IF YOU’VE ever studied martial arts, you recognize this type of fighter: No matter their strength or swiftness, they are an easy target and a mess of technical vulnerabilities, leaving themselves wide open time and again to the expertly delivered blow.
That fighter, within TV dramas, is Marvel’s “Iron Fist.”
The Netflix series, which debuts Friday, aims to follow in the deft footsteps of its three comic-book forerunners: “Daredevil”; the Peabody-winning “Jessica Jones”; and “Luke Cage.” Unfortunately, many entertainment critics conclude, the newest show quickly trips over its own laces (a feat made all the more remarkable given that Iron Fist sometimes eschews shoes).
Featuring the high-kicking, low-tier superhero co-created by the great Roy Thomas during the “Kung Fu”-loving ’70s, “Iron Fist” centers on the life of long-lost Danny Rand (“Games of Thrones'” Finn Jones), the prodigal twenty-something son who is ready to assume his place in the ol’ family boardroom. But where he’s really trained to do business is on the streets of this alternative Big Apple.
If only the series were prepared to pack a narrative punch.
Marvel’s TV arm, led by chief Jeph Loeb, had proved nimble and opportunistic so far. The nation’s critics warmed quickly to the various Marvel/Netflix shows, with “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage” all scoring well cumulatively on MetaCritic.com (75, 81 and 79, respectively), and registering as fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
Now, bringing up the rear, “Iron Fist” scores a woeful 35 on MetaCritic and registers as 14 percent “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes (only 3 out of 21 reviews are positive).
But it’s not just that “Iron Fist” is scoring low: It’s how it’s being taken down that is so devastating.
Critics are getting in their shots as if it’s a standup showdown. They are verbal fireballers throwing only high heat, and “Iron Fist” is the poor, defenseless schlub in the dunk tank.
“Not one element of this plodding piece works,” writes Variety’s Maureen Ryan. “The action scenes lack spark, snap, and originality. None of the flat, by-the-numbers characters makes any lasting impression.”
The show is “devoid of vision” and “lacking in executional chops,” writes Entertainment Weekly’s Jeff Jensen. “It assumes its own marvelousness and proceeds tediously from there, offering few satisfactions for any possible audience.”
“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,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s Daniel Fienberg, “and would probably be mercifully skippable in its entirety if it weren’t the bridge into the long-awaited Defenders crossover series.”
And Uproxx’s Alan Sepinwall can’t even muster the engagement to get to the Defenders follow-up. “We got a show that’s so lifeless,” he writes, “that I have no interest in finishing out the season.”
And perhaps the most direct sidekick and knife-hand comes from the A.V. Club’s Danette Chavez, who says: “Filler episodes are one thing, but right now ‘Iron Fist’ looks like a filler season.”
And just like that, the series is down for the critical count.