MARVEL’S IRON FIST has some of the heaviest lifting to do of all the Netflix series so far. Not coming with the existing popular cache of Daredevil, or the backdoor pilot that Jessica Jones gave Luke Cage, IRON FIST is the final offering from this world before they come together as The Defenders later this year. In the first half of the season, the show often struggles to find the right balance between ‘origin story’ and universe lynchpin.
Billionaire heir Danny Rand (Finn Jones) returns to New York after disappearing with his family in a plane crash 15 years earlier. Trying to restore his name and legacy, he must not only prove himself to his former friends but also fight a creeping evil that is seeping into his home. Now equipped with the skills of a kung-fu master, he has the ability to tap into a mystical power that marks him as the Immortal Iron Fist.
What makes Danny Rand immediately distinct is that the show begins with the character already able to access his powers, but a series of obstacles prevent him from doing so. The strongest comparison that IRON FIST will have to overcome is that of Batman Begins, with a thematically (and narratively) similar arc to that of Christopher Nolan’s Bruce Wayne. However, unlike the immediacy of Crime Alley tragedy, IRON FIST sets up a false barrier of Rand trying to regain his fortune, going so far as to lock him away in an asylum for two episodes in order to suppress his birthright.
Indeed, inner city dojo owner Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) has a far more engaging storyline, one that mirrors Danny’s own. Her steel cage fights show a character caught between money and honour, something Rand is also struggling with, but at least Wing’s storyline maintains the street-level grittiness of the other Marvel series.
Yet Jones is a likeable enough lead, even if his character is the most removed from the audience to date. There’s a childlike innocence to his outlook in these early episodes, and it’s a refreshing change of pace to the darkened brush that’s tarred Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. When we do get martial arts scenes, and hints of Danny’s true potential, they are lightning fast and reminiscent of old-school action. A hotel fight that spills into an elevator, bathed in red light, is almost as intense and exciting as Daredevil’s infamous corridor scene.
Luke Cage began to show the limitations of the 13 episode format, stretching a story over six times the length of a feature film. IRON FIST suffers from some of the same problems, compounded by a first-season storyline (that is, a billionaire regaining his fortune) that strays from the core of the character. These episodes set up a lot of great potential, including the ultimate villains and the battle for New York that is to come, but you may need the patience of K’un-Lun to get there.
NB: Netflix graciously provided us with advance copies of the first six episodes of IRON FIST for review purposes. A review of the full season will follow in due course.