Iron Fist: Not terrible

iron fist

An interesting battle is raging in the land of binge-TV watching that reflects, to a certain extent, the professional wrestling match that U.S. politics has become. The people are tired of accepting what an elite group of thinkers tells them to think.

Marvel’s Iron Fist is the fourth in a series of 13-episode television series based on some of the comics megacorporation’s second tier of superheroes. The movie blockbusters get Captain America and the Hulk; Netflix gets Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, with Daredevil – who flopped financially with what I thought was a pretty good movie – the most well-known of the bunch.

In the days before the show’s March 17 debut on Netflix, the critics spoke, based on a preview of the first six episodes of Iron Fist: They hated it.

“The other three installments of the franchise each had a distinct identity, but Iron Fist feels like a spin-off rather than its own entity. There’s no sense that it knows what it wants or needs to be,” said Wenlei Ma of

Iron Fist isn’t dreadful, but it’s certainly not good. There are a lot better things to watch (many on Netflix) than waste your time on this,” said Scott D. Pierce of the Salt Lake Tribune.

And those are among the kinder assessments. At Rotten Tomatoes only 17 percent of the critics’ reviews have been positive.

Then the show premiered and the viewers started to make their voices heard. They liked it. As of this writing Iron Fist has a respectable 81 percent positive rating from the regular-joe audience.

What’s up with that?

Having just completed the 13-episode run, I think the show benefited from the bad reviews. As I watched, my impression was hey, this isn’t terrible, in fact it’s pretty good. The lowered expectations helped shape that impression.

But, seriously? Compared with the gritty brilliance of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage, yeah, Iron Fist really is kind of lame. It’s just not lame at the level of a 17-percent rating.

Some of the dialogue is as clunky as a Star Wars prequel. Some characterizations seem to wobble from writer to writer. And the main character possesses a naivete bordering on stupidity. Some of it can be explained by his being away from civilization from the time he was 10 years old, but the monks who taught him the ways of the Iron Fist should have been able to inject a modicum of common sense into the lad.

The cliches about evil corporations abound. Our hero gets in trouble with his corporate friends when he starts thinking about human values instead of the bottom line. Late in the tale one character even bemoans how corporations, not governments, are running the world, with the implication that governments are a noble and necessary force for all that is good about humanity.

Which brings me back to the point. Americans last fall made a Hobson’s choice between presidential candidates who represented the worst of big corporations and the worst of big government. The elites who tell us how to think believed the obvious choice was for the government; the people (outside of California) decided they were less afraid of the corporate alternative. The elites have had a hissy-fit breakdown for five months, while the people seem to be saying, “This isn’t as bad as we expected.”

I think Iron Fist is, hands down, the worst of the Marvel Netflix series. But that’s only by way of comparison – the others have been brilliant; this one hovers between not-terrible and pretty good. The critics told us the thing stinks; the people, defying the elite once again, are OK with it.

In the end I’m glad I watched the 13 hours of Iron Fist, if only because it finishes setting the table for this fall’s The Defenders, when the four heroes gather to battle a common foe. Assuming the show is more like the first four of the five seasons (there have been two helpings of Daredevil), it should be a rousing experience.


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