First, Marvel’s Daredevil was Marvel Television’s first property specifically geared toward a mature audience. Then, both Jessica Jones and Luke Cage surpassed Daredevil with their daring and at times blistering points of view. And it’s time to meet the fourth Defender in Marvel’s Iron Fist, which does… dot dot dot. That’s still to be determined. Based on the series’ premiere, this might be the most generic Marvel show to hit Netflix. While the show’s premiere is rather dull, it does raise some interesting questions right before it’s sidelined by weird narrative turn.
Danny Rand’s (Finn Jones) origin story is similar to many that have come before. When Danny was 10, he went on a trip with his rich parents. Sadly, their flight went down somewhere in the Himalayas, and Danny was the only who survived, finding refuge with monks of the mystical world of K’un-Lun, which is where he learned martial arts. Believe me, the parallels to Arrow and Batman Begins don’t end there.
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When we meet Danny in the present day, he’s just returned to New York after 15 years, barefoot, dressed like a hobo, listening to Outcast on his iPod, and looking to reclaim his family’s company, Rand Enterprises. We’re supposed to believe that this kid grew up in New York and yet for some reason believes he can stroll into the lobby of a big corporation like Rand dressed like that and be taken seriously? He asks to see his father’s partner, Harold Meachum, but that’s not possible since Harold died from cancer many years ago. The company is now being run by his childhood best friends, Ward and Joy Meachum (Tom Pelphrey, Jessica Stroup), who don’t believe Danny is who he says he is after he lazily fights his way past some guards to see them. So, Danny is unceremoniously escorted out of the building.
Apparently, his years away taught him how to live humbly. After breaking into his childhood home, which is now occupied by Joy, Danny decides to sleep in a nearby park, where he meets a friendly but paranoid homeless guy named Big Al. The following exchange happens during one of their first interactions:
Big Al: What’s your purpose?
Danny: To protect K’un-Lun from all oppression and honor the sacrifice of Shun Lao the undying.
Big Al: …Just remember to have fun along the way…
I wish Marvel’s Iron Fist had taken Big Al’s advice. The premiere lacks any sense of excitement, and it just feels like the show is going through the motions. I guess I might as well tell you now that Big Al dies at the end of the episode. What was the character’s point? I’m not entirely sure right now.
That being said, something good does come from Danny’s stay in the park. The morning after his first night in the park, he meets local martial arts teacher Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), who is putting up flyers for her dojo. (Hmm, who did we recently see looking at flyers for Colleen’s studio?) Danny enthusiastically bounds up to her after she gives money, because she thinks he’s homeless, and starts speaking Mandarin to her because he just assumes she knows how to speak Mandarin. Colleen has to cut him off and tells him to speak English or Japanese. If there’s one thing I know for sure after this premiere, it’s that Henwick’s character will be the one to get us through the next 12 episodes. There’s an energy in her performance that seems to be missing everywhere else.
Danny tries to speak to Joy again, but she ignores him — so Danny steps it up, confronts Ward while he’s leaving work, and hijacks his car. The ensuing conversation reveals that Ward and Danny have an awkward past since Ward was more of a bully than friend when they were growing up. “You were a dick as a kid and you’re still a dick now,” says Danny. Ward denies bullying him, and Danny loses it almost drives them off the edge of a parking lot as he has even more flashbacks to his time away. Luckily, he stops just in time before they both die. The premiere makes several nods to the fact that even though Danny learned kung fu during his time away, it wasn’t all fun and games, and he’s still fairly traumatized from that experience.
After his chat with Ward, Danny pays Colleen a visit and asks for a job teaching kung fu at her dojo, but she turns him down because she has no idea who this smelly white boy is. When Danny leaves Colleen’s studio, Rand Enterprise’s guards, sent by Ward, attack him, but he gives chase. Colleen hears the commotion and follows them into a parade, where Danny proceeds to silently take them out like he’s Sam Fisher.
Ward finds out his men failed and decides he needs a bit more help, so he turns his father Harold (David Wenham) — who is supposed to be dead. Instead, Harold is cooped up in a nondescript penthouse apartment where he runs Rand Enterprises from the shadows via his son. Harold and Ward’s relationship is not the most loving, which is to be expected. Unlike Ward, Harold wonders if this Danny could actually be the real Danny because “stranger things have happened.” I love how in a world with the Avengers, Luke Cage, and Inhumans, Harold Meachum is the first one to suspect that Danny could actually be telling the truth.
The next day, Danny sneaks into Rand to see Joy yet again. She reluctantly agrees to hear what he has to say, but that’s just a pretense for her and Ward to drug him and place him in a psychiatric hospital, which is a very weird development to drop on the audience at the end of the first episode. As the doctors drug him, Danny flashes back to seeing both his mother and father ripped out of the plane during the crash, and the episode ends with a shot of an iPod playing Outkast in the snow.
Apart from how generally bland everything is in this episode, I’m still not entirely sure what the purpose of the show will be. Who is Danny’s main antagonist? What concrete goal is he working toward? In Daredevil, Matt Murdoch was trying to save Hell’s Kitchen from sinister forces; on Jessica Jones, our heroine was focused on taking down Kilgrave; and it was pretty evident Luke Cage made it clear what Luke was up against in Cottonmouth. But what is Danny fighting for? Based on the premiere, I’m not thoroughly invested in the Meachums as villains, because none of them seem particularly villainous, to be honest. (Perhaps I should be more appreciative that they’re rather low key at the moment.)Their skepticism seems pretty justified and Harold Meachum just looks like he’s a pain as a father, but he doesn’t seem evil or anything. Hopefully the next episode does a better job of establishing the stakes of the series.
NEXT: Iron Fist episode 2 recap