It can truly be said that the landscape for superhero fans in 2017 is absolutely to die for. In the space of twelve months, a deluge of comic book-inspired adventures that would have been beyond belief twenty years ago, is set to take cinema screens by storm this year, with (deep breath) “The LEGO Batman Movie”, “Logan”, “Power Rangers”, “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume Two”, “Wonder Woman”, “Spider-Man: Homecoming”, “Thor: Ragnarok”, and “Justice League” all coming in for a landing by Thanksgiving, (November 23rd) …
As hard as it may seem to believe for THAT countdown to be incomplete, it omits one that martial arts aficionados across the planet have been anticipating seemingly since time immemorial. None other than “Iron Fist”, who arrives on Netflix in a 13-episode series to make his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and we’ve recently had the great privilege to check out the show’s first six episodes!
It’s been fifteen years since billionaire tycoon Wendall Rand vanished alongside his wife and son in the snowy mountains of the Himalayas, leaving Rand Enterprises in the hands of Ward and Joy Meachum. That is, until Danny returns to New York City out of the blue. While the rest of the world had presumed him dead, Danny had become a monk in the mystical, otherworldly city of K’unLun, forged into a master of martial arts, and eventually defeated the dragon Shou Lao The Undying to gain the power of the “Iron Fist”, allowing him to focus his chi into his fist to make it as strong as iron. With the Meachum’s trying to keep Danny from reclaiming his family’s legacy, he soon finds an ally in the sensei of a local dojo named Colleen Wing.
Finn Jones is simply fantastic in his portrayal of Danny Rand, but in a way that many viewers won’t be expecting. We see Danny as “The Monk” and “The Warrior” in equal parts, but what’s different about Jones’ portrayal from really any other superhero performance is that it’s the first I’ve ever seen that I would describe as “childlike”. In a lot of ways, Jones’ performance is surprisingly reminiscent of Aang from “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, in that he’s a character who you can quickly tell has been brought up in Zen Buddhism, but he also returns to his old billionaire life in NYC in a state of childlike awe at the power and privilege that’s afforded to him. He carries himself like the most infectiously friendly ten-year-old you’ve ever met, both as a part of his time as a monk in K’unLun and the fact that that phase of his life occurred at such a young age for him.
Jessica Henwick is also outstanding as Colleen Wing, easily the series’ breakout supporting character. We see in the show that she has her own philosophical/spiritual outlook, but has a much more cynical perspective than Danny, and works hard to try to raise her spirit and open her mind.
Which brings us to the action, and it must be said, it’s another win for the Marvel-Netflix team-up! As a reader of both characters, I appreciated how much it differs from Daredevil in the most appropriate of ways – stylistically, Daredevil, and by extension his series, is akin to a Ninja, whereas Iron Fist is more of a Shaolin Monk, and Danny’s fighting style reflects that perfectly. By the same token, Colleen is more of a Samurai (she even references Bushido at several points), and the series is cognizant to have her fight scenes reflect that. She actually snags a few of the best parts of the earlier episodes where she participates in some underground MMA fights, and she also puts her students at her dojo through some really creative exercises.
Aside from Colleen’s MMA fights, Danny also really shines in his first skirmish with some pursuing thugs during a parade in Chinatown and a hallway fight against a gang of axe-wielding attackers that moves into an elevator.
However, the best episode of the series’ initial batch is its sixth, “Immortal Emerges from Cave”, directed by none other than RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan. In order to rescue a kidnapping victim, Danny is forced to enter a kind of underground tournament that’s actually something he’s participated in before in K’unLun. The three fights he participates in here are easily the best of the first six episodes, especially the last one, and Iron Fist fanboys will absolutely be doing somersaults at who Danny’s second opponent was. Additionally, this episode is seriously steeped in the concepts of tradition and ritual that are such a big part of martial arts, a very welcome touch for a character as steeped in the traditions of martial arts and Asian culture as Danny is indeed!
One further point to make is how satisfying Danny’s very first use of the Iron Fist is. We’ve seen him use it at several points in the trailers, but it really needs to be seen in its proper context to gain a full appreciation of it. They clearly wanted this to be a triumphant “first flight of Superman” moment that every superhero origin movie really needs, and the fact that they hold off on it for as long as they do, plus just what Danny does here, makes it an exceptionally pleasing payoff!
It’s safe to say that, based on the first six episodes of “Iron Fist”, the series delivers a knock-out punch of chi-powered action, (and music) scoring another hit for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The entire dynamite series lands on Netflix on March 17th, and watch out on Kung Fu Kingdom for more info on Danny’s return to action later this year in the upcoming epic Netflix superhero crossover series, “The Defenders”!