The essence of Iron Fist is the mystical martial artist’s ability to focus on his chi so intensely that he generates an energy that turns his fist into an indestructible weapon.
In Marvel/Netflix’s “Iron Fist,” which began streaming Friday, if Danny Rand (Finn Jones) is distracted, by his own doing or by others, he loses his focus and the ability to channel the ultimate weapon.
It’s kind of like the experience you’ll have watching “Iron Fist.” You want to enjoy it — and there are many moments when you will — but it is impossible, despite your positive comic-book-loving chi, to watch this show and not have your viewing experience tainted by the controversy that has surrounded it since Jones was cast as Danny Rand.
There are currently two Iron Fist camps fanning the flames on social media. There are the dedicated fanboys, demanding an authentic adaptation of the comics they love, who expect Iron Fist/Danny Rand to be a rich, blonde white guy who becomes a martial-arts master by way of the phantom land known as K’un-Lun. And then there are those who felt Marvel/Netflix had an opportunity to introduce an Asian leading man — which many thought would be appropriate given Iron Fist’s heavy martial-arts influence — and botched it.
The best way for Marvel/Netflix to punch through that negative energy was to produce the best Iron First story possible for a live-action adaptation. Did they? That depends on how much you like board meetings.
Count me as one of the many who collectively squealed when “Iron Fist” was announced as one of the four Marvel properties Netflix would pick up. (The other three, “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage,” will join Iron Fist later this year in “The Defenders,” an Avengers-like team-up). I instantly thought of the first few volumes of Marvel’s “Immortal Iron Fist” comic books by writers Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker and artist David Aja. That series focused on the mystical side of Iron Fist, having him compete in a martial-arts tournament in another dimension. There was spectacular source material there for the taking.
Instead, Marvel/Netflix gives us a whole lot of Danny Rand as he returns to New York, and seemingly back from the dead; many thought he perished in a plane crash as a child. Danny is fighting to get control of the company his father left behind, as his parents actually did die in that crash. His friends refuse to believe he is who he says. The question of “is this really Danny Rand?” permeates the first few episodes. It’s ironic, given that many of the people watching the show — and especially those who are unhappy with Jones’ casting — will also ask if he is really Danny.
If you’re expecting mind-blowing martial arts (and who wouldn’t?), you may be better off watching the first season of “Daredevil,” which, at least for now, is the superior show when it comes to fight choreography. Jones comes off a little stiff with his moves but finally kicks things up a notch when threats start to come from the Hand, a secret group of villains.
There are plenty of good things about the show. Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) fights alongside Danny and may make some wish that she was the Iron Fist. Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) continues to be the link between all the Netflix/Marvel shows and will more than likely be the person to introduce Danny to the other Defenders. Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), who also stars in “Daredevil,” continues to show that she has the power to take down a hero in front of her with one hand but always chooses to observe before striking. The rare moments where she displays that strength in “Iron Fist” are always fun.
You’re probably wondering about that yellow mask and green suit from the comics, right? There’s no sign of it so far, and the series’ producers have hinted it may not show up at all — which could be one more thing for viewers to complain about. But if the uniform does make an appearance at the end, just like “Daredevil” did with Charlie Cox’s horned/red suit reveal in the first-season finale, it could provide some much-needed positive chi for “Iron Fist.”
“Iron Fist” is not a bad show and is not the first failure of Marvel and Netflix’s joint venture. It’s just that “Iron Fist” is the first project where the lead’s casting hasn’t been a universally praised slam dunk. Jones isn’t channeling Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth or Chris Pratt, but he’s trying. There’s still plenty of time for him to perfect his punches — hopefully while wearing a colorful superhero uniform.