TV Review: Marvel’s Iron Fist: Episode 1: Snow Gives Way (Netflix)

It’s still crazy to think how far Marvel Studios/ Marvel Comics’ have gone in terms of success and general popularity. From 2008’s Iron Man, audiences were exposed to an entire […]

It’s still crazy to think how far Marvel Studios/ Marvel Comics’ have gone in terms of success and general popularity.

From 2008’s Iron Man, audiences were exposed to an entire universe that longtime comic book fans have been waiting to see the silver screen since the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Just so that audiences could get a better understanding of the modern American mythology that comic book’s bare. Who would have thought that after the success of Iron Man, that audiences would get The Avengers (2012)? To top that all off, who would have thought that the floodgates would open with not only 14 cinematic films (thus far, save for Thor Ragnarok, Guardians Vol 2, and Spider-Man Homecoming and the other films). To take a step further, who would have thought that audiences would see the mature, darker corners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the same way that fans of the Marvel Knights comic book line have come to know.   

Netflix came in swinging with the success of 2015’s Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and 2016’s Luke Cage series. Each series delved into believable, mature, subject matter that people on the ground floor and streets could relate to. They are not gods like the Avengers, they don’t even get a break as people in their dual lives.  Netflix provided the kind of content that the MCU films weren’t able to combine with their understandably family friendly formula. After the events that transpired in the Netflix shows such as Season 1 & 2 of Daredevil, Season 1 of Jessica Jones, and Season 1 of Luke Cage, it was only a matter of time until the last member of the upcoming Defenders series would finally make his appearance. Danny Rand aka Iron Fist has arrived!

Those familiar with the character tend to recommend Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction’s The Immortal Iron Fist as a comprehensive reading that gets to the core of what makes Iron Fist unique. The show appears to have taken some inspiration from the comic’s gritty style which is nice.  Although, those who aren’t familiar with the character, the questions you might be asking are gonna be more or less about the comic, and more about this:  Does the pilot episode hold up in execution as its predecessors? What makes it stand apart from its predecessors? Is the cast convincing in their roles? Are the concepts and the story executed well?

While Jessica Jones holds the title for the strongest pilot episode thus far, Ironfist, like its other sibling predecessors still manages to hold up.  The pilot is well-paced introducing the setup and continues to world build around Danny Rand and his cast of characters within this episode.  It offers a story that is worth investing time in, alongside with characters who have interesting personality and backstory that leaves the viewer to desire more with a sense of anticipation and impatience. After all the build up from the other shows, there is definitely a lot of attention and expectation for this series, but in terms of this episode and stand alone series, it leaves a lot of promise that the show seems to deliver within the pilot itself.

What makes this show stand apart from two of its predecessors (Marvel’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones) is that much like Marvel’s Luke Cage, it has a more optimistic tone than the primarily dark ambiance that Daredevil and Jessica Jones carries. With that said, that doesn’t mean the show lacks any sense of gravity or tension. The show provides a different layer that compliments the aesthetic of the local heroes that inhabits the Netflix originals spectrum. Where Daredevil is centered on the legal/ justice system, Jessica Jones focus on the domestic, Luke Cage focuses on the urban and cultural, Iron Fist is centered on the corporate, dabbling with the likes of the criminal element that control corporate corruption.  It is another facet that mirrors yet sets itself apart respectively from the other show’s, adding another element of conflict for the current defender to uniquely deal with.

Finn Jones as Danny Rand/ Iron Fist: Jones may not seem like he is like his comic book counterpart at first, but once the first couple of minutes start rolling, and as the pilot glides along, you’re convinced that Jones is Danny Rand. Admittedly, I don’t remember seeing him in Game of Thrones, so for this series and episode, I was able to view his performance with a fresh lens. Jones plays a convincing penniless heir of a big company with ease. Jones has the ability to switch between his soft-spoken, pretty boy, friendly, zen demeanor and simultaneously displaying the conflicted skilled martial artist that long time fan’s and newcomers have come to know, is executed with ease. His plight to gain his company back is convincing, leaving the viewer interested in seeing the kinds of hurdles that he will face along the way in order to take back what was lost from him.

Tom Pelphrey plays a  Ward Meachum, who is the public face of Rand Enterprises. Pelphrey plays the ruthless, skeptical businessman persona with cold precision. He already makes the viewer love to hate him for his behavior and lack of compassion that a good antagonist will have you feel.  In some cases, he shares elements of the kind of 1% snobby, private education attitude that exudes from his performance, making him feel as threatening and infuriating whenever he steps on the scene. While he is cold to some degree, his character is not as vile as his father Harold Meachum, which at times displays a father/ son yearning for approval and respect that serves as a good foil to Rand’s more loving upbringing.

