I have to admit that I'm just not entirely sure what to expect from a series like Iron Fist. Sure, based on its basic premise, I suppose it would be fair to expect a decent amount of martial arts action – but, beyond that, I'm just not overly familiar with the character, or the sorts of stories that he tends to be involved in. So, unlike with Netflix's previous Marvel shows, it definitely feels like I'm going in blind. Would it be a grim and serious as Netflix's previous offerings, for example? Or, would it be a little more light-hearted? And, what sort of character is Danny Rand, anyway? Most importantly, what sort of hero is he?
One thing I suppose I should get out of the way upfront, though, is that I just don't care about any of the racially charged drama that seems to surround Iron Fist. Questions regarding whether Danny Rand represents any sort of cultural appropriation, and whether he should have been changed into an Asian American character, just don't concern me all that much. I've seen enough great martial arts films centred around Asian actors playing Asian characters displaying formidable martial arts skills that one story centred around a white man doing the same really doesn't offend my sensibilities – especially if the series truly does, as it has promised to do, explore these issues of race and ethnicity, and the potential stereotypes that result, in a meaningful way.
So, anyway – on to the series, itself.
The first thing that I can really say about this first episode of Iron Fist is that it clearly seems determined to set a much slower pace than any of Netflix's previous series. From the very opening scene, in which Danny Rand (Finn Jones) makes his return to the company once run by his deceased father, the episode displays a strong tendency toward meandering on its various scenes of dialogue. Danny's first meeting with childhood 'friends' Joy and Ward Meachum (Jessica Stroup and Tom Pelphrey), for example, plays out as an overly long sequence that seems to centre around the three engaged in a drawn out, circular, argument as Danny attempts to convince them that he is truly who he claims to be, while they deny the possibility that he could be telling the truth.
Unfortunately, this is just the first of a variety of similarly poorly paced scenes, which worked to genuinely test my patience at various points throughout the episode. Danny's first encounter with Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), along with his second encounter with her later in the episode, are similarly heavy on dialogue and longer than they strictly needed to be. As were the scenes between the Meachum siblings, themselves, when they discussed what should be done about this stranger and his bizarre claims.
For much of the episode, in fact, the overall impression that I got was the odd sense that, perhaps, the creator's simply didn't feel as much of a need to try to catch the audience attention in the same way that those previous Marvel series had done – for the simple reason that our attention had likely already been caught by those previous shows. So, likely believing that the audience were already invested, it felt as though the writers of the episode had made the decision to focus much of their attention on establishing its cast of characters through exposition.
There are moments of action and genuine drama, of course – as Danny seems driven toward acts of increasingly extreme recklessness by the Meachum's refusal to listen to him, and Ward responds by sending some hired goons to quietly 'deal with' the apparent stranger. There is also some genuine intrigue to be found in the fact that Joy and Ward's father, and Danny's father's former partner, Harold Meachum (David Wenham), seems to have faked his own death for reasons that are still yet to be revealed.
Those moments of action, in which we get the see some of what Danny Rand is truly capable of, are very brief, admittedly, but they do seem to hold some promise for the season, going forward. Similarly, the idea that there may be more to the Meachums than their initially appears to be, as they quickly come together to work against Danny, does suggest that they might pose a somewhat interesting challenge for the season's first arc (though, certainly not for the season, as a whole). They might not be on nearly the same level as Wilson Fisk, Kilgrave, or Cornell Stokes but that doesn't mean that they can't still be reasonably entertaining antagonists.
Unfortunately, those hints at the potential for the rest of the season are really the closest I could get to finding true high-lights in this first episode of Iron First – since, as I've already mentioned, the episode as a whole just seems to feel somewhat sluggish, and poorly paced.
Another problem is the simple fact that this first episode isn't really able to convince me that Danny Rand is a character worth investing in. Matt Murdock and Luke Cage had both been instantly likable figures, and Jessica Jones had been damaged and unlikable in a very believable way – but, Danny just comes across as almost implausibly naive. The way that he blunders through the episode, essentially achieving little more than creating problems for himself, doesn't really do much to instantly endear me to him. Also, there is something vaguely unpleasant about the way that he carries himself, and interacts with the people around him – as though he is determined to play the part of the modest martial arts master, while hiding who he truly is. The way that this mask seems to slip, at certain points throughout the episode, does lead me to believe that this portrayal is entirely intentional, though. So, perhaps, the process of gradually growing into the role he is attempting to portray will be his main character arc, throughout the season. If that does prove to be the case, then I suppose I do have to admit that it does sound genuinely interesting.
In all, though, this first episode of Iron Fist isn't quite the instant success that I would have liked it to be – and, it certainly didn't grab me in the same way as the first episodes of Netflix's previous shows. Instead, I was required to pin most of my hopes for the season on those elements which might, hopefully, be allowed to develop into something genuinely interesting over the course of the rest of the season. In the end, Iron Fist is a series that I do really want to enjoy, if only due to the fact that I have always loved martial arts films – so, I do hope it is able to improve.