TV's Rebecca Garbutt reviews BBC's latest series of Death in ParadiseWritten by Rebecca Garbutt on 20th March 2017
Review: The Iron Fist Premiere
Deputy Editor Harry Turner remarks how Marvel-Netflix’s latest outing is unable to escape the shadow of its predecessors
It’s safe to say that Marvel-Netflix’s latest outing – and the last in their Defenders line-up – hasn’t had the easiest of times. Even before the wave of negative reviews hit – ranging from unimpressed to scathing – rumours of Iron Fist’s production problems were common, so much so that at one point it was suggested the character would enjoy only a two-hour Netflix movie as his debut.
This leaves Iron Fist in a very different place than its Defender forbearers. Where the likes of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage were all released to more positive receptions on the whole, Iron Fist has suffered the opposite. For anyone that has been following this show it is impossible to divorce the negativity of the initial reviews when watching it.
With this in mind, it’s hard to say that none of the criticism that has been levelled at the show is true. Of all the Defender premieres, Iron Fist is easily the most problematic. Yet even so, for those interested in the genre, Iron Fist, from its premiere alone, is worth watching – though fans of the previous Defender shows may find Iron Fist lacking in comparison.
“With a tragic enough backstory and a decency to him, Rand enjoys a likeable introduction here – if not a particularly memorable one.
The only exception to this would be his mental instability, something that – even if it doesn’t amount to very much and is put to shame by other current mind-benders like Fox’s Legion – makes for an interesting character quirk. His martial arts could also be commended in a similar way. Whilst the actual fighting is made slightly less impressive considering how it’s nothing we haven’t been seeing in the likes of Daredevil – not to mention non-Netflix shows like Arrow – Rand’s flip over a taxi midway through the premiere, and his general agility, were a standout moments.
In sticking to the premiere’s positives, the opening’s direction is also striking – especially when compared to the show’s Defender siblings. Whilst those shows were characterised by a much more grounded approach to New York City – something usually reflected in each show’s direction, with an emphasis on ground-level shots of roads and street corners – the Iron Fist premiere features more sweeping shots of New York’s skyscrapers, and at least one panning birds-eye-view of the city’s streets aglow with neon. With the show focusing on the elite of New York much more than previous Defender outings, this shift in direction is an apt one. Similarly, when Iron Fist empathises it, the premiere’s underlying depiction of poverty – and living in it – is something that also distinguishes it from its Defender brethren.
“Iron Fist is really hurt in its inability to present a fresh perspective – an area where Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage all thrived.
Yet, in the end, it is undeniable that Iron Fist suffers in the shadow of these other Marvel-Netflix shows. Indeed, the premiere suffers in being released in such a crowded genre in general. Putting aside the other Defender shows entirely, the show’s similarities to the likes of Arrow are unavoidable. A rich orphan returning to his home city armed with new skills and a fresh sense of purpose is not just trite for a superhero story, but stories in general. As said, the mental instability of Danny Rand is an interesting caveat to this otherwise well-worn path – but the premiere doesn’t really focus in on this element.
More generally though, Iron Fist is really hurt in its inability to present a fresh perspective – an area where Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage all thrived. Like Iron Fist, all these shows saw slow-build premieres. Yet unlike Iron Fist, all complemented this with a somewhat original take on the superhero narrative.
In Daredevil there’s a strong focus on Catholicism and its tendency for emphasising self-punishment, as well as dealing with religion more widely when it comes to personal morals. Jessica Jones features a deeply feminist superhero noir, one laced with allegories and parallels to numerous relevant issues – rape most of all. And then lastly, Luke Cage benefitted enormously from being a black superhero tale – the show thriving in its Harlem setting and having many indicting allegories of its own.
Compared to all this, Iron Fist just doesn’t stack up. The premiere’s perspective is that of a rich kid dealing with the loss of his parents, exiled from the life he had once led made poor, and with a deeper, greater destiny that he has to grapple with. It’s not nearly as relevant, nor nearly as interesting. Even if the suggestions of making Rand an American Asian protagonist were followed, this central problem would not be really be solved.
“It is rather baffling that Iron Fist focuses its premiere on perhaps the dullest part of its established fiction – that of Danny Rand’s family corporation, and all the corporate drama that comes with this.
Attached to this is also the fact that the premiere is unable to introduce any compelling villain. This is something both Daredevil and Jessica Jones did to great success – and even Luke Cage, which wasn’t able to match these shows either, at least showed potential (one eventually fulfilled) with its charismatic antagonist Cottonmouth. The Meachums – comparatively and otherwise – are rather flat. One can only hope that they aren’t the antagonists for the whole series (though even then, why they were frontloaded is again puzzling), or that they make a remarkable improvement over the course of the series.
In the end, it is hard to be hugely impressed by the Iron Fist premiere. It’s certainly not as bad as some are suggesting – were it to have been the first Defenders show to release, it would perhaps have enjoyed a very different reception. Yet as it stands – as both the last Defender to make their debut and but another superhero to make a live-action appearance – Iron Fist is unremarkable. It’s possible the show might improve over its season in a way that, for example, Luke Cage failed to – but as a hook for the next twelve episodes the Iron Fist premiere isn’t ultimately effective.
Fans of the genre should, and probably will, give the show a watch – yet a tempering of expectations, particularly when compared to the show’s predecessors, is advisable. The Iron Fist premiere is an enjoyable superhero opener at best, but at worst, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.