Be honest: you’d forgotten all about Iron Fist, right? The final recruit to Netflix’s ambitious Defenders team-up had already been bumped to the back of the line after Luke Cage was the breakout star of Jessica Jones and there was truly very little excitement surrounding this belated small screen outing for the little known comic book hero. That feeling is reflected in the series itself which is entirely forgettable from the bland opening credits – think Daredevil but with less blood-soaked Hell’s Kitchen and more inky oriental hand waving. Iron Fist shares all of the flaws of its predecessors but crucially lacks the authentic vision and compelling characters that made Netflix’s previous superhero efforts so watchable.
For the many who are unfamiliar with the comic books, here’s the rub: Danny Rand is the heir to a billionaire family whose parents die when their private jet crashes into the Himalayas. Danny is the only survivor of the crash, pulled from the wreckage by warrior monks who transport him to K’un-Lun, a mythical city which exists in an alternate dimension, where he is trained to become a fierce fighter. Fifteen years later, Danny returns to New York to reclaim his family’s company and fulfil his destiny as the Iron Fist, a legendary figure who can punch really hard… sometimes.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve seen this smug-rich-guy-returns-from-Asia-with-superpowers storyline play out countless times before, most recently in Marvel’s Doctor Strange. But Iron Fist can’t boast the same mind-bending visuals that made that Benedict Cumberbatch-starring vehicle such an entertaining ride.
In fact, the show has nothing to offer that we haven’t seen before. The action is slow, clumsy and lacks the brutal tension of Daredevil’s bloody punch-ups. Not one of the dull, by-the-numbers characters manage to make a lasting impression. The plot lacks depth, originality and momentum, staggering along without incident as we wait for something… anything to happen. It can’t even muster a convincing villain for Rand to come up against, instead lumbering us with a tedious power struggle between the newly-returned billionaire and Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey), the Patrick Bateman-lookalike who has taken control of Rand’s company in his absence.
Perhaps such boardroom battles could be compelling if Rand was anything more likeable than a spoiled frat boy. Quite why Finn Jones chose to play Rand as an arrogant, self-aggrandising, tastelessly immature know-it-all is a mystery only he can answer. Perhaps he was just trying to draw attention away from claims his casting was another example of the media whitewashing Asian culture, which, one incident where Rand whitesplains kung-fu to Jessica Henwick’s Japanese-American dojo master aside, prove to be unfounded. At one point Rand, after being shown kindness by a homeless man who brings him food and offers him clothing, laughs to himself and smirks: “I guess people think we’re quite alike.” He really is a “living weapon”.
It’s disappointing because there are shades to Rand that are intriguing. He’s clearly suffered a very traumatising childhood, not just from the plane crash but also from the ritual bullying at the hands of a young Meachum, and the culture shock of returning to New York after 15 years must surely be overwhelming. Yet showrunner Scott Buck never explores these feelings, preferring to pad his scripts with countless flashbacks to the plane crash and forcing Finn to repeatedly yell “I’m Danny Rand” in the hope someone will actually believe him this time.
In short, it’s a wasted opportunity. Free from the pressures of audience anticipation, Iron Fist could’ve cast an Asian lead, or at the very least tapped into the pulpy 70s Kung Fu movies that the original comics tried to rip-off, to create something more uplifting and magical compared to the gritty, urban tone of its predecessors. But Buck never stamps an original personality on this plodding piece, succeeding only in creating a superhero show that will test the patience of even the most committed Marvel fan. So much for saving the best until last.