The Mystery of Marvel’s Iron Fist
Marvel on Netflix has created a pretty high standard. Daredevil, Jessica Jones to Luke Cage — all were critically well received and binged by thousands. And then came the last of the Defenders, Iron Fist. Without the name recognition of Daredevil or the help of any main character crossover (with much respect to Rosario Dawson), Iron Fist was left to hold its own against a mountain of expectation. It was tasked with introducing a character with little clout and a completely different mystical backstory. How do you accomplish this?
Iron Fist starts out with a Danny Rand returning home after being presumed dead fifteen years ago. He has claim to a billion dollar empire, but proving he is who he says he is becomes difficult. I was hooked by the beginning. There was a mystery in Danny. I did not understanding much, the story didn’t lead you anywhere at first, but I was intrigued. I wanted to know where he had been for fifteen years. I wanted to know why he came back. I cared about that. Having this set up in the first episode gave me all motivation to continue watching.
But nothing happened. We were given tastes of the overall world Marvel has created, but the story of Iron Fist stalls after the first few episodes. It becomes clear that Danny is looking for something he thinks he lost. And I think we all can relate to that. I can even follow him when he doesn’t understand what it is he lost or how to find it. You would think over the last fifteen years it would have crossed his mind and that he would have at least slightly figured it out before overcoming all the hurdles it took to return to New York. But that is okay. I will still follow you.
Danny Rand is the Iron Fist. Danny Rand is a billionaire. But he has no self-identity. It changes from episode to episode and sometimes from scene to scene. He has been trained as a warrior, but is absolutely horrible as a battle strategist. It is hard to route for a main character like this, unless the story around him supports this struggle and engages you enough to allow him to figure himself out.
And that is the mystery of the Iron Fist. It created the structure of a good story, and then seemingly did everything it could to leave a bad after taste in your mouth. You never understand the point of the main villain, or really who the main villain is. I almost don’t think there was a main villain. Maybe the villain was the struggle inside Danny. Which I would have liked, but the story wasn’t told that way.
It is redeemed by Finn Jones being completely watchable as the Iron Fist, even when the writing failed him. And by Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing. I would dare say Henwick is second only to Jessica Jones as the most badass female in the Marvel TV universe.
The final scene of the final episode is gripping, but aggravating. It should have been the end of the fifth episode, and continued in the second half of the season. I want to like, to love this show. And I did. For the first few episodes. But it turned out not to have a well-crafted story arc. It turned out not to earn plot twists. I know who Luke Cage is. I know who Jessica Jones is. I know who Matt Murdock is. Danny Rand? I have no clear idea. By the end of the season I should have.