Sunday, April 23, 2017

Television: Iron Fist (Netflix)

*Slight Spoilers*
In many ways, Iron Fist is a typical Netflix Marvel show. It has an ensemble cast, is very street-level and down-to-earth and contains a minimum of superpowers or the supernatural. While not bad, Iron Fist is the weakest of the four shows that make up Marvel Netflix Phase 1, which also includes Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.

Finn Jones plays the title character, and this is where the mediocrity begins. Jones has virtually no Kung Fu skills (he started training weeks before shooting began), but to me this is actually not a huge deal. He’ll probably play the character for years and can learn as he goes. He just has no grit, no gravitas as an actor. He is not leading man material, as Charlie Cox is in Daredevil and Mike Colter definitely is in Luke Cage. He’s a little boy who’s probably great as a supporting actor, but is not strong enough to headline his own show.

Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing
The good? Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing. She’s beautiful, tough, terrific and a martial arts expert—everything Jones is not. Most of the choreography and action sequences are good, especially where Henwick is involved. When Jones is fighting, you can see what they were trying to do and it somewhat works. An experienced martial artist would have knocked those scenes out of the park. The plot wasn’t bad, as they took at least some inspiration from the source material—Danny Rand, thought dead for years, returns to America and attempts to regain his legacy. The writers deviated totally from Iron Fist’s origin and how he was thought to be lost, and this is a mistake. It was handled much better and more excitingly in the comics.

The sub-plot of the Meachum clan, New York’s most dysfunctional family, is also worth watching, mostly for the work of David Wenham as Harold Meachum. You never knew what the actor or character would do next, and that was enjoyable.

The bad? Everything else. First off, these shows go on too long. Writers put 8-10 episodes worth of story into 13 episodes. What is so magic about the number 13? Every Marvel show has dragged in the middle of the series because of not having enough story to propel the narrative. Jessica Jones probably had the best pacing, but Iron Fist would have been a lot tighter at eight episodes. The worst sin Iron Fist commits is (*spoiler*) not using a costume.

A brief aside—in around 1990, I attended a panel at the Chicago Comicon regarding the upcoming Flash TV show on CBS. The DC writers who consulted on the show addressed some of the challenges they had working with CBS network brass. CBS was uncomfortable with the Flash costume. They didn’t want the hero, Barry Allen, to wear one. “Does he have to wear a costume?” one exec asked directly. One of the DC panelists said, “I told him, if we don’t use a costume, we might as well call him ‘The Jogger.’” Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to “Iron Fist: Kung Fu Jogger.” For most of the series, Danny Rand dresses like a homeless man and has a fuzzy, unkempt beard. He really looks terrible. The comic book Iron Fist is clean-shaven and has a cool costume, which has gone through several iterations over the years. The ‘70s one is somewhat kitschy, I understand they probably couldn’t use it, but they must use the mask, it’s iconic. Today’s tracksuit costume would work and probably wouldn’t be too wince-inducing. It’s bad enough when Hollywood studios mess up costumes or refuse to use them—costumed superheroes are their source material! However, when Marvel Studios itself refuses to use costumes—what hope is there? They’re turning their back on their own stories and history!

This is Iron Fist
So Danny Rand, Kung Fu Jogger, goes through the entire series without showing the mystic part of his city, K’un L’un, without fighting the dragon that gave him his powers in the comic, and forgoes the classic and iconic Iron Fist costume. He’s just a homeless dude who whines a lot and knows a smattering of Kung Fu. Colleen Wing makes it watchable, but without her the entire series falls flat on its face.

Also acceptable as Iron Fist
For the second series, if there is one, I’d suggest replacing Finn Jones with an actor who knows Kung Fu and looks like they could kick someone’s ass (although that is unlikely to happen). Secondly, put him in his costume, even if it’s just the mask! Thirdly, turn up the supernatural aspects of Iron Fist! Show K’un L’un! Have the Iron Fist itself as smoking and steaming, not just glowing slightly. This show could be so much better with just a little tweaking, even if they kept Jones as the title character. Marvel, please stay truer to your source material.

This is not Iron Fist

Rating: *** out of 5 stars

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