Review: ‘Iron Fist’ is Netflix’s first Marvel super-fail – USA TODAY
Every supergroup’s got a weak link — The Beatles had Ringo, the Friends gang had Ross, and Netflix’s Marvel lineup has Iron Fist.
Finn Jones (Games of Thrones) stars as martial-arts master/prodigal son Danny Rand in this kung fu series that doesn’t have much punch or kick. Iron Fist (streaming Friday, * 1/2 out of four) is a lackluster fourth entry that leads into The Defenders miniseries later this year, but its cipher of a superhero is missing the needed depth of his comrades from Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.
The first six chapters of the 13-episode season focus on Danny’s return to New York City 15 years after his wealthy family’s plane crashed in the Himalayas when he was 10, a calamity that took his parents’ lives yet led him to the mythic city of K’un-Lun. He strolls into town, barefoot and looking like he just came from Burning Man, and figures he can walk right into Rand Industries as the rightful heir to his dad’s company.
Instead, his childhood friends, Ward (Tom Pelphrey) and Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup), are now in charge. They presumed Danny was dead, and are skeptical that this oddball’s their old pal, so they stick him in a mental asylum. Danny uses his supernaturally powered fist to punch his way out and ultimately finds himself on two intersecting missions: to find his place in the world as well as his company, while dealing with a mysterious evil infecting the Manhattan underworld.
Iron Fist has generated controversy for a “white savior” narrative and cultural appropriation ever since its comic-book debut in the 1970s, but there’s a bigger problem with the show: Jones’s protagonist is a complete dud. Danny’s not particularly likable — he annoyingly mansplains kung fu to sword-wielding sensei Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), who regularly saves his behind — and he, like many of the main players, is undermined by poor characterization.
As the prophesied protector trained by monks, Danny confidently punches bad guys one minute, but in the next he’s in a state of arrested development and seems as befuddled by the world as Tom Hanks in Big. He’s symbolic of Fist itself, which struggles with whether to be Marvel’s first boardroom drama or a premier martial-arts epic.
All of the nerd-friendly Netflix projects have issues with pacing, but while Luke Cage and Jessica Jones grow sluggish around the midpoint of their first seasons, you’ll be yawning at Iron Fist after binge-watching two hours. At least the action scenes are pretty good, though not quite as brutal as its sister projects: One episode puts Danny through a never-ending gauntlet of evildoers that’s one of the highlights of its first batch of episodes.
Fist is at its best focusing on Colleen. Henwick’s martial-arts teacher joins a cage-fighting ring to help ends meet and finds herself addicted to the bloodlust. The British actress ultimately steals the show by bringing modern complexities and watchable gumption to Marvel’s newest dangerous, no-nonsense woman.
Is it too late to make her Iron Fist? Because the current guy doesn’t have the right mettle to defend anything.