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TV Review: ‘Marvel’s Iron Fist’ on Netflix

Variety logo Variety 3/8/2017 Maureen Ryan
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Marvel’s Iron Fist” is deadly — in all the wrong ways.

Quite a few dramas in the streaming arena have pacing problems, and even Netflix’s better Marvel programs have displayed an affinity for contrived, time-killing subplots. But “Iron Fist” is the most frustrating and ferociously boring example of Netflix Drift in some time.

Not one element of this plodding piece works. The action scenes lack spark, snap, and originality. None of the flat, by-the-numbers characters makes any lasting impression. And as origin stories go, the tale of Danny Rand (Finn Jones), at least as rendered by this creative team, is about as exciting as a slice of Velveeta cheese left out in the sun too long. It takes forever for anything to happen on “Iron Fist,” and as it stumbles along, the uninspired production design, unexceptional cinematography, and painful dialogue fail to distract the viewer from the overall lack of depth, detail, or momentum.

Good luck, bingers: Getting through two episodes was a challenge.

The foundations of “Iron Fist” are very familiar, but, of course, that’s not necessarily an obstacle to the success of a big-screen or small-screen comic-book story. Given a bit of verve and originality, not to mention excellent casting, even the most well-worn grooves of a superhero story can provide enjoyment or, at the very least, competent escapism.

But this time around, the pillars of the “Iron Fist” story aren’t given much of anything except a very slow rollout. The once-wealthy Rand is the hollow center of a fish-out-of-water tale: He has been presumed dead for 15 years when he returns to Manhattan to reclaim the legacy of his parents, who are also thought to have perished in a plane crash. We get repetitive scenes of characters not believing that Rand is Rand (and pointing out that he’s forgotten to wear shoes), but there’s not much point in making this TV show if the lead character isn’t Rand, and that fact helps drain the early installments of any suspense.

The story of an rich young orphan who is called to a higher purpose or acquires superpowers is a pop-culture scenario that’s been seen many times before, but everything from “The Lego Batman Movie” to the early seasons of “Arrow” are proof that, in the right hands, there’s life in that premise. Jones, however, is so bland and charisma-free in the lead role that one longs for scenes in which Jessica Henwick turns up as a martial arts instructor. But Henwick, who is saddled with an underwritten role, and fellow cast member David Wenham, who was great in “Top of the Lake,” can’t free this show from the atmosphere of dry, meandering tedium that continually envelops it.

Why couldn’t Henwick be the star of “Iron Fist”? Or another actor of Asian descent? After all, part of what made “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage” stand out were the distinct identities and concerns their protagonists carried into battle. Imagine an “Iron Fist” in which an Asian actor with a great deal of presence and real fighting chops (which Jones lacks) plays a man trying to reclaim his business empire from a group of white characters who don’t trust him and underestimate his skills. Those kinds of social, political, and moral clashes among specific characters and cultures could have amped up the drama — assuming the episodes didn’t take forever to establish relationships and dilemmas. 

Even if you can put aside issues of cultural appropriation — and the ham-fisted “Iron Fist” doesn’t make that easy, given that it feeds its yoga-bro lead character a series of inert lines about Shaolin wisdom and Buddhist teachings — this superhero drama just feels inessential.

“If you want to see the truth, then hold no opinions,” Rand intones at one point. Well, it’s part of this gig to issue assessments, and the truth is, “Iron Fist” is as disposable as aluminum foil.

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