Howdy, folks! The final Defender has finally arrived, now that Iron Fist has dropped on Netflix. As always, MCUExchange will be reviewing one episode a day for the next 13 days until we’ve finished the season. I’m Doug, and I’ll be your reviewer for the first episode! So without further ado, let’s get started. Fair warning, these reviews will contain spoilers up to the episode they’re discussing.
Before starting Snow Gives Way, I have to admit that my expectations for Iron Fist weren’t sky-high. The show has been met with negative reviews and criticisms of its writing and meandering pace. On the other hand, the current political climate and controversy surrounding the show created an environment that may have encouraged harsher reviews than, say, Luke Cage or Jessica Jones, so I tried to keep an open mind when I started the premiere. As Danny himself says in this episode, “If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions.”
Before the episode even begins, we should probably talk about the opening title sequence. The Marvel Netflix shows have made a habit of crafting brilliant opening sequences, perfectly capturing the tone and feel of the show. Iron Fist‘s opening credits are visually engaging–a shadowy figure performing various martial arts moves as inky black lines trail his every move–but the music isn’t anything to write home about. While I can easily recall the themes for Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage, I’ve already forgotten the music from the title sequence that I watched less than an hour ago. Certainly not a damning flaw, but slightly disappointing.
As for the episode itself, I have to admit…I don’t get where the critics were coming from. Setting aside the controversy over Finn Jones playing Danny instead of an Asian American actor for a second, Iron Fist delivers a solid first episode that feels distinct from the shows that came before it. It’s by no means a perfect episode–not even close, as I’ll get into in a minute–but if the first episode is any indication, Iron Fist is not the train wreck some critics made it out to be.
The plot for the episode is nice and simple: Danny Rand has returned to New York City after a mysterious 15-year absence and spends the entire first episode trying to get someone (specifically the Meachum siblings) to believe that he is who he says he is. Along the way, he meets Colleen Wing (who doesn’t get much to do yet). Not a lot actually happens here, it’s mostly just establishing the characters and creating the sense that everyone is hiding something, good or bad.
The first scene of the show, one that we saw in the very first trailer, follows Danny as he arrives in New York and heads straight to his father’s company’s building, which eventually leads to a very brief fight scene between Danny and a team of Rand security guards. The fight (if you could even call it that–it’s pretty one-sided) shows Danny taking down people in a way that already sets Iron Fist apart from the other shows. Whereas Luke and Jessica have superpowers to back up their punches, and Matt is a brawler who refuses to stop hitting until he’s the last man standing, Danny’s takedowns of the Rand security guards are precise, graceful, and surprisingly gentle. While none of his moves look pleasant, it’s also obvious that Danny isn’t trying to hurt any of the security guards. There’s intention in every one of Danny’s moves, which isn’t something that can really be said for any of the other Defenders. We see the same thing again later in the episode, when Danny is being hunted by the security guys sent by Ward. In the second fight, Danny’s blows are obviously supposed to hurt more, but they still seem very controlled and exact.
The episode is definitely hampered by its writing, which isn’t so much bad as it is clunky and overly expository. For example, the short-lived Big Al is seemingly only introduced so that someone could Google things for Danny so the audience knows who Danny and his parents are. Or how about when Joy and Ward Meachum take a minute to explain, step-by-step, the possible con Danny could be running on them for the purposes of corporate sabotage. Not that the corporate sabotage plot is necessarily bad, but it feels like we’re being given more detail than necessary. If Ward and Harold’s conversation about it towards the end of the episode had been the only mention of corporate sabotage, I don’t think anyone would have been confused.
I can also understand why the pace of the show might be off-putting to some people. Like I said, very little actually happens in this episode, and this appears to be a show that will reward the patience of fans who are willing to get through a slow burn to an ultimately satisfying pay-off. Let’s just hope the pay-off actually is satisfying enough to justify the slow start.
The episode is elevated by solid performances from pretty much everyone involved, with the stand-outs Tom Pelphrey and David Wenham as Ward and Harold Meachum, respectively. Pelphrey is so deliciously dickish, but doesn’t quite come off as “evil” like his dad. In fact, Pelphrey is so much of an asshole that I’ll be surprised if he isn’t eventually revealed to be the less evil Meachum sibling. Joy, who we haven’t seen much from yet, seems too nice to trust.
Danny’s characterization also does wonders for the show, in terms of differentiating it from the other Marvel Netflix shows tonally. Unlike Matt, Luke, and Jessica, Danny is optimistic and cheerful. He opens up to just about anyone (“That’s my building!” he gleefully tells a random hot dog salesman) and manages to seem both child-like and dangerous. His response to Ward when Ward points a gun at Danny is a perfect example:
“I have been met with nothing but anger and hostility since I’ve been home. And honestly, it’s kind of….aggravating. So, I’m gonna ask you one last time. Please. Put. The gun. Away.”
Jones gives a great delivery for this line, making it seem simultaneously like a child asking why people won’t be nice to him, and a dangerous man issuing a threat. It’s a fascinating balance, and one that I’m excited to see more of as the season progresses. Danny is also clearly somewhat unhinged, nearly losing control of his rage at multiple points throughout the episode. I’m guessing that when he finally does lose control, we’ll finally see him use his powers. Until then, it’s interesting that nobody, including the audience, has any real idea what Danny is capable of.
It’s hard to say much at this point about the direction Iron Fist is going in terms of plot. While some broad strokes are pretty easy to guess, the only conflict that’s been introduced so far is Danny proving his own identity, so once that’s taken care of (presumably at the end of Episode 2 or Episode 3) it’s not obvious where the show will go from there. From the reviews, it’s safe to assume that the corporate drama will continue to be a primary focus of this season–which, considering Jeph Loeb called the show “a very very hard look at the one percent,” isn’t too surprising.
3 Monopoly games out of 5. If you wanted a super fast-paced show with non-stop action and fighting, Iron Fist will be a huge disappointment. If you’re bothered by the racial aspects of the show, its strengths probably won’t outshine those problems. But if you’re looking for another entertaining Marvel Netflix show, this one–while flawed–should satisfy.
I wrote this in my notes as soon as Big Al appeared: “I like Big Al. So…RIP Big Al?”
On that note, RIP Kyle. Loyal to Harold or not, that poor kid is definitely dead before the end of the season.
Danny: “It’s protocol. I visit your dojo, I need to challenge your master.” Colleen: “Wow, uh. Okay?”
We got a Lei-Kung the Thunderer name drop! Here’s hoping we see him show up later on.
This episode was pretty explicit about only showing Danny’s mother dying. Anyone think Wendell Rand might be yet another member of the “Surprise! They’re not actually dead” club?