Iron Fist Pulls the Punches, Falls Short of the Mark

Iron Fist, the final installment in Marvel’s Defenders series on Netflix, released on Friday. The show was set up to introduce an interesting new hero, distinctly set apart from the likes of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. Unfortunately, what we were presented with ended up being a muddled, disjointed story, centered around a hero with seemingly no purpose or sense of direction.

At the start of the season, Danny Rand arrives at the company that his father built, after being missing, presumed dead, for fifteen years. He and his parents were in a plane crash over the mountains on the way to China. Both his parents were lost, and he was found and raised by monks from K’un-L’un. Danny eventually leaves the monastery, looking for answers about the death of his parents. After initially struggling to convince anyone that he is who he says he is, Danny is eventually welcomed into his father’s company, now run by his childhood friends, Joy and Ward Meachum, while still receiving none of the answers he is looking for. From here, the plot holes are plentiful and deep.

While the show’s greatest success lies in the characters, even they are quite the mixed bag. The characters of Ward and Harold Meachum, as well as Colleen, offer a successful level of depth and complexity. There is an uncertainty as the characters and story unfold, which leaves the viewer wondering if there might be more to them. Alternatively, we have Joy Meachum. Starting out as the more compassionate foil to her brother, Ward, in regards to Danny’s presence and identity, she quickly, and without transition, converts to a cold and conniving business woman. The only apparent reason for this switch to have happened would likely be to allow the deviation with Ward’s character and story, while ensuring that one figure remains as the stony, business centered character. The most troubling of poorly formed characters in the series is, of course, Danny Rand himself. As the central character, he lacks many of the qualities we’ve seen in the other Defender’s lead-up series. Throughout the series, he fluctuates between an immature, naive boy, disconnected from an understanding of the schemes and deceit that surrounds him. At other times, he is the stoic pillar of discipline we would expect of one raised in a monastery. There is rarely any in between. What is truly frustrating within the series, is Danny’s reluctance to fight. Danny, who eventually finds himself on a mission to avenge his parents’ murder AND to fulfill his destiny as the Iron Fist to defeat The Hand, is reluctant to actually inflict any substantial harm on his enemies. The main character in the series is ultimately the least compelling character. As a side note, Claire’s character makes her return in Iron Fist, and this is easily my favorite appearance by her character.

The story for the show is what most have likely been expecting. There a few significant plot twists, but most developments were rather expected. Pacing is a major issue. The first few episodes move along at a snail’s pace, and the remainder of the season doesn’t exactly pick up from there. The series seems to have a lot of filler, which leaves the overall story open for a myriad of plotholes. An even greater issue with the pacing is that it makes the series much less rewatchable. I could go back and binge both seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones back to back – I could even have another go at Luke Cage with a bit of motivation – but I would probably not be willing to rewatch much of Iron Fist, even for the purpose of introducing a friend to the series. There is just not enough content rounding out the series to make me interested in coming back for more.

Probably one of the most important factors in an action series centered around a Kung-Fu master would be the fighting. One would expect that the fighting would be top notch, fast paced, and hard hitting. Somehow, this is not the case. In comparison with the other shows in this series, Iron Fist probably has the least amount of action, and the least compelling fight scenes. There is more focus during the season around Danny Rand hugging a woman on camera than there is around his fighting ability. And when he does fight, it’s not particularly convincing. In fact, he seems to be about the least skilled fighter in the show, aside from when he is facing down with lowlife thugs. Contributing to the underwhelming fight scenes is the lack of adequate sound effects. In most shows and movies, when somebody gets hit, there are sound effects that help to convey the power behind the impact. In Fight Club, the sound effects department would use ping pong paddles on leather sofas to simulate the impact of skin on skin. In Iron Fist, there seems to be almost no sound whatsoever to the fight scenes. No hand to face, no cracking bones. Pillow fights sound more brutal than the hand to hand combat featured in Iron Fist. Without proper sound effects, the fight scenes feel like pulled punches.

Ultimately, Iron Fist has, unfortunately, established itself as the weakest link in the Defenders catalogue (a position I never expected Luke Cage to be dethroned from). With any luck, this season will simply end up as a disappointing set up to establish his character, and a second season will pick up the pace and the action, to deliver something much more worthy of what the series should be. Danny Rand has a lot of potential to be an interesting character, and there are a lot of story points and supporting characters that could contribute so much to a second season, as well as The Defenders, so long as the production improves.

Have you checked out Iron Fist yet? Do you plan to? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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