This is a recap of the pilot mixed in with my review. And this is also for those of you who have no intention of watching this series.
And I envy you who elect not to watch with every fiber of my being.
As stale as week old Wonder Bread, the pilot of Iron First premiered today and has left me thinking how much of a calculated error it was to release the Danny Rand/Iron Fist story shortly after the rich cultural brilliance of Marvel’s Luke Cage. This recap is also a review of my takeaway about how I feel about this show so far, and to sum it up in comic book TV junkie geek speak, I would say this show felt more like a soap opera-ridden CW teen drama than an actual sophisticated Marvel Netflix TV series about famous superhero with over 30 years of history in comics.
The opening credits are quite reminiscent of Daredevil with a silhouetted Danny Rand in liquefied CGI practicing martial arts. Instead of red, it’s switched out for a lackluster gray. If you think about it, the lack of color is a great foreshadowing of the series. The Marvel Netflix shows are most notably known for their choice of bright hues like red for Daredevil, purple for Jessica Jones and yellow gold for Luke Cage. I was honestly expecting Iron Fist’s opening credits to follow with green hues that match Danny’s costume dressed as Iron Fist.
Okay, so enough nitpicking on colors, let’s get to the nitty gritty on what is happening in our pilot episode. We enter with Danny Rand walking barefoot in midtown Manhattan of all places dressed like a homeless Park Slope hipster. The sounds of Outkast’s single “So Fresh, So Clean” meanders in the background and I guess that’s our cue to know that homeless hipster Danny is not whom we should assume he is. We see Danny wearing headphones listening to his MP3 player (he’s got Outkast on his playlist), but for some reason, he doesn’t have the sense to wear shoes on Manhattan asphalt.
Homeless Hipster Danny walks into Rand Enterprises (still barefoot) and although he’s been gone for a significant amount of time; he assumes the current staff at Rand Enterprises still know who he is. Danny is there to see Harold Meachum. We don’t know this yet, but Danny is asking for Harold Meachum is what gets him kicked out of the building. Danny, who is stubborn (and this is an accurate personality trait of comic book Danny) walks back into the building and asks to see Harold Meachum a second time. When the security guards resist, we see Danny’s martial arts skills come into play for the first time and realize this homeless version of Justin Timberlake has been doing much more than just watching Chuck Norris Kung Fu flicks.
Danny manages to fight his way into Harold Meachum’s office and meets Ward and Joy Meachum, the son and daughter of Harold. Danny recognizes them, but they do not recognize Danny; and when he asks Joy where Harold is, it’s revealed that Harold died 12 years prior from cancer. When Ward continues to tell Danny to leave his office, and Danny insists that he is who he says he is, Ward replies stating that “Danny is dead.”
Danny is later kicked out of Meachum’s office, and Danny has fleeting thoughts about the tragic loss of his parents on a plane. We flashback to a game of Monopoly between Danny, Joy, and Ward and we find out that Ward Meachum (who’s an A-list douchebag) has been a consistently terrible person since childhood.
One thing we learn about Danny is, he’s a bit of a hip hop head. He takes a break in the park, after his long day of rejection and listens to Camp Lo’s Krystal Karrington. I honestly had no idea Danny had a thing for hip hop. His hip hop playlist is as outdated as mine, so no judgment here.
When we meet Colleen Wing, it picks up from the easter egg left off during the finale episode of Luke Cage. Wing drops money into Danny’s cup (because he’s still dressed like a homeless Nsync member) and she proceeds stapling flyers to a public post. Danny sees Colleen’s surname Wing and assumes that she speaks Mandarin and we discover Danny knows it fluently. What was a bit surprising for me was that Colleen also speaks Mandarin. I’m not trying to say Mandarin is a monolith and that Japanese people don’t speak it, but I had a bit of a question mark over my head on that one. Comic book Colleen is of Japanese descent, and actress Jessica Henwick is English and Chinese, so I wasn’t sure if Mandarin was chosen based on the actress playing Colleen or if this was in fact canon. Feel free to debate me on this comic book nerds!
In spite of the weird bilingual exchange, we get a clear understanding that Danny is looking to tap into his unique skills and asks Colleen if he could train with her. Colleen assumes he’s interested in custodial work and immediately dismisses his request. Meanwhile, the Meachum’s suspicions of Danny are growing, and Joy is slowly starting to believe that Danny is who he says he is. Ward still refuses to believe it to be true.
Danny meets with Colleen at her Dojo and asks to challenge her master, he assumes, of course, she’s not one, and once he’s corrected, he further goes on to say she should teach Kung Fu lessons. It’s at this point that Colleen has had enough with the condescension and kicked Danny out.
