TV review: Is ‘Iron Fist’ the weak link in the Marvel/Netflix line-up?

So far, the Marvel/Netflix partnership seems to be a proverbial match made in heaven. The Netflix shows serve as a darker, grittier companion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and offer up consistently binge-worthy action and drama.

We’ve met the blind lawyer-by-day and conflicted-vigilante-by-night Daredevil; the tough detective Jessica Jones; and the champion of justice with bullet-proof skin Luke Cage. Now, Marvel and Netflix are introducing us to mystical martial arts master Iron First.

“Iron First” generated a lot of buzz before it was released, but unfortunately, a lot of that buzz wasn’t good. It hasn’t received the same praise as the previous Netflix/Marvel offerings and became part of a larger Hollywood discussion on whitewashing. As we gear up for the Defenders team-up later this year, is “Iron First” still worth binge-watching?

While some of Netflix’s previous Marvel shows had their weaknesses — the first season of “Daredevil” was stronger than the second (I loved the Punisher; Elektra, not as much) and the best villain in “Luke Cage” leaves the show too soon — I loved all these shows and generally couldn’t wait to watch the next episode. “Iron Fist” is the first show from this series where I debated whether or not I wanted to keep watching.

Sadly, the first episode of “Iron Fist” is one of the weakest first episodes I’ve seen from a TV series in a long time. The narrative drags, the dialogue falls flat, and the characters don’t click the way they do in the other Marvel/Netflix series. Whether it’s fair or not, it’s tough to watch “Iron Fist” without thinking of the CW’s currently running (and currently better) “Arrow.” Like Oliver Queen, Danny Rand (a.k.a. Iron Fist) was presumed dead by the world, only to return home years later with an unusual set of skills. Unlike Oliver, however, Danny can harness a touch of the supernatural.

The first two episodes didn’t hook me in the way other superhero shows have, and “Iron Fist” takes too long to find its footing. Too much of the early narrative is caught up with Danny just trying to prove his identity. We don’t see enough flashbacks to get the proper context for his character and how he got his powers. I think they also wait a little too long to reveal the full extent of Danny’s magical abilities. It almost feels like the script was rushed and we’re seeing an early draft of something that could have packed a greater punch if it had been more polished.

Even though I kind of wanted to quit watching after the second episode, I’d already decided to watch at least three for my review. While the third episode was an improvement (and I went ahead and watched the fourth), I’d still list “Iron Fist” as the weakest of the Defenders tie-ins.

By now I’m starting to warm up to Finn Jones as Iron Fist. The character is innocent, optimistic, and almost childlike, which I think makes sense considering his background; he had a traumatic event in his childhood and grew up off the grid. He’s struggling to fit back into his old life. I think it will be interesting to see him in a line-up with the other Defenders. Right now, Jessica Henwick as fellow martial arts expert Colleen Wing is the only other stand-out character for me. While there’s a lot of potential for development with some of the other side characters, the series hasn’t given us a truly compelling villain yet who’s on par with the fantastic villains from the other Marvel/Netflix shows: Kingpin, Kilgrave, and Cottonmouth.

Overall, I feel the showrunners missed an opportunity to make “Iron Fist” the “Doctor Strange” of the Netflix Defenders series. So far, “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” and “Luke Cage” have been pretty grounded; “Iron Fist” was a chance to start working more mystical elements into the franchise. It’s possible those elements are more prominently featured in the later episodes; however, I think seeing them sooner would have upped the stakes in the first couple episodes, which are rather languidly paced.

Final verdict? I’m planning to keep watching beyond episode four, not only because I don’t want to miss out on any details that will be featured in the Defenders team-up show, but also because I did see promise in the two most recent episodes I watched. However, it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed that the show doesn’t take full advantage of its potential.

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