'Iron Fist' stumbles, fails to establish a distinct identity

NOSELL

Netflix

 

Sunday, March 19, 2017 - 5:35pm

Over the past half-decade, superheroes have come to dominate Hollywood. With ten superhero films released from 2015 to 2016, and another 25 slated for release through 2020, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight for comic-book franchises Marvel and CAPCOM. The latest entry into this superhero universe comes in the form of Netflix’s “Iron Fist,” a television adaptation of the comic-book series of the same name. Slow and lacking a clear direction, “Iron Fist” struggles to develop an identity and craft an entertaining plot capable of exciting viewers.

In the series, protagonist Danny Rand (Finn Jones, “Game of Thrones”) returns to his previous home in New York City after spending 15 years training in martial arts. There, Rand discovers that the business his father co-founded, Rand Corporation, is now ran by his father’s unscrupulous former business partner, and he sets out to regain control of his family’s legacy. “Iron Fist” is held back by its meandering storyline, which is to blame for the show’s sluggish pace. Seemingly intent on portraying even the most granular, uninteresting details of Rand’s life, the series gives off a leisurely feel, as if it doesn’t care to condense anything. Toward the end of the show’s premiere, in one of the strongest examples of this quality, “Iron Fist” devotes a whole scene to depicting Rand meeting a homeless man named Big Al (Craig Walker, “The Cobbler”) and using his phone to read a news story covering the death of his parents 15 years prior. Becauase he was on the plane crash with his parents, Rand is already aware of their death, and this – coupled with the fact that Big Al later dies in the episode – makes the entire scene feel utterly unnecessary. By subjecting audiences to these meaningless bits of Rand’s life, “Iron Fist” reveals that it has little idea of the type of show that it wants to be.

Along with its lack of identity, “Iron Fist” suffers from writing that often spoon-feeds the plot to viewers. Despite its gradual pacing, the series constantly works to ensure that its storyline is clear, oftentimes becoming overly transparent. Ostensibly, the show perceives itself as confusing, and hopes to avoid audiences developing a similar sense. In an almost-comically bad instance of “Iron Fist” spoon-feeding viewers, Rand is attacked by the same menacing security guard, Shannon (Esau Pritchett, “The Narrows”), who he fought earlier in the episode. After disarming the guard, Rand loudly professes: “You’re the security guard from Rand [Corporation]” to identify Shannon for viewers, but then asks him “Who sent you?” not five-minutes later. Such lines effectively kill “Iron Fist” ’s momentum and further dilute the show’s quality by preventing audiences from experiencing its storyline naturally.

Throughout its marketing materials for “Iron Fist,” Netflix made a concerted effort to highlight Jones’s role as Rand in the series. As the poster-boy for the show, Jones’s performance was used as one of the selling points for “Iron Fist,” especially given Jones’ strong work on “Game of Thrones.” While Jones certainly isn’t the weakest link of the series’s cast, he doesn’t deliver a particularly impressive or meaningful performance, and he does little to distinguish Rand among Marvel’s growing roster of superheroes. Unfortunately, Jones’s slightly above-average interpretation of Rand represents the best of the show’s cast, with Jessica Stroup (“Prom Night”) and Tom Pelphrey (“Banshee”) disappointing as a brother-sister antagonist duo. Even Jones’s former “Game of Thrones” co-star, Jessica Henwick (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), is emotionally-restrained in her role. This cast should be better, and it will have to improve to keep audience members’ engaged with the series.

It’s not all bad for “Iron Fist.” The show’s cinematography is well-done and includes several gorgeous shots of New York City that portray “Iron Fist” ’s diverse backdrop. Avoiding the typical cliché sweeping shots of the Empire State Building or the city skyline, these scenes attempt to highlight the city’s underbelly and the different sides of New York. It’s an interesting take, one that serves to almost revitalize and rebrand a city that has been featured in countless superhero films and shows alike.

While the show may be visually-appealing, “Iron Fist” ’s struggles with plotline and pacing remain, looming large over a series that, in its current form, doesn’t inspire viewers to return beyond the poorly-executed pilot.