When one of Meachum’s henchmen comes after Danny, and Coachella Fist drop kicks him, Colleen sees him in the distance and realizes this Kale-eating-former-Whole Foods-bagger may know little martial art. The henchmen proceed to go after Danny in an evening parade that occurs in downtown Chinatown (yes, of course, this story takes place in Manhattan’s Chinatown because that’s where all of the Asian people live) and they are searching for Danny. Somehow they walk right past Danny when Irish Fist wears a mask as a disguise.
My thing is, Danny hasn’t bathed—couldn’t they have just smelled him out? But I digress.
There is an exchange between Ward and his father Harold about hiring these men to sniff out Danny (which didn’t work out so well), and I must say the banter between these two are a snoozefest. There is little to nothing that is compelling about these two, and I felt like I as watching an episode of Arrow.
Only the acting was better. ::cough Stephen Amell cough::
Ward and his father do have a complicated relationship, but we don’t know why just yet.
Danny surprises Joy in her office and tells her that her brother Ward tried to kill him. She listens to his story and is still a bit skeptical, but also still can’t get over how much the man in front of her looks like Danny Rand. He then proceeds to tell the story of what happened that fateful day of the plane crash. Danny suddenly passes out and wakes up in a hospital. Danny has another vision of his past the day of the accident. The final scene ends with Outkast’s “So Fresh So Clean” playing during an image of a close-up of a broken MP3 player. And the pilot episode ends.
So what were our takeaways from this episode? I’ll be honest; it took me awhile to get through this because I found myself nodding off. This pilot is nowhere near as compelling as Daredevil, Jessica Jones, nor Luke Cage. The character development was solid, but the performances were mediocre, and often various scenes tend to drag. The moments with Harold Meachum are one of many that bore me. Ward Meachum is the tropiest trope who ever troped, and I was getting some serious Eric Raymond (of Jem and the Holograms) vibes from him. It was like he was an animated character reincarnated into a live action Marvel villain. The only interesting character was Colleen Wing, and we still have yet to learn more about her. I also don’t care about any of these characters. I don’t care about Joy or any of the other insufferable relatives of hers; I didn’t even care about the random homeless guy Danny conversed with and used as fodder for unnecessary Proverbs about finding one’s purpose. This episode just didn’t do anything for me, and if this is to set the tone of what’s to come in future episodes, I guess I’ll brace myself for more coffee along with a few spoonfuls disappointment with my cream and sugar.
All the way up until episode 6, it sadly doesn’t get any better. In fact, it gets worse. We deal with a wannabe Buddhist Danny chanting a mantra that sounds more comical than anything else, a snoozefest of a plot between the antagonists back at Meachum headquarters, (take a sip of coffee or a chug from your Red Bull). Be forewarned these scenes drag. Our girl Claire makes an appearance in future episodes and unfortunately doesn’t add or bring much substance to the plot. And our first six episodes don’t even have some of the most anticipated actors in this series! No Lewis Tan (Zhou Cheng)?
I will openly admit, that I came into this series with low expectations, but I had no idea that the bar would be lower coming from a Marvel Netflix property. I do hope the next several episodes pick up and will do a complete 180 because I need The Defenders to be the cream of the crop of all of these shows when it premieres. I’m not a fan of Finn Jones as Danny Rand, but I do want this show to be good because, at the end of the day, no one wants a series to fail. So my suggestion is to do a recast, and have an Asian American man or woman (preferably the latter) become the next Iron Fist. For comic book geeks like us who finally get to see our fandoms celebrated on the big and small screens, this will give us the representation that we need, and it’s comic book canon.
This series so far is proof positive that fan insight should be taken into consideration when developing a TV show. We are the targeted consumers these shows wish to entertain, so the least that can be done is to take heed to our feedback. I’m not saying that every TV showrunner should look to Tumblr feeds and tweets to get intel on how to develop a show, but what I am saying is that this story had the potential to be so much greater with casting an Asian American actor. If you need reasons why go to Keith Chow’s essay on Nerds of Color for in-depth analysis of why an Asian American Danny Rand would have been ideal for Iron Fist.
But let’s face it, I have some concerns that even if this show did, in fact, cast an Asian American actor, would it be more compelling? Would this help the incredibly boring antagonists and lackluster storyline? If we look at what Cheo Hodari Coker did with Luke Cage, and reimagined the characters like Misty Knight and Mariah Dillard as well as Luke Cage himself, you’ll see that it’s okay to switch things up and go against the formula. Cheo took a risk, and it worked. It’s one of the best Marvel TV shows of all time, and let’s not forget, Luke Cage was so popular among fans that it broke Netflix. The servers were down because so many of us were live-tweeting and watched it. I highly doubt Iron Fist will even go anywhere near that. There is already counter-programming in place during the weekend of the premiere. You are better off watching a real martial arts show like Into The Badlands as opposed to this train wreck TV show.
Iron Fist is indicative of the fact that Marvel can’t get it right all of the time.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online community for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She's the primary film critic for BGN and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critic Association