Jessica Stroup plays Joy Meachum, the sister of Ward Meachum and co-owner of Rand Enterprises. Much like her brother, she is skeptical, but she is not far from having a sense of compassion. She isn’t as cold as her brother Ward and shows that there may be more to her underneath all the business bravado. Stroup’s performance as Joy Meachum is convincing and believable. Joy Meachum makes the viewer think of all the times that they walk down the streets of New York, passing by someone that is reminiscent to that kind of character that Stroup plays. Her character is very skeptical of the (believed to be dead) man that claims to be (and actually is) Danny Rand. While she isn’t the main focus in this episode, her story with her family and the Rand’s surely put her in the forefront for more exploration.

David Wenham as Harold Meachum, the father of Ward and Joy, is the man pulling the strings and calling the shots behind the scenes of Rand Enterprises. Wenham as Harold Meachum really displays the ruthless, methodically conniving individual that is conducting all of the criminal activity within the corrupted business element that thrives from the criminal underworld. His portrayal of Harold is a perfect example of a top antagonist that lets on more than he knows.

Jessica Henwick plays as Colleen Wing, a downtown martial arts instructor who teaches classes while trying to play the bills. Longtime fans are aware of Wing as a character and may wonder how she will become the kind of person that they have come to know from the comics. In the case of this pilot, she is convincing as a person who is skeptical of Danny Rand, reluctant to believe anything that Rand states until proven to her. There isn’t too much revealed about her character beyond what is displayed due to plot of the pilot episode, but what she manages to show, it is surely entertaining. Nothing too special just yet given that it is a pilot episode, but with the following episodes, there may be much more to expect as the character and the series progresses.

Craig Walker plays Big Al, a minor character in the show who happens to be a homeless man that befriends the homeless Danny Rand. Walker does a good job playing a homeless man who yammers on about conspiracy and history, while simultaneously displaying his own brand of intelligence that parallels the spiritual viewpoints of the protagonist. But, is there more to Al than he is letting on? That remains to be seen.

In terms of the concepts and story, it’s actually well handled, although subdued for the right reasons.  Given that it is a pilot episode, it manages to display bits and pieces of Danny Rand’s origin, but it ensures to shroud any revelations of his full origin for the later episodes to reveal such plot. There are numerous mentions of K’un-L’un, and flashes of his destructive arrival to the Himalayas. The story provides a lot of layers to the world of Rand, giving good tidbits of exposition to the corporate structure of the former company that he is heir to, to the current and former friendships that he has gained and lost throughout the pilot. Rand’s display of his martial arts is there, but it is used sparingly. His martial arts is very minimal, but very effective when it comes to disarming armed guards and hitmen, but the director John Dahl and writer Scott Buck know how to resist any of his advanced skills, while simultaneously giving nice crumbs that leave much desire and anticipation for more. Dahl and Buck weave a good episode that leaves much promise for the rest of the series, developing the character of Rand, Colleen Wing, Ward’s family, and intertwining their journey’s with interesting conflict.

Rand’s internal struggle with PTSD is an interesting fact that isn’t often explored (let alone has never been done before). For the show, it actually adds a layer to Rand’s character that has never been written on touched on to such degree. While he appears to be zen-like, he struggles to retain his composure when triggered by old memories of the Himalayan plane crash that took his parents. Admittedly this has never been done before in the comics, but it adds a dynamic to the show which compliments Rand’s character and journey to reclaim the family name and restore justice that has been criminally discrediting his family name.

Aesthetics:

The opening credits are much more like the dripping red paint intro from the Daredevil series, the colorful lavender hues of the Jessica Jones series and the golden shine of the Luke Cage series. The opening intro is a very muted gray/ blue tone, which In some cases it reminds me of the ink splatter silhouettes special effects that the current Street Fighter games have. Although, the intro could have benefitted with having an emerald green kind of theme for the opening, but that’s neither here nor there.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack in this series much like its predecessor (Luke Cage) match the theme and tones of the actual series.

Outkast “So Fresh, So Clean” begins as the episode opener, and fittingly closes the episode in a similar fashion that Marvel’s Luke Cage had done a few times.

Episode 1 of Marvel’s Ironfist is definitely enjoyable. It’s shrouded in mystery and intrigue, providing little flairs of subdued martial arts, that appropriately and purposefully accompanies the narrative, and avoids the kind of flashiness that tend to fall in the pitfalls of usual big Hollywood films. It is paced with an interesting premise that promises to deliver much more depth and content as the series progresses, and has a good tonal balance that is both enjoyable, optimistic, likable, serious and engaging. Danny Rand’s is in good hands with a team of writers, and directors that are careful to tell his story with the right amount of pace and care, which will surely make for an entertaining ride for viewers, fans and most assuredly our protagonist with an iron fist.

Anthony Andujar Jr.

About Anthony Andujar Jr.