Thursday, April 6, 2017

Iron Fist

Well Marvel, I asked you nicely, but you let me down. Iron Fist is the last piece needed before the team-up The Defenders can happen -- Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist all working together. Daredevil is pretty much unarguably the best of the four in TV show excellence, but I admit -- and by that I mean I can't deny it because there is evidence out there -- I was very excited for this latest Netflix Marvel superhero, and had high hopes for Danny Rand's turn in the spotlight.

On the surface it looked so promising.

It turns out that Danny's spot in the line-up was a good indicator of how good his show would be; he's the last, they're in a hurry to get the TV show version of The Avengers out there, and didn't need to put all that much effort into his show; it's understandable. And it's also extremely unfortunate. People were guaranteed to watch it because of what has preceded it and no one will skip out on The Defenders because at least one out of four characters has draw. There was no motivation to put any kind of effort or risk into this show... except, of course, that was exactly what it needed in order to be good.

It's so common to find entertainment that feeds off the success of other entertainment these days -- especially in the superhero genre -- but it still irritates me to no end. Spend a little more money on some decent writers and it could mean the difference between this, and a show that makes people want to come back for more. Instead the hype vanished like a puff of smoke from a meditation candle in the very first episode; and from there the energy steadily drained away until the final episode was watched out of begrudging duty. "There's only one left, we might as well." This is not what I want to expect out of Netflix's superheroes.

It's really, really not...

The acting was bad, but it probably would have been better if the directing was better. The directing was bad but it may have been better if the writing had been there. Some of the stunts looked cheesy but could have been good with better filming. Filming could have been improved with more interesting things to film. Fight scene choreography might have been improved by better plotting. Dialogue scenes definitely could have used a writing pick-me-up. It all boils down to writing. It was ill-informed, completely aloof from what we wanted to see, how to construct a complex, meaty plot, how to effectively develop characters, and perhaps most obviously, how to write a sentence that has any sort of significant impact on a viewer's ears.

Danny needed backstory. And his talking about his time training in K'un Lun doesn't count; we needed to see some part of his trails and struggles there so that he doesn't come across as a spoiled selfish kid. On the flip side, we didn't need five or six flashbacks to his parents dying, playing the same shots over and over again -- if you want to keep reminding us, add more information every time -- and not via dialogue. Then the overall plot was a stretched-out mess that barely gains any air before crashing down again at the end. These 13 episodes could have been trimmed to 5 without any significant loss.

I am Iron Man-- I mean Fist.

But the plot was hindered by a set ending point -- the point at which The Defenders will begin undoubtedly. They had 13 episodes to fill, and no budget to fill it with training in another dimension's magical Kung-Fu land with super-powered ninja-monks, so what is to be done? Fill it with pointless drama instead (obviously) and drawn-out sessions of chi recharging -- AKA, slow-mo stationary Kung-Fu -- shirtless a couple times just to make things interesting (it's important to show off your tats). And to unconventional (read: nerve-setting) music, because that translates to character, right?

I really meant what I said about the acting. It's not like no one was trying, but I've never seen acting look so directionless. That paired with the dull script made for many scenes that were an actual chore to follow. as Danny went minimalist, which was probably the safest and therefore best choice, but he still came across as childish, and sadly lacked pathos. as Joy tries too hard and comes across as terribly fake. as Ward relies on a gimmick to propel the character. is involved in most of the show's great moments, and is the most consistently interesting character. as Colleen ebbs and wavers, and eventually succumbs to the lazy writing. Claire () and Madam Gao () lose some of their coolness and mystery, respectively, for their presence.

Are we just gonna sit here, or are we gonna superhero?

The best the show has to offer is very consistently in its action side. Every so often Danny will do something cool -- a bit of parkour, or a particular fighting move that impresses. For the most part the fight scenes are sub-par in choreography and execution, but at least are entertaining to watch. Other kinds of violence (if you've seen the show you know what I mean) are fleeting moments of dark intensity so jarring that they feel like a completely different show altogether. These are the times when the show's distant potential shows through.

The tone isn't nearly dark enough to warrant a MA rating. Occasional extreme violence and an obligatory sex scene earn it, but it feels completely unjustified with such a light, naive, cheesy tone going on around it. (On that note the obligatory "morning after" scene is no exaggeration the most awkward thing I've ever seen play out on my TV screen.) I am a firm believer in content in entertainment being justified, and if the content had fit the justification here, the show would have been rated PG. The Mature moments (and the mature moments) were ill-fitting exceptions only; faintly teasing of what might have been.

Perhaps it's unfair to expect this show to be as daring and unique as Daredevil. But it's playing in the same league, so I did.

Every episode had one or two worthwhile moments, some of them being quite good -- perhaps only by comparison but it's hard to tell with such an extreme difference -- but even those were all too often insignificant to the plot, and, more importantly, to the characters. It's not unreasonable, expecting and wanting another mildly tragic, solidly cool dude to grace a story with some edgy character development and some entertaining ways of fighting bad guys. They couldn't get even the most basic things right. With a lower standard, forgiveness and excuses can easily sneak in, but if the Iron Fist is going to be hanging out with the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, low standards are undeserved. Please grow up, Danny; you're playing with the big boys now.


  1. I was wondering about checking this out after seeing the trailer (no particular reason, just to jump into some Marvel show, though the universe is still mostly foreign to me, haha), but good thing that hadn't happened. With what you, and other critics I guess from your Twitter, had to say about it...

    Same with Luke Cage (but haven't). Have you watched it...? I think you referenced it somewhere in your Tweets or such before release last year, but I didn't see anything else about it. :-) I just like the name of the last episode: "You Know My Steez" :-D

    Same with you and Jessica, I think? (Although that started before we finally tried Netflix anyway...)

    Guess I really need to get on Daredevil soon! I know it's highly rated by you (and the world population in general ;o)). I think it'll be a little longer than usual till the next season though, so...

    Haven't watched The Defenders preview yet -- I'd probably be a bit lost with it. :-|

    Take care!

    1. Yeah seriously is you want to jump into Marvel without starting with the movies Daredevil would be an excellent place to start!

      No, I haven't watched Luke Cage, or Jessica Jones. You're probably thinking of someone else with the tweet...

      Haha, The Defenders teaser too short to get lost with it! :P

  2. Interesting review. And I really loved the ending line of your review, finished the article off with a real SNAP!!!