This review of the new Netflix series Iron Fist first ran on March 8th. We are rerunning it now that the series is available for streaming.
“I’m not good at this stuff,” Colleen Wing tells Danny Rand.
“What stuff?” he replies.
“Talking,” she says.
This isn’t a surprising admission. Colleen, like Danny, is a master martial artist, and also one of the main characters on a superhero action show, Iron Fist — the fourth of Netflix’s Marvel Comics adaptations, following Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage, debuting March 17 — and that job often calls for the strong, silent type.
The fact that both Danny (Finn Jones) and Colleen (Jessica Henwick) aren’t good at talking should be no sin for the genre. The problem is that Iron Fist is virtually all talk — most of it painfully dull — and the fighting is both brief and unconvincing. It’s easily the worst of the Netflix Marvel shows — where the others tend to start off well and then run into massive pacing problems around episode 8 or 9, Iron Fist begins as if it’s already at that sag point — and an unfortunate illustration of the perils of miscasting.
Jones more or less resembles the comic book version of Danny — a child of privilege whose parents die in the Himalayas, leaving him to be raised and schooled in the martial arts of the mystical other-dimensional city of K’un -L’un, where he gains the ability to focus his chi until his fist becomes like unto a thing of iron — and he has some genre fiction street cred as a member of the larger ensemble of Game of Thrones, where he played Loras Tyrell. But whatever charisma he displayed as the Knight of the Flowers vanishes in this role, where he comes across as a befuddled surfer who wandered into the middle of a kung fu movie. Even worse, he’s not much of a martial artist, and it shows — badly.
The action scenes throughout the first six episodes are few and far between, and when they come, they’re filmed and edited in a manner where it becomes hard to tell what Danny is doing, or if he’s remotely the brilliant fighter he’s being sold as. The first few fights have all the actors, Jones in particular, moving so slowly and tentatively, it feels like they filmed the first rehearsal and moved on. I wanted to write that off as the show’s way of demonstrating that Danny is so good, he barely needs to make an effort against civilians — an approach that served Luke Cage well at times — but later fights aren’t any more impressive, even if Danny is moving slightly faster. (He’s not even involved in a long and elaborate combat sequence until late in the fourth episode.) Colleen’s fights look a bit better in comparison, but are also edited so aggressively that it’s all but impossible to tell.
It would be easy to blame the choppiness of the action on the fact that so few modern filmmakers understand how to shoot and edit this stuff anymore. (One of the reasons John Wick struck a chord with the audience was that its directors knew that less is often more in the genre, and focused on making sure we could easily follow everything Keanu Reeves was doing.) But Iron Fist comes out of the Netflix/Marvel factory, where Daredevil features some of the most exciting — and most classically composed — fight scenes in all of television, as the camera just hangs back and lets us watch the Man Without Fear kick and flip his way through one army of bad guys after another(*). The skimpiness and infrequency of the Iron Fist fight scenes suggest a production doing whatever it can to keep you from noticing that the greatest warrior ever produced by the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven, who should be able to cut his way through men like in the comics page below, instead moves like a guy who can’t wait to get his green belt at the strip mall dojo.