Marvel’s Iron Fist has remained true to its comic book origins in the face of cries of whitewashing – and pleas for making its central character, Danny Rand, Asian American.
In remaining true to its origin and introducing diverse key characters (which the comic did as well), Iron Fist may be the most diverse of the Netflix Marvel series so far.
It’s also a lot of fun – as long as you don’t take it as seriously as Netflix’s other Marvel shows.
Marvel’s Iron Fist opens with a very scruffy Danny Rand (Finn Jones, Game of Thrones) attempting to see Harold Meachum (David Wenham, Top of the Lake, Lion) and brushing by security to arrive at the offices of Rand Corporation where he encounters Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey, Banshee) and his sister Joy (Jessica Stroup, 90210, The Following) – neither of whom believe him when he tells then who he is.
A chance encounter – she drops a couple bucks in his coffee cup in a park, mistaking him for a homeless man – brings Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick, Silk, Game of Thrones) into his orbit. It’s the beginning of an interesting relationship – he enquires about a job; she tells him she already has someone to sweep up at her dojo, and eventually the two develop an odd friendship.
The series premiere essentially sets up the season by following Danny as he begins the task of reclaiming his 51% ownership of Rand Corp, and introducing the key characters – Ward, Joy, Colleen – while also beginning a series of flashbacks that will eventually give us the story of how he became the Iron Fist (we get the first mention of the city of K’un L’un – a kind of martial arts Brigadoon, as will be explained later – and, in this series at least, The Hand).
The series is based on the comic created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, with elements from runs by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.
The premiere – written by showrunner Scott Buck (Dexter) and directed by John Dahl (Justified, Ray Donovan) – has fun with ‘homeless’ Danny, as he makes a friend who sleeps in the same park (but also introduces the first poignant moment there as well), and plays his efforts to talk with Ward and Joy as a source of some humor before things take a bad, but completely understandable, turn.
We also get a sense of who Colleen Wing is – she is the owner and sensei of a dojo but also has a bit of an edge to her that takes her in unexp0ected directions even before she and Danny become better acquainted.
Jones makes for an innocent, briefly naïve but confident Danny Rand – maybe too confident, given how naïve he is. He has a charisma that makes him just as believable as a heroic person or a guy who has to sleep in a park. He also has the chops to play the show’s drama and humor equally well, and is capable of being very charming.
Henwick – who was Nymeria Sand on Game of Thrones – has that edge I mentioned earlier as Collen Wing. Her Colleen is not to be taken lightly and, though it might take a while to win her over, is a fierce friend and ally once she commits.
Pelphrey’s Ward is a bit of dick – and seems to have a wee problem with pills of some sort – possibly to ward off (sorry!) anxiety. He’s made Rand what it is today: he’s the shark at the head of the company.
Stroup’s Joy is the company’s head lawyer, but while she’s as capable of being a shark as Ward, she’s also the one who keeps the company on something approaching a moral and ethical keel. She would like to believe Danny is who he says he is.
The episode is a smoothly flowing hour – almost as smooth as Danny’s martial arts skills are supposed to be – and has that balance of real life grit and comic book fantasy that has marked the three previous Marvel Netflix shows. Likewise, there is always something more going on than is readily apparent at first glance – and, having seen the first six episodes, I can say that sometimes things that you didn’t know were important have payoffs later on.
For those who worry about such things, yes there is a hall brawl – but it takes four eps to get there – and despite its ambitions, it’s not quite as effective as previous brawls because Jones isn’t terribly convincing in camera. When his stunt double kicks in though, it’s very impressive.
Marvel’s Iron Fist isn’t as specifically about Saying Stuff – especially in comparison with Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage – but by being a rich and diverse action drama without planting any flags, it does something just as special: it treats every character, good and bad, like people rather than stereotypes.
It might be Netflix’s fourth best Marvel series, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Final Grade: B