Netflix Marvel Retrospective – Iron Fist Season 1

Like Luke Cage, this series gave us the first live action version of Iron Fist after many video game and toon versions (the character didn’t even get included in any of the Macey’s Thanksgiving Day Parades in the 80’s). Both Danny Rand and Colleen Wing were played by Game of Thrones alums – Finn Jones and Jessica Henwick. At this point, the Marvel Netflix hype train was still chugging along but this show… this show was different. Lots of articles, reviews, and blogs have been written about how much this show was hated and why it was hated, so…

… Let’s get this over with

With the show already delayed and the Defenders around the corner, Marvel had to get this season done and over with as quickly as possible. They cast Finn Jones who, as most of you are aware, had no martial arts background and threw him into the role almost immediately with only 15 minutes to prepare for action sequences and they had a stunt coordinator to choreograph the fights as opposed to, y’know… a fight coordinator. The end result were fight scenes that were average to bad. What’s weird is that Iron Fist traditionally wore a mask and while the Netflix shows had a strong aversion to costumes, it made sense that a famous millionaire would want to hide his identity. Wearing a mask would give Finn Jones’ stuntman more of an opportunity to do the heavy lifting, which would greatly improve the battles.

It should be mentioned that the showrunner was Scott Buck who was best known for turning the hit show Dexter from one of the better shows on Showtime to an unwatchable mess (he would go on to do the Marvel show Inhumans which was already cancelled and forgotten about by the time the last episode aired). He made many of the decisions that would hurt the show such as focusing on corporate politics for the storylines, budget constraints, and rushing everything into production. It’s likely that even if they got a martial artist in the role of Danny Rand, there would still be a lot working against the show.

Oh, and of course, the pacing was as much of an issue here as other Netflix Marvel shows. Weirdly enough, while Luke Cage and Jessica Jones had pacing issues toward the end of their first season, this show had problems in the first episodes and picked up the pace much later. Again, that might have been due to the lack of training of the lead. At any rate, everything I mentioned has been talked about before and since I try to be an optimist, let’s talk about the stuff I actually liked about this season.

That’s right! I’m gonna be positive about Iron Fist!

So what did it get right? Well, most people at least agree that Jessica Henwick was great as Colleen Wing. Considering she had a small role in a Stars movie, did Game of Thrones, and was in a Marvel property, you’d think her star would rise a bit more. Hopefully, we’ll see more of her in the future. I thought Tom Pelphrey also did a great job as Ward Meachum, a man who you start off hating but gradually start to like as he tries to push through all the crap he’s had to deal with in his life and be a better person. If you haven’t already, I suggest watching Ozark on Netflix. He’s in the third season and he’s incredible.

I thought the villains were okay as well. I like the idea of the Hand being warring clans with Madame Gao looking after her own interests and Bakuto running a weird little new age cult. It expanded the organization a bit beyond a faceless evil ninja army. I didn’t mind Howard Meachum all that much either, although I think it would’ve been better if he was defeated before Bakuto. Oh, and I liked the turn of events involving the Mechum kids. Joy started off as Danny’s friend while Ward was an early villain. By the end of the first season, Joy was a villain and Ward was an ally. That was a nice turn.

For all the fight scene problems, I honestly liked the hallway fight. The directing was pretty good; I really dug it when it went into split screen and spilled over into an elevator fight. I think if they just sped it up a bit and fixed the sound, it’d look really good.

Finally, this season actually had one of my favorite scenes from a Netflix series, oddly enough. This is a Hand ninja singing bad karaoke to a room of dead Yakuza. It’s so weird and hilariously violent that I loved it when I first watched this show. This guy only showed up in one episode (directed by RZA for what it’s worth) and the show probably would have been much better if he was the main villain. Or not. Who knows. Enjoy.

How would I have fixed it?

I like to think about bad shows and movies and what I would have done differently, so if you’re interested, here’s how I would have done things.

