.
To put it simply, this show has no interest in what’s interesting about its premise and no desire to put its own stamp on things in a new way. Iron Fist keeps the unoriginal or unfortunate parts of its premise and categorically refuses to find the new or the weird in here. It’s also fucking boring.
Like Batman, Green Arrow, and Doctor Strange before him, Danny Rand (Finn Jones) disappeared into the East (following a tragedy) and receives Martial Arts training/super powers from a mysterious and mystical group (in this, the monks of K’un L’un). He returns to New York City to reclaim his company, much to the chagrin of Joy (Jessica Stroup) and Ward (Tom Pelphrey) Meachum who currently run the company.
Would you guess that this would largely be a martial arts show? Right, you would guess that, because that sounds really interesting. And Iron Fist is anti-interesting. It instead leans on the latter portion and becomes a lot of boardroom drama and corporate intrigue and backstabbing.
Which could be interesting, don’t get me wrong. A lot of great shows have been built on exactly that. The problem is that not only are you actively ignoring a far more interesting premise (something that for all their problems, Daredevil and Luke Cage and Jessica Jones absolutely never did), but you don’t have the ability to actually make watchable what you have on the page.
The blame here can likely rightfully be placed on showrunner Scott Buck, most infamous for the last few seasons of Dexter and in particular for making the decision to end the show with the eponymous character becoming a lumberjack.
Yeah, that dude.
The writing in Iron Fist is just awful. Dialogue is stiff and unnatural. Case in point:
I’m texting my driver right now, which means he’s going to be pulling around the corner any second, and if you’re still with me when he gets here I’m going to ask him to detain you because he’s not just my driver, he’s also my guard. My armed guard.
That’s not character building, it’s not stylized, it’s just a mouthful. There’s no way to make that work no matter the acting, no matter the editing, no matter the direction. This is constant. These people don’t talk like humans do.
They also don’t live like humans do. Every Marvel Netflix season is afflicted with a draggy back-half that shows where they ran out of story. Iron Fist plays like that from episode 1, its pacing is dreadfully slow and painful to watch. There’s nothing interesting happening and those things are metered out so slowly that you don’t even get the pleasure of having a whole lot of nothing happening.
All this might be salvageable if the characters were worth watching, but the villains and the heroes are universally without anything to hook into, any recognizable motivation, and anything keeping you watching them from episode to episode. Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) comes the closest to being fun to watch, being tough and skilled, even if completely secondary to Danny.
But the villains (the Meachams and henchmen) are cloudy enigmas. While that’s fine, you need some reason to be worried about what they want to do, some sign that maybe you’ll care about their evil machinations. But it’s not there.
And let’s talk Finn Jones as Danny Rand. Jones is just obnoxious, the show never sells his naivete as admirable or zen. Jones’ Rand is just plain stupid, his decisions don’t follow out of logic, either show or real world, and you at no point find yourself rooting for him. He’s less a hero and more a college Senior who came back from Study Abroad “in Asia” and started dating a first semester Freshman. You can’t stop sucking air in through your teeth when you see him around.
ALL OF THAT THOUGH could be fixable if it at least had the action scenes that a martial arts show promises. The sad and simple fact is that it doesn’t. It’s not as good as other Martial Arts TV shows like Into the Badlands. There’s nothing here that touches things like Daredevil’s hallway or staircase fights.
There’s nothing here that even touches Luke Cage or Jessica Jones. The action scenes are slow and poorly choreographed. It doesn’t look like he’s holding back, it doesn’t look effortless, it looks like it’s taking him a lot of effort. It looks like they’re showing us the behind-the-scenes rehearsals where they fight at half speed. If Finn Jones isn’t a martial artist, that’s fine. Then why wasn’t there a way put in around that? A mask or something.
It’s just indicative of what Iron Fist is. On every level, a failure of imagination, of storytelling, of excitement. It’s a total fucking bore, the worst sin for a show like this.