Friday, March 24, 2017

TV Binge Review - Iron Fist


I found Netflix's new Marvel super hero series 'Iron Fist' to have lots of talk with little action...

  Iron Fist is the latest Netflix adaptation of a Marvel Comics super hero. All 13 episodes were made available last weekend. I watched the first episode Friday night, four on Saturday, five on Sunday, and finished early this week with the last three episodes. I have had mixed reviews of the previous four Netflix adaptations, loving the first season of Daredevil, liking Luke Cage and being lukewarm towards Jessica Jones and Daredevil season 2.

  The Iron Fist is Danny Rand, only child of billionaire Wendell Rand. While taking a plane trip to China, the Rand Corporation jet hits turbulence, breaks apart, and crashes over the Himalayan mountains, killing all aboard. All that is except Danny who survived the crash which conveniently occurred at the once every 15 year opening of the interdimensional portal between Earth and the mystical land of K'un-L'un. In the land of K'un-L'un, Danny is trained in the martial arts, taught his mission in life is to destroy the Hand (the source of the never ending supply of ninjas in Daredevil 2), and reaches the height of his training by being chosen as the Living Weapon who can summon his life energy (chi) into his hand (the Iron Fist).

  After 15 years the inter-dimensional portal opens once again and Danny heads to New York to take his life back. The first three episodes are very slow moving, with Danny having no proof of his identity but since his company is under the control of his childhood friends (and children of his father’s late business partner Harold Meachum) he continually tries to convince them of his identity until he is locked away in an insane asylum. At the end of the second episode we finally get to see Iron Fist in action but the first three episodes are full of flashbacks to the plane crash, training in K'un-L'un, and a smattering of action as Ward Meachum sends goons to kill Rand along with a sampling of what must pass for eastern mystic wisdom (“If you want to see the truth then hold no opinions.”)

  In the next three episodes we see Danny convince Joy Meachum of his identity. Joy helps Danny get his company back although no mention is made of how he wasn’t declared legally dead and had his assets distributed many years ago. Danny proves to be a neophyte in business but popular with the masses as he sells a miracle-cure drug at cost and shuts down a factory that is suspected of causing cancer but has met all governmental regulations. He also buys the Hell’s Kitchen building where his girlfriend and fellow martial artist Colleen Wing runs a martial arts school. We also learn the Harold Meachum is alive, having been restored to live by the Hand (personified by the mysterious Madam Gao from past Netflix/Marvel shows) in exchange for them using Rand’s corporation to distribute a new pure form of synthetic heroin. Danny gets wind of the heroin operation and sets about using his powers to destroy the hand.

  I was hoping that the action would heat up in the second half of the 13 episodes but it did not. Finn Jones portrays Danny Rand as the 10 year old who is traumatized by his parent’s plane crash instead of the living weapon that he is. Each episode is full of Danny’s pent up adolescent and teenage angst saved from years of living in the K'un-L'un monastery being trained to be the Iron Fist and when Danny is not on screen we are treated to Ward Meachum’s anxiety attacks leading to a heroin addiction, Harold Meachum’s angst over being owned by the Hand, the ‘drama’ of a hostile takeover of the Rand corporation, Joy Meachum’s angst over her brother and Danny and the takeover of the corporation, and Colleen’s own teenage angst mixed in with pontifications from Claire Temple, the omnipresent nurse who tends to all the Marvel heroes in the Netflix sub universe. Each episode has a few minutes of action and between 40 and 45 minutes of angst. While I understand that angst is part of the territory of all Marvel super heroes Iron Fist was way over the top and closer to a 13 hour long version of Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles than a superhero series. Maybe all this angst is what people find so attractive about the vampire sagas that are so popular - I prefer lots of action.

  Things started picking up slightly in the last two episodes of the series with more action as friends were revealed to be villains and villains revealed to be uneasy allies. At this point I was mostly watching to see how it turned out since I already invested 11 hours in the series. The action scenes were well done and used standard martial arts fighting techniques of statuesque poses with fingers, toes, and limbs frozenly contorted in odd angles just before exploding into action, super-fast punches and kicks transforming into super slow motion as someone narrowly escapes a knockout blow, and a copious amount of swordplay. I would have liked to see the fighting in more dangerous locales than alleys, courtyards, apartments, and office buildings. Martial arts fighting can get pretty repetitive pretty fast and having the fights on the edge of a rooftop or the Brooklyn Bridge or even some subway tracks would have livened things up. There was one fight on a rooftop but no one got very close to the edge. My take on the Iron Fist series was that it was exceptionally slow moving with minimal action. The acting was fine but there was far too much angst on everyone's part. I like my heroes to be heroic and this series seemed to want me to feel sorry for everyone involved instead of giving me someone to root for.

  The ending of the show led to barely any closure with more questions than answers very much like the end of Luke Cage. This was likely done as a set up to the next chapter in the Marvel/Netflix saga which is to team up Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil in a new series called the Defenders. I was wondering how Netflix was going to be able to effectively develop the characters in a 13 hour series but after seeing the lameness of Iron Fist I think that the answer is that there will be little character development and we will spend hours of watching our heroes upset over one circumstance or another with a few minutes of action to liven up the boredom.