Friday, March 17, 2017

Iron Fist Eps 1-4: Fail to Impress and Often Boring

I've yet to come up with a method of coverage for Netflix shows as a one man band. Currently the plan is to write about this show in chunks and maybe a specific episode if it bears highlighting. What follows it thoughts on the first four episodes of Iron Fist. 

With the release of Logan, the age and maturation of this modern era of the superhero genre has become clearer. Even if you remove film from the lineage of Iron Fist, the poor qualities and agedness still show through in comparison to his Defender contemporaries. Iron Fist clearest issue in these first four episodes is a lack of perspective, without this frame the poor structural tendencies found in a majority of Netflix’s other one hour dramas override everything making for something is worse than bad: Iron Fist is boring. All previous Marvel Netflix series have had that issue of structural sag, mostly coming around episode 8-9, but they all had novel perspectives or characteristics that made the sag bearable. More importantly those trio of shows all understood the fundamental importance of expositing character quickly and efficiently both to build that perspective and to make audiences care. Four episodes in and I have no real clue what the character of Danny Rand is, what he desires or fears. He’s as aimless as this show, which wastes the pilot episode on repetitive wandering and interaction.

As Marvel Studios goes further and further into its library of characters, it has begun to contend with characters that feature problematic to outright archaic origin conditions that speak to an imperialist past. Marvel most recently tried to have its cake of source fidelity and multicultural inclusion and eat it with Doctor Strange, to middling results. At least director Scott Derrickson tried to smooth out Stephen Strange’s orientalist edges. Thus far showrunner Scott Buck has done nothing to contend with the White Savior, Mighty Whitey-ness of Danny Rand, reducing the character to an bland undefined character that outwardly appears to be all the stereotypes and mannerisms Keith Chow warned you about when he put forth the novel (and somehow controversial idea) to cast Danny Rand with an Asian American actor. The show has barely shown anything of Rand’s training in the mystical extra-dimensional city of K'un-Lun, rendering him a magically hyper competent marital arts practitioner. Getting to see some training would’ve been potentially dramatically interesting at least, while not always great the flashback structure of Arrow often allowed from thematic back and forth. This lack of character perspective makes scenes actively worse. For instance at one point he tries to challenge martial arts trainer Colleen Wing(Jessica Henwick) to a duel (for undefined ritual reasons) and gives her no respect with odd humble mansplainy brags about his own prowess. There is no self-awareness with this character, he and the show don’t understand how much of an idiot they both appear. I don’t think the character of Danny is actively malicious, just a moron.

The poorly written character is further magnified by what just feels like poor casting and acting on the part of Fin Jones. He and the show oscillates from a somewhat grounded approach, showing Danny to be experiencing some mental health issues to being a chill bro-philosopher who spouts of vague generic axioms out of a Asian pop-philosophy book from Starbucks. His inability to preform stunts is another issue to be discussed later. A good supporting cast would make up for these things but Rosario Dawson’s not-Night Nurse Claire has yet to show up and the series supporting cast can’t pick up the weight due to poor writing and acting on their part. Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup as Ward and Joy Meachum respectively fail to impress. Pelphrey is actively scowling and acting antagonistic in all scene because his character is quickly shown to only be a jerk in a single flashback. Stroup is a bland blank canvas that I can’t help but think is trying to act aloof but really pulling her own strings for a late game reveal but that seems to be wishful thinking. There is quality to be found in 300 actor David Wenham’s performance as the sheltered patriarch of the Meachum clan, Harold, because he is playing things like he is on a different (more watchable) show.

The BEST Thing In This Show

If there is to be a break out star with a story I want to see more of it’s Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing, whose strong performance makes me even more sad to see what happened to the Sand Snakes on Game of Thrones. Often relegated to the ‘C’-plot of episodes her struggles and desires are the only ones that are clearly sketched and dramatically interesting thus far. She runs a failing dojo trying to empower the youth of her city and escape the terrors of Manhattan, but that requires money and taking part in illegal fight events. Her story is the one that is most immediately applicable to past Marvel Netflix shows, which have all been about defining ones against external forces that attempt to define them while protecting their neighborhood at the same time.

This shortcoming of character exposes the brutal sagging strucutral flaw in Netflix drama’s. By some method of their production, there is an inability to arch a series or episode so that both feel meaningful. There have been good episodes in previous series but more often the only way for me to gain satisfaction is by grouping these episodes into two or three size chunks. This leads to a fever dream-esque viewing experience. I watched only four episodes, it feels like 6 and yet nothing really has happened. The first episode is a complete waste of time, barely setting up character or desires. The second episode, confined mostly to a mental hospital, has more form and begins to point towards interesting character but is soon dropped. I’m a quarter of the way through and it feels like I’m already in the back half sag, except that’d be bearable if any of the characters were the least bit interesting. Iron Fist is playing at a mystery box of corporate espionage and vaguery and it is formless as a result.

At least in a show like Iron Fist the action sequence have to be good right? Nope, they are not. Finn Jones appears unable to do the stunts required and a lack of a costume means doubles are hard to come by. There is no fluidity and calm you’d find in most wuxia or kung fu films, just lots of mind numbing cuts. In another star to her ledger, Henwick was in the best fight sequence so far diegetically set to Run The Jewels “Blockbuster Night Part 1”. This shows perfunctory hallway sequence is just that.

Thus far Iron Fist exposes all the problems I have with Netflix original drama’s and none of the qualities that make television interesting as a storytelling medium. 

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