As Marvel's latest Netflix superhero, Iron Fist is able to fend off all kinds of threats - from martial artists to corporate vultures. While his training and titular super-punch might defend him against those kinds of attacks, it turns out he's less successful against an entirely different foe - television critics.
Early reviews of the fourth collaboration between Marvel and Netflix have not been positive, with almost across-the-board disappointment about the series' pacing, cast and authenticity. The Hollywood Reporter's Daniel Fienberg wrote that the series "feels like a step backward on every level, a major disappointment that already suffers from storytelling issues through the first six episodes made available to critics and would probably be mercifully skippable in its entirety if it weren't the bridge into the long-awaited Defenders crossover series."
He specifically called out Finn Jones' take on Danny Rand, the central character in the series. "Jones is far too placid a leading man to give any sense of Danny's internal torment," Fienberg wrote. "He's not placid in a Zen way, just tepid like room temperature. Rather than being a man who found enlightenment through tragedy and disassociation from his upbringing, Danny comes across like a spoiled frat boy who took a comparative religion class and spends a few months picking up coeds by telling them he's totally into meditation and tai chi now."
Vulture's Matt Zoller Seitz picked up on this theme in his review. "Picture Bruce Wayne without the cowl and gadgets, or Doctor Strange without the spells, then add an indestructible fist and the demeanor and accent of a trust-fund bro who went to Pepperdine: That's Danny," he wrote. "He explains and demonstrates 'Eastern' practices with the puppy-dog eagerness of guy who spent a week in Thailand and wants everyone to know it totally changed his life. He tells a homeless man in a park 'Buddha says your purpose in life is to find your purpose,' chastises one of Michelle's students by yelling, 'The dojo is a place of respect!' and charms Joy by sitting lotus-style on her doorstep surrounded by flower petals and oranges ('… a Buddhist tradition meant to remind you of our world'). Danny can't sleep in beds because they're too soft; he prefers the floor. He never wears shoes. If you are reading this, there is an excellent chance that you either dated this guy or he owes you money. Maybe both."
Seitz also echoes Fienberg when it comes to the show's pacing problems and lack of momentum, a topic that GQ's Joshua Rivera touched on as well. He wrote, "Nearly every episode runs close to an hour in length while barely justifying the need to be a second over 40 minutes, dropping the barest of hints about an endgame plot involving Daredevil villains The Hand. Iron Fist, like a lot of Netflix dramas, expects you to sit through what's very likely to be a glacial 10 or so episodes before maybe picking up in the final quarter."
Another common complaint? The surprisingly poor fight choreography. "For starters, there aren't many [fights] in the first six episodes," complained Entertainment Weekly's Jeff Jensen, "But the ones we get are shockingly lame, from the choreography to the performances to the way they are shot. They're yoga fu."
"They're by-the-numbers brawls full of mostly interchangeable and unworthy adversaries," said AV Club's Danette Chavez, while Paste's Trent Moore compared the fight scenes to network TV, writing that they "just feels rushed when compared to the attention to detail we're used to from Netflix and Marvel's prior collaborations. The fight scenes are … forgettable, which is not a good thing when your hero is supposed to be a kung-fu master."
Also under fire from critics (as well as social media) is the show's relationship with its cultural influences. A show with a white lead who just so happens to be the world's greatest martial artist sounds insensitive in theory, so perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising that critics felt that came through in the finished product.
"It doesn't feel incorporated into character or organic, too often coming across like, 'Isn't kung fu cool and shouldn't we go to a Chinatown parade and do you want to hear a piece of advice that sounds like it came out of a fortune cookie?'" noted Brian Tellerico from RogerEbert.com. "It's an afterthought, window dressing instead of actual cultural relevance."
Vulture's Seitz agreed, although he noted that "it's far from the worst of its kind," calling Danny Rand "a young white guy's fantasy about the mystical awesomeness of Asian religion and martial arts." (So, like Doctor Strange but replace "Eastern mysticism" with "martial arts.")
The one word used repeatedly across reviews is "misfire" - critics clearly expected more from the Marvel/Netflix team than what Iron Fist ended up having to offer. Finn Jones has already responded by saying, "these shows are not made for critics, they are first and foremost made for the fans."
With the show available for fans Friday, soon it'll be clear if Iron Fist can land a direct hit with that audience… or whether Danny should just pack up and head back to K'un Lun where he's more appreciated.
Read more: 'Marvel's Iron Fist': TV Review