A lot has been said about “Iron Fist” since it was announced, let alone since it finally went into production. Even more has been made about its casting, especially in other recent reviews. While all subjects are important to the conversation around the series as a whole, no matter where you land on each issue, none of that matters as I evaluate the first 6 episodes that I was lucky enough to get an early peek at. All that matters is how they flow as both a series and as an introduction to a new character.
To understand “Iron Fist” and its place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, particularly the television side of things, one must also understand its sister shows. “Daredevil” offers are brooding, gritty crime drama with a hefty dose of ninja violence and a hair of mysticism. “Jessica Jones” gave us a more neo-noir look at MCU New York, while also delving deep into the personal demon-filled psyche of its hero and villain. “Luke Cage” took us to Harlem, dishing out a reluctant hero who must rise up to save both his neighborhood and himself, all wrapped up in modernized blaxploitation tropes.
Where does “Iron Fist” fit in? If Matt Murdock is our guilt calling us to action, Jones our self-doubt, and Cage our sense of community, Danny Rand is our sense of spirituality when it comes to righting the wrongs of the world around us. I don’t mean that in terms of religion, but spirituality on a less specific scale. Yes, Danny has his beliefs (and plenty of esoteric knowledge), but I would not classify him as a zealot. At least not in the way that actor Finn Jones plays him here.
The Danny Rand of this series is a righteous man, but also a very naive one. After being raised in the inherently good (but forever firm) realm of K’un-Lun, Danny is a far more trusting and empathetic hero than we have seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He might be a world-class fighter, but his naivete when it comes to the ways of the modern man often gets him in over his head. Danny means well and that’s one of his best virtues. It just happens to also be a major weakness on his part.
Balancing things out is Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick). Colleen is another martial arts master, but one who has grown up in the real world. She has an inherent distrust of mankind, although she isn’t anywhere near as cynical as the likes of Tony Stark or Stephen Strange. She simply keeps people at arms length until she has a better idea of their trustworthiness.
On a broader level, “Iron Fist” takes us into the deeper end of the mystic pool. Things in the first half of the season never reach the dizzying mind-bending heights of Doctor Strange, of course. That’s partially to do with budget, but also to do with the nature of the character. It is not in Danny Rand’s power set to manipulate reality around him and open up portals. His power comes from spiritual mastery and when he chooses to wield it, rest assured it does the trick.
All of this and more comes across during the first half of the season, which tends to move along at a steadier pace than its Netflix brethren. As much as I love the initial seasons of “Daredevil“, “Jessica Jones“, and “Luke Cage“, all three took their time. They had a languid pace about them, at times to their detriment. This inaugural season of “Iron Fist” moves at a clip more similar to the second season of “Daredevil“.
A lot of this comes from the fact that it focuses its time on Colleen Wing and the Meachums (Ward, Joy, and Harold) almost as much as it does on Danny. As a result, while we still have plenty of conversational scenes in between the well-choreographed fights in every episode, the more diverse array of characters and drama keep things from dragging. Granted things could easily slow down to a grinding halt in the next stretch of episodes, as they did in “Jessica Jones“, but based solely on what I have seen, Marvel TV continues to learn from their previous mistakes.
Speaking of the fights, we get at least a couple each episode and all are engaging. Whether I was seeing Danny in action or Colleen, I was invested each time out, no matter the stakes. As with the similarly martial arts-filled action of “Daredevil“, everything is well-shot and staged, with the added benefit here much of it taking place during the day or at least well-lit rooms. Those still complaining about the dark lighting of “Daredevil” shouldn’t have that problem here.
In terms of overall MCU references and recurring characters from the other shows, I cannot disclose anything here that hasn’t already been revealed publicly. That said, it’s relatively common knowledge that Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), and Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) all factor into the show in some capacity. All three fit organically into the proceedings. Whether or not that will hold true for anyone else that might appear is unclear at this time, but based on the three names at hand, I doubt that the showrunners have wantonly shoehorned in anyone else.
At the end of the day, it is entirely up to the individual viewer as to whether or not “Iron Fist” stacks up with the other three Netflix Marvel shows to date. I cannot tell you whether or not this is an A+ adaptation of the source material, as I only have a passing familiarity with the character. I can tell you that it is just as well-written, well-shot, and well-acted as its siblings.
The real question is whether or not you will connect with the characters here as much as you have with the previous shows. If you do connect with them, I think you will find a lot to love here. If not, then perhaps this stripped down mystical martial arts show isn’t for you. And if it isn’t, that’s fine. We all have our favorite heroes, as well as those that don’t quite do it for us.
“Iron Fist” has done it for me. Danny Rand is a character I am having a lot of fun with, from his glowing sense of unflappable kindness to his foe-destroying glowing fist. That and it’s nice to have one of these shows not be as steeped in the criminal or social grittiness of the others. While by no means campy or comedic, this one just feels a bit more lighthearted than its cohorts.
My only real complaint at this juncture is that I have to wait a few more days before I can finish the season. I also cannot wait to see how his fellow New York City-dwelling heroes react to him when they all meet in “The Defenders” later this year. Trust me, that’s going to get interesting.