Netflix's Iron Fist isn't quite what I wanted or expected. In the end that's the problem. I went into Iron Fist expecting something sort of like Kung-fu: The Legend Continues, but with modern effects, a better budget and a different tone. I was hoping for a love letter to 1970s Kung-fu movies. Instead, I got a lot of talking and lackluster fights too far apart to make up for it. I don't know if the problem was that Finn Jones wasn't capable of doing the required choreography, if the choreographer wasn't good enough to make interesting fight scenes, if the editor just didn't know how to cut the fight scenes, if the director didn't get the footage the editor needed or if the writers just didn't write anything interesting for them to do. I do know that the pacing is far too slow and it gets increasingly frustrating as the series progresses. In some ways the show has the same feel as the second half of Luke Cage, the ideas are there but not the vision to make it all come together.
The sad thing is that this is still better than a lot of crap on TV. It just doesn't shine when placed next to Daredevil.
Rather than bagging on it as a whole I'm going to share a couple things I might have done differently.
- Less tell, more show - Iron Fist comes from 1970s Kung-fu action movies being mixed with Tarzan. (Or any number of other characters for that matter.) It's a basic origin and unless you show it to us in interesting ways we don't need it explained. "The plane crashed in the mountains and I was rescued by warrior monks." is enough for us to understand the character. Then you just have to spool out the details as need be.
Specific Scene I would change: Danny and Joy are sitting in his opulent apartment on a couch (So many damn couches in this show.) and Joy asks what it was like for Danny growing up with the Monks in K'un-Lun. He then tells her about it and she tells him it sounds like it was hard. There's a little more going on but not much.
How I would have changed it: They are in the apartment talking, she asks what it was like and Danny plays it off as being pretty normal. He chopped wood, got water from the river for his master, had his own room and bed, fought with friends and got in trouble for misbehaving. Pretty standard. As he describes this we fade to the young Danny as he splits logs with his bare hands, carries jugs of water up a mile long staircase, sleeps on a straw mat in a tiny windowless stone room, fights with friends and is flogged for misbehaving. This would tell us far more about Danny than anything he could ever say and the training that is implied would give us an idea of what he is actually capable.
- Less idiot plotting - There are far too many scenes where people talking for a few minutes would resolve the entire issue. While I'm willing to accept the idea that the Meechum's are incredulous regarding Danny being Danny, the idea that they aren't willing to talk to him at all seems more like a plot device than a character decision. All we needed was an "If you're Danny Rand then tell me X." scene and we can skip so much of the agency robbing first four episodes. We eventually get that conversation with Trinity but it's too late to fix the Meechum's by that time.
- Fewer character and more focus on Iron Fist - This show feels a bit like the people writing and directing it didn't think that Iron Fist was an interesting character. They make him emotionally unstable, they play up his desertion of his post, they focus on the Meechums and Clair and Colleen and they seem to do their best to avoid fight scenes that feel properly Wuxia. Ugh. Not since Quantum of Solace have I ended up with such painful case of fight scene blue balls.
Alternate First Episode: The first episode focuses almost entirely on Colleen Wing as she goes about her day. We establish the state of things in the neighborhood, her financial situation, what she does at the dojo and some sort of conflict with the Rand Corporation. You see hints of the impact of the heroin on the people around her and provide some background conversation about someone that has been beating up drug dealers at night. Is it the Devil of Hell's Kitchen? Luke Cage? Someone else? That night Colleen suits up (a mask with a dragon motif?), takes a bokken and heads off into the night to be the hero her neighborhood needs. She helps someone who is being mugged and we get to see how capable she is at all of this. Then, already a bit tired, she breaks up a drug deal only to be jumped by two or three Hand Ninjas. They have swords, she has a stick. As the fight progresses we can see that while she is extremely capable, numbers and superior equipment will win the day. Toss in a little Hand magic that robs her of her voice or something so she can't yell for help. Things are looking bleak as she is thrown against a wall and clenches her eyes shut in anticipation of the falling blade. Shouts of surprise. She opens her eyes and is greeted with shadowed figures engaged in an intense battle. Light from passing cars at the end of the alleyway flashes off the weapons and amidst them dances a pair of flaming fists. The Hand ninjas are outmatched and throw shuriken (or knives. Whichever aesthetic you prefer) at Colleen, which Iron Fist manages to deflect (if it doesn't break the flow of the scene you could have him miss a single projectile which Colleen knocks away with the remains of her bokken.) but the Hand escape in the process. The final shot is Danny, in full Iron Fist regalia, walking out of the darkness into the small pool of light in which Colleen sits and extending a no longer flaming hand and asking if she is alright.
The rest of the first season is Danny trying to fight the Hand (which he has been sent to do rather than deserting his post thank you very much) and coming to realize that his family's company is deeply intertwined with the people he is sworn to oppose. The climax of the season is Danny setting aside the Iron Fist to reclaim his company as he realizes that he can't just punch the Hand into submission. The next season would then have Danny trying to be a businessman and jousting with the Meechum's and the corruption in his company. At that point you have someone else from K'un'Lun (Davos probably) show up because Danny isn't doing his job the way the Masters intended and the consequences will be dire. If possible I would involve Misty Knight in the story at some point but if it had been me in charge of Luke Cage she would have lost her arm to the gunshot wound toward the end of the season and ultimately her job on the force. She has opened her own private detective agency (such as it is) and over the season she gets her cybernetic arm. I would also be fine with her just starting with it depending on the needs of the story.
As a final word to Marvel Comics. If you are going to have butt-kicking heroine types, and you want them to be viewed as legitimate, then you need to be willing to put them through the ringer in the same way you would a male hero. They have to be able to lose or all the winning they do is meaningless. Paragon characters tend to be dull, regardless of gender.
So what do you think of Iron Fist? How would you have made it a better show? Let us know in the comments.
***Just finished the last three episodes of the series. I didn't hate the series but it wasn't quite as badass as I was hoping. They didn't quite get the Iron Fist feel and they really didn't understand Danny Rand. All things being equal I would probably rewatch Daredevil or watch a Shaw Brothers movie or two. :D