Thursday, March 23, 2017

Iron Fist Episodes 7-13 NON-SPOILER REVIEW

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For the fans, Iron Fist is an exciting introduction to the final Defender and his supporting cast.  The series is not without its flaws, but it does a respectable job of tying things together, connecting in the other Marvel Netflix shows, and setting up the upcoming crossover The Defenders.  Without giving away too much, here is my non-spoiler review of the second half of the season.

Before getting into it, let's get the suitability out of the way.  There is very little in the way of graphic violence, little-to-no foul language, and just about nothing in terms of explicit sex scenes.

On the positive side, Iron Fist does a really good job of introducing and developing all of its regular cast members.  Danny and Colleen in particular are given compelling arcs over the course of the season.  Though they could have done a much better job of fleshing out the reasons for Danny’s decision to leave K’un-Lun, the question does finally get answered near the end of the season.  There are some original characters, but most of the characters in the season are imported from the comic books, and they are all remarkably faithful to the comic book inspiration.  There are a couple of places where the writers take liberties with the characters (Joy Meachum is a notable example), but for the most part I actually like the versions in the show better than the comic book versions.  Joy’s story through Iron Fist season 1 is much more interesting and engaging than her comic book debut, where she thinks the Iron Fist killed her father and turns into a revenge-driven maniac.  There is one comic book character who (in my opinion) they did a terrible disservice to—the Bride of Nine Spiders, who appeared in episode 6—but they make up for that in episode 8 with one of the most interesting (if not strictly faithful) adaptations of a comic book character in the series.  Hopefully that character will return in some capacity in one of Danny’s future appearances.

What makes the season’s villains so interesting is their connection to the heroes.  Over the course of their appearances, they even receive good development.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t include fleshing out the villains’ motivations.  That may be where this series falls flattest in comparison with the other Marvel Netflix shows:  the villains, though compelling and developed, lack motivation.  Think back to Fisk in Daredevil season 1, Killgrave in Jessica Jones season 1, or Diamondback in Luke Cage season 1.  All of their motivations were crystal clear by the end of the season.  Why were any of the three villains in Iron Fist doing what they were doing?  To be honest, I don’t know.  Even the “big bad” who emerges in the season finale doesn’t get his motivations explained—the expected motivation isn’t even mentioned, and the stated motivation makes zero sense.

One thing the show does a respectable job of is fleshing out and explaining the Hand, which looks to be the primary villain for The Defenders.  Pulling back the curtain on the Hand makes them somewhat more interesting than Daredevil season 2 could do.  However, the Hand’s appearance in Iron Fist looks just a little too different from Daredevil, which muddles the story a bit.  Hopefully they will explain things a little better in The Defenders or something, because as of now I’m kind of confused.

In terms of fight choreography and effects, the season does a decent job.  There are only so many ways to change things up when your hero’s primary ability is to punch people, which is why every so often Colleen needs to pull out her katana.  The villains’ use of different fighting styles (the use of Zui Quan (“Drunken Fist”) in episode 8 stands out in particular), as well as the inclusion of other people on Danny’s side, helps add variety to the fighting, but there’s still only so much you can do with the Iron Fist by itself.  It would have helped considerably if they had allowed Danny to learn more of his chi abilities—even just being able to channel his chi through his feet would have been an improvement!  I understand the storytelling reasons for confining him to using the Iron Fist in his hand, but still.  On top of that, there is one time that they show a previous Iron Fist in action, and the most exciting variation from Danny’s fighting style is that the previous Iron Fist kept both fists glowing through the entire fight.  That would have been the perfect opportunity to show off some of the Iron Fist’s more exotic chi abilities—in the comics they could channel their chi through projectiles, use it to enhance their battlefield analysis, and even create imaginary projections (okay, that last one’s pretty weird, but still).  Hopefully Danny will learn some of these abilities in his future appearances.

Before concluding this (non-spoiler) review, I need to talk about three main characters in particular because they will be showing up in The Defenders.  First, Claire Temple, who is certainly the connection between all the heroes.  She has an interesting story through this season, and it fleshes her character out quite a bit, particularly with how she has been affected by her interactions with the four heroes.  However, it seemed like at some point they ran out of exciting things for her to say and decided that she really needed to let the audience know that SHE’S THE CONNECTION!!!!!  By the end of the season, it felt like every other line was an allusion to the fact that she knows Daredevil and Luke Cage.  The writers really needed to step back and remember that their audience has probably already seen the other Marvel Netflix shows and doesn’t need the constant reminders that Claire was in them.

Colleen Wing gets the award for most dynamic character (Ward Meachum is a close second) in the season.  Her friendship/relationship with Danny was a little off at first, but by the end of the season it was completely believable.  She also really comes into her own as a fighter and hero.  Given how personal the Hand fight is to her, I can’t wait to see her square off against them in The Defenders and beyond.

The man himself, Danny Rand, seems to be getting a bad rap in reviews.  His character is pretty nebulous—half the time he is completely naïve, half the time he is a brilliant businessman; half the time he can’t figure out the Iron Fist, half the time he is every bit the Defender of K’un-Lun.  His motives for leaving K’un-Lun are all anyone can talk about up until the end of the season, but that does finally get resolved in the penultimate episode.  At first revenge is not his motivation, but then it is, and then it isn’t.  However, Finn Jones actually plays a pretty good Danny Rand.  He gives him enough of a commanding presence at Rand while still maintaining the naïveté of a man who was just given control of a major corporation with no experience.  His search for meaning, friendship, and family in New York is interesting, particularly in the way that the “real world” clashes with the Eastern philosophy he picked up in K’un-Lun.  In short, Finn Jones embodies his character (in my opinion) every bit as much as the other Defenders embody theirs.

So is Iron Fist a perfect series?  No.  But is it at least worth checking out?  Absolutely.  Iron Fist gives an interesting introduction to its protagonist and his cast of friends and enemies.  It opens up the Marvel Netflix universe far more than any of the other series to-date (seriously, they go to China.  The furthest from NYC anyone had gone before now was Georgia.).  And it gives us the best idea yet of what The Defenders will be about (hint:  you’ve got two of ‘em).

What did you think of Iron Fist?  What do you want to see in Iron Fist season 2/The Defenders?  Let me know in the comments!

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