The first episode would start in a seedy, underground bar somewhere on the Sino-Russian Border where there is a cage match going on with lots of guys betting money. Danny Rand enters, looking all sorts of out of place since he’s a white dude dressed like a monk, holding a child’s backpack (the backpack from when he was a kid that he had with him when his plane went down). He goes over to a guy in a booth and it’s established the man makes fake passports. Danny says something about losing his passport and he needs to get back to New York. The man asks for a large sum of money but Danny doesn’t have that much cash on him. The man can tell Danny is in over his head and tells him he can earn money in a cage match and Danny, being the naïve fish-out-of-water that he is, agrees, not realizing what sort of place he’s in. He steps in the cage with the biggest, meanest guy in the place and bows politely to his opponent. The cage fighter responds by kneeing him in the face, which causes everyone in the bar to laugh and cheer. Confused and angry, Danny wipes the blood from his nose, takes a stance,… then performs a roundhouse kick that knocks the cage fighter to the canvas where he coughs up some blood. Everyone goes silent.

Danny tells the cage fighter he should show more respect, but the guy’s not listening. He gets up and charges Danny but gets swiftly beaten from one side of the ring to the other, culminating in him getting thrown into the cage face-first. Danny stops, thinking the guy has learned his lesson. Instead, the guy pulls a knife and goes for the throat. Finally realizing what sort of place he’s in, Danny casually catches the man’s wrist and breaks his arm in three places, winning the fight. He then heads straight for the man in the booth who’s practically soiling himself and demands a passport. Cue the intro theme song.

Through out the series, I’d have plenty of flashbacks to K’un L’un as Danny goes back into civilization, showing his training, establishing his rivalry with Davos, and setting up the backstory to everything. Early on, I’d set up Howard Meachum as the man who sabotaged his parents’ plane but keep him away from Danny initially. Instead, Howard would order his adult children to relinquish the company over to Danny without any trouble, which confuses them (their storylines would otherwise be more or less the same). Danny knows Howard is responsible for his parents’ death and that he knows he’s connected to the Hand but can’t get to him, so he goes looking all over New York for ways to get to them. I’d have a flashback with his mentor in K’un L’un explaining that Howard was a member of the Hand, which means that Danny not only wants revenge against Howard but against the entire organization. Danny keeps running into dead ends in his search and is frustrated that Howard is hiding. His search does, however, lead him to Colleen Wing who is unknowingly running a dojo for Hand recruitment under her mentor Bakuto (again, I’d otherwise keep her storyarc the same). Colleen helps Danny in his search since he’s not very good at tracking people down in spite of his martial arts skills. Once she learns about his power, she asks why the people of K’un L’un would give the Iron Fist to an outsider and he has no real answer other than saying he fought Davos for it and won. She also asks him how Howard Meachum could be linked to the Hand and he has no evidence other than what his mentor told him.

Eventually, Howard calls Danny to his home in the middle of the night. When Danny gets there, Howard has a gun on his desk. He admits to Danny that he sabotaged his parents’ plane to get control of the company and has been racked by guilt ever since. Danny brushes that aside and asks about the Hand, but Howard has no idea what he’s talking about. Before Danny can press further, Howard takes the gun and commits suicide.

Davos soon shows up in New York and explains he left because he heard the Hand was in New York and doesn’t believe Danny has what it takes to beat them. He, also tells Danny that his mentor (Davos’ father) crippled him before their match for the Iron Fist. Since Danny always knew Davos was an ass, he ignores him and carries on with the mission. Eventually, he speaks to his old mentor about it and the mentor admits that he cracked Davos’ ribcage the night before the match because he wanted to ensure Danny got the power of the Iron Fist. Danny demands to know why he would do that and the mentor tells him everything: K’un L’un spies learned many years ago the Hand was operating in New York and the Elders wanted a weapon that could be used to take them out on their home turf. With Danny being orphaned as a boy in K’un L’un, it was decided that he would be trained and given the power of the Iron Fist before being sent back to New York. While Howard Meachum was a killer, he was never a part of the Hand; the mentor lied about it so Danny would take down the entire organization in his quest for revenge. At this point, Danny wants nothing to do with the Iron Fist but he’s already made a ton of enemies and can’t just walk away, making him a reluctant hero. From that point on, it’d be a story about betrayal, manipulation, appropriation, and redemption. Also, really cool fights.

Final Verdict

So, did I like the show? I honestly did. It had its moments and there was enough there to grab my attention. Was it a good show? No, not really. There are valid reasons why many people hated it. I do think Iron Fist redeemed himself gradually over the next few shows and I’ll talk about that a bit in the next entry. Next up: The Defenders!

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