[UPDATE: Read Screen Rant's own Iron Fist Review.]
Marvel's Iron Fist TV show is the final link to the chain leading to Marvel and Netflix's The Defenders TV miniseries crossover event later this summer - but it might also be the weakest. Ahead of its premiere, Iron Fist has come under criticism for its approach to adapting what many people views as (out)dated comic book source material. The show's apparent handling of both Asian and Asian-American culture have similarly drawn accusations that its protagonist, aka. Danny Rand (Finn Jones), is a variation on the White Savior archetype - something that Jones and showrunner Scott Buck have (naturally) assured is not the case.
Iron Fist season one, in the tradition of the Marvel/Netflix series before it, explores the origins of its namesake, as Danny Rand returns to reclaim his family's New York-based company after being presumed dead for fifteen years, encountering new (and familiar) enemies along the way. The Iron Fist TV show is following on the heels of two seasons of Daredevil, a series lauded for breaking new ground in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with its gritty tone and street-level crime drama, as well as single seasons of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage that were lauded for their (respective) thoughtful handling of topics such as sexual assault and African-American culture. That is to say: the bar of quality set for Iron Fist to clear was admittedly pretty high, from the get-go.
Perhaps for related reasons, many TV critics are already declaring Iron Fist season one to be the first real disappointment for the Marvel/Netflix corner of the MCU, after having viewed the initial six episodes of the season. You can read telling, but SPOILER-FREE, excerpts from the first wave of reviews for the TV show, below. (To read the full reviews, click on the corresponding links for each excerpt.)
THR - Daniel Fienberg
After three straight creative successes, three above-average character introductions, the partnership between Marvel and Netflix was due for a dud. This isn't to say that Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage have been shows without flaws... Each show, though, has had virtues of tone and aspiration that made it feel like a complicated superhero TV code had been cracked. [Iron Fist] 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.
Variety - Maureen Ryan
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.
Den of Geek - Mike Cecchini
But there’s something missing from Iron Fist. Visually, it’s a little bland for many of these early episodes, often lacking the cinematic pop that made Daredevil or Luke Cage such visual standouts. While every Marvel Netflix series has pacing problems, and many feel like they spread 8-10 episodes worth of story over 13 chapters, it usually takes a few installments before you feel the show begin to spin its wheels. But Iron Fist is a particularly slow starter, and it takes nearly three before you get a sense of why anyone behaves the way they do.
IGN - Jim Vejvoda
[Its] high-rise approach does set Iron Fist apart from the other, grittier and more urban Marvel-Netflix series, [but] it also lends the show a sterile look and feel. Again, it’s all very prime time soap opera-ish. The latter of these first six episodes eventually brings in more comic book-y and fun elements, but Iron Fist is thus far the weakest of the Marvel-Netflix series.
Polygon - Susana Polo
After Jessica Jones (a revelation), Luke Cage (flawed but still brilliant) and Daredevil (outshone by the competition but still very solid), I fully expected Iron Fist to be a decent adaptation ultimately hobbled by an unwillingness to stray too far from its dated source material... And let me be clear: Iron Fist’s problems with its portrayal of Asian cultures and Asian-Americans are embedded throughout every episode. It’s just that its problems with delivering exposition, crafting consistent characters, and even basic dialogue writing run right alongside.
The Verge - Kwame Opam
The sad truth, however, is that Iron Fist is the weakest of Marvel’s Netflix series to date. As far as diversity, representation, and appropriation go, the series fails in a number of ways. But, over the course of its first six episodes, it also manages to fall short on basic levels like storytelling. Its creative laziness bankrupts the entire show. Marvel’s new series is a disappointing case study in studios needing to try harder to tell difficult stories well.
Most of these Iron Fist reviews touch on the longstanding criticisms about the show's handling of Asian and/or Asian-American culture, indicating that the TV show does come off as being a step-back, following Jessica Jones and Luke Cage in particular. Beyond that however, it sounds as though Iron Fist struggles from a basic storytelling perspective and fails to evolve the larger MCU "brand" in the manner that its predecessors on Netflix did. Whether or not Iron Fist season one draws the same criticism of being over-long that has afflicted other Marvel/Netflix series to date remains to be seen, but it does sound like the show gets off to a slower-than-desirable start (as far as most critics are concerned, anyway).
There are some recurring positive notes in these Iron Fist reviews, not least of all with respect to Jessica Henwick's turn as Colleen Wing - though as most TV critics seem to agree that Colleen would have been a better choice to serve as the protagonist for the Iron Fist TV series, that silver lining comes off as being more of a back-handed compliment. The outlook towards the MCU's Danny Rand could certainly turn around, either once fans and critics alike have gotten to see Iron First season one in its entirety and/or when Danny joins The Defenders this summer. For now though, "The Final Defender" also appears to be the least-impressive one.
Daredevil seasons 1 and 2, Jessica Jones season 1, and Luke Cage season 1 are now available on Netflix. Iron Fist season 1 premieres on March 17. The Defenders arrive sometime in the summer, with The Punisher coming later this year. Premiere dates for the newest seasons of Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Luke Cage have not yet been revealed.
Source: Various (see the above links)