Spoilers for Iron Fist Season 1 follow.
#IronFist punched his way to Netflix this past weekend, and no matter what the critics say about the last Defender, many fans are on board to binge the hell out of this show. After watching the first season, I believe it doesn't deserve the full hate it's getting.
However, unlike its fellow Marvel shows #Daredevil, #JessicaJones and #LukeCage, Iron Fist has some major problems involving the multiple storylines and fight scenes. All of these mistakes were sadly avoidable, as AMC's superior Into the Badlands proves.
Iron Fist's Identity Crisis
The other #Marvel Netflix shows had an identity, but Iron Fist got lost in what it was trying to do. The show is still enjoyable, but the most interesting part was hardly visible. We wanted to see Danny Rand kick some ass and build character, but he felt sidelined in his own series. The other Defenders weren't overshadowed by subplots, twists and tonal shifts.
Most shows can be summed up by two or three words in terms of genre. Daredevil is a crime story, Jessica Jones is a noir drama, and Luke Cage is an urban political thriller. It's hard to pinpoint what Iron Fist was. Is it an action or a political drama? The show is about a martial arts warrior, so it should have been a martial arts tale — and it just wasn't.
Iron Fist had all of the ingredients to create a martial arts epic; it's based on a Bruce Lee-inspired Marvel comic book and its rights are held by Marvel Studios, and Netflix allows for more adult storytelling. Plus, Danny Rand is one of the coolest Marvel Comics characters. So what went wrong in bringing the Living Weapon to life?
Why Iron Fist's Story Fails While Into The Badlands' Succeeds
The most interesting part of Iron Fist is his story, but the show kept cutting away for political intrigue and romance, subtracting from the gem that was Danny and his mystical powers. Danny felt like he was in the background for most of the season, and that's why characters like Ward Meachum and Colleen Wing were highlights of the show.
#IntotheBadlands focuses on martial arts, and the story caters to it. It is set in a world without guns. Ruling barons control the country with armies of fighters at their disposal. The show makes sure that Daniel Wu’s Sunny is front and center. We follow him through and through.
Badlands star and executive producer Wu told Vanity Fair that the show's success is due to focusing on "creating really good character drama" — on par with AMC's previous hits such as "Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead" — in addition to the excellent Hong Kong-style action.
Into the Badlands is a show that broke new ground, setting a new standard. Not a lot of martial arts shows exist today, and Iron Fist could have been another worthy entry into that realm, introducing Marvel fans to another dimension of philosophical action.
The Choreography Didn't Live Up To The Potential That Badlands Fulfills
"Don't make any mistake about it, this is Marvel’s foray into martial arts films," promised Marvel Television executive vice president Jeff Loeb, "and when he opens up a can of whoop-ass, people are going to be super-super excited by what’s happening."
Considering that hype, the fight scenes should have been the highlight of the show; Iron Fist should have felt like Marvel's John Wick, as Danny Rand feuded with the Hand. Unfortunately, the fight sequences in Iron Fist were acceptable, but forgettable. They felt rushed and tacked on.
In fact, Finn Jones admitted that "I was learning the fight scenes 15 minutes before we actually shot them because the schedule was so tight. So 15 minutes before the stunt director would talk me through the choreography and I’d just jump straight into it."
Meanwhile, Into the Badlands features a mixture of American and Asian filmmaking practices, focusing on the well-thought-out action choreography as much as the story. It has few cuts and less shaky-cam, feeling much more like the old-fashioned Kung Fu movies that Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen are famous for.
Iron Fist isn’t a bad show. It’s certainly not as bad as what the critics are saying. It tells an intriguing story, despite being all over the place. There were tons of great performances — yet it also had plenty of questionable plot decisions and character motivations.
Danny's struggle to defeat the Hand should have been the show’s only central story. If there's a Season 2, I hope there is a central focus on Iron Fist and how badass he is. With #TheDefenders on the way, hopefully we'll see Iron Fist in an ass-kicking, character-driven story. In the meantime, I'll be watching Into the Badlands.
Iron Fist Season 1 is now available for streaming on Netflix.
Into the Badlands Season 2 airs Sundays at 10/9c on AMC.