If the Right One Don’t Get You
One of the most common — and accurate — criticisms of the Netflix series based on Marvel comics characters is that they’re so dreadfully long. At a baker’s dozen episodes, each clocking in at an overstuffed hour, even the best of them can become a terrible slog. (Netflix seems to have responded at least partially to this criticism; The Defenders, the forthcoming super-team series combining all four shows’ main characters, will clock in at a leaner eight.) There comes a point even in Jessica Jones and Luke Cage — the best of the lot so far — when you start to yawn, glance at the screen, and realize that, holy shit, there are still five episodes of this goddamn thing still to come. So the latest installment in the project, Iron Fist, is hardly unique in its torpid pacing. The problem is that the moment you get bored and fidgety realizing how much longer you have to trudge through the whole artistic ordeal comes about, oh, 35 minutes into the first episode.
Iron Fist is bad, folks. I’m not gonna lie to you. No matter how bad you’ve heard it is — and a cursory look at the Internet, which is notoriously forgiving of any half-assed horseshit that involves superheroes, would seem to indicate that you’ve heard it’s pretty goddamn bad — it is much, much worse. It got caught at a real downturn in the hype cycle, with its creators trying to drum up enthusiasm at the exact moment that America got collectively bored with the Marvel shows, and so it was easy to think that all the negative press it garnered was just due to the accusations of whitewashing*. But no, it really is that bad, and worse. It’s not only far and away the worst Netflix show based on a Marvel property; it’s actually inferior to the original Iron Fist comic, which, let us be honest, was pretty bad to begin with.
Part of the problem is that it’s not much of a story; who gives a shit if some permed honky gets control of his multi-billion-dollar company or not? Still, in better hands than those of creator Scott Buck (also known as the guy who brought you some of the worst episodes of Dexter), the concept could have been made to work. The plots of superhero stories are always pretty dumb. What’s so hugely bad about Iron Fist is that, unlike other shows where decent parts fail to add up to a unified whole, everything about it doesn’t work. There’s just nothing here that you could build a show out of. The scripts are terrible, the plot is clichéd and dumb, the acting is mediocre to bad, the production is clunky, the music is uninspiring; even the fight scenes are crummy. The fight scenes! This is a show so bad it somehow manages to make kung fu fights boring!
I suppose we should start with the casting, as it presents me with what I hope will be the last time I ever have to write about, or indeed think about, Finn Jones. Jones, like his uninspiring co-star Jessica Henwick**, comes to us from Game of Thrones, where he played a character so forgettable that I don’t remember his name, what he does, what happens to him, or why I bothered to watch Game of Thrones in the first place. Throughout most of the series, he plays Danny Rand as a slightly dim nine-year-old who is either petulant or mindlessly enthusiastic; that might be the fault of the script, but Jones goes along with it, so he’s not getting any amnesty from me. His entire presence on the show seems to result from someone having asked the question “For the next show, can we get someone with even less charisma than the guy from Daredevil?”. The rest of the cast is so completely unmemorable that I can say with terrifying confidence that the best actor on the show is Rosario Dawson. Chew on that for a minute. When you look out at your cast and think, well, thank God I have Rosario Dawson to do the heavy lifting, you have made a very wrong turn somewhere.
What else can I say about this complete waste of thirteen hours? I could talk about how all the fight scenes were slow, clumsy, and filmed in low lighting conditions, which is exactly what you want from a kung fu action show. I could talk about how all the villains were so uninteresting that they made me long for the deep bench that is Daredevil’s rogue’s gallery. I could talk about how there is a huge and particularly awkward bit of product placement for M&Ms. I could talk about how they had one character who was extremely tiresome and uninspiring, and they killed him, and then brought him back from the dead, twice. I could talk about how I hated Finn Jones so much that I was actually rooting for the board of directors of a billion-dollar corporation to put him on the next train out of town. I could mention that this show was so interminable that I actually found myself thumbing through the thesaurus for synonyms of the word “boring”.
Most of all, though, I’m just glad it’s over. When the revolution comes, the people who run Marvel Comics will be put on trial for scientifically stripping any sense of fun or excitement out of their products, and Iron Fist will be both the primary piece of evidence and their punishment.
*: Iron Fist was accused of soft racism insofar as its main character is a white man who studied Chinese martial arts and is better at them than any Asian. This accusation isn’t entirely fair; the original character was white, and while the creators were under no obligation to be faithful to that conception, Asians did get a fair shake in comics at the time: the book debuted after, and ran concurrently to, the far superior Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. However, given how shitty the end product is, I’m not inclined to defend the creators too much on this count.
**: About four pounds.