Everything about the first episode of Iron Fist, Snow Gives Way, is bad. Everything after that is better. But we’re only talking about the first episode here, so let’s get right into what went wrong.
The plot is bad.
The story of the Iron Fist is pretty simple. A child is marooned in Tibet and raised by monks in the magical city of K’un-Lun. He returns to the US sometime later with both a complete mastery of martial arts and the ability to turn his fist into an indestructible weapon. How do you mess that up?
Here are the events of the first episode in order. Try to find something interesting. I dare you.
- Danny goes to his former company, Rand Enterprises, to meet with his dad’s friend. We learn that he has been away for a while and is now ready to take his rightful place on the board. Think Batman Begins.
- The meeting doesn’t go as planned because his childhood friends Danny is actually who he says he is.
- Danny then breaks into his former home.
- He remembers how the childhood friend who was a dick to him in the previous scene was also a dick as a child.
- Danny then goes to sleep in the park where he learns some things that he was told in the scene before last.
Now things really heat up.
- Danny stalks the girl whose house he broke into and does a great (clearly wire-assisted) flip.
- Then he meets a nice girl in the park who wants nothing to do with him because he is a weird homeless guy.
- This is followed by another scene where some people talk about Danny’s identity.
- Then, Danny steals one of their cars and almost kills them.
- Danny eats a sandwich.
- After his sandwich, Danny stalks the nice girl from the park before beating up a bunch of goons.
- We then learn that the character we thought was dead is, in fact, alive.
- Danny’s homeless friend dies of a drug overdose.
- Danny is drugged and wakes up tied to a bed.
Whoever saw that outline and said “This sounds like a wonderful way to start our series about a living weapon who fights magic ninjas” is insane.
Also real quick on overall writing. You know how if you say a word enough times, it starts to sound weird and lose all meaning? It seems like the full name “Danny Rand” is used 50 times in the first episode. I have a heard time hearing it and taking the name seriously anymore. That’s not a great start.
Let’s talk about acting.
The acting is bad.
Ho boy. Remember how the Luke Cage plot also made very little sense, especially when we got into the final stretch? What made Luke Cage watchable was the charisma of actors like Mike Colter, Simone Missick, and most notably the Academy Award-winning Mahershala Ali. The Iron Fist crew just doesn’t have that kind of weight.
They might be good. Some team members are clearly talented. David Wenham comes to mind. As a team however, the Iron Fist cast is nowhere near as competent as the Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, or Daredevil crew. However, a good director should be able to bring good performances out of inexperienced actors.
The direction is bad.
I don’t blame the bad acting on the actors. We know most of them can act. Not sure about Finn Jones but I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt since as the series progresses, he has his moments. All of the blame for the acting issues has to fall on the shoulders of either the bad writing or the bad direction. The directing is bad.
The actor’s motives seem to change scene to scene. The character of Danny Rand is calm, naïve, centered, determined, and crazy within seconds. It’s insane. Now, this does cool down as the series progresses. By the third episode, it takes several minutes for Danny to fly off the handle for no reason, but that happens on a lot of these shows. The lack of focus is mostly an Episode One problem. And this is not Finn’s fault. The director needs to reign in that kind of performance.
John Dahl is usually a competent director. Justified, Ray Donovan, and The Affair are pretty well put together shows. The problem seems to be, outside of a couple of episodes of The Vampire Diaries and one episode of Battlestar Galactica, Dahl doesn’t have much genre experience. Iron Fist is a slightly difficult shoot since it isn’t completely superhero and isn’t completely kung fu but I would have taken one or the other. The problem is, Snow Gives Way just feels like a boring episode of Suits; a boardroom drama with way less charisma. But none of this is what should set Iron Fist apart from everything else. That should be the action.
The action is bad.
But just wait, I thought. The action is what’s going to save this. After all, Daredevil didn’t need to have amazing fight scenes but it did anyway. And in the end, the fight scenes and the Kingpin were what everyone loved about the first season. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage never needed spectacular fight choreography, so it wasn’t disappointing when they didn’t have it. At least we are going to get some A+ action.
“Ha Ha Ha” laughed the Gods of the worst first episode ever made. “You thought you were safe. You thought the kung fu would save you. Foolish human, nothing can save this trainwreck! A hahahaha!”
This one confounds me more than anything else. It is like Marvel/Netflix just forgot everything they learned from Daredevil. And let me be very clear: This issue is only present in the first episode. It eventually becomes watchable. Sometimes even pretty good. Besides shows like Into The Badlands, (which might as well not even count because it was so much better than everything else) the bar for TV kung fu is relatively low. And Iron Fist cannot clear that bar. It frequently seems as if they are attempting to limbo under it.
The editing is choppy. The camerawork is claustrophobic. Every goon looks like they are trying to get hit.
There is one moment in particular where Danny is attempting to power his way through the security guards at Rand Enterprises that is laughably bad. The fight choreography calls for one guard with a baton to take a swing at Danny, only for his swing to be blocked by the baton of another guard. On paper, no problem there. But Jones and Security Guard 1 take so long to get through their motions that Security Guard 2 has to visibly slow down so that he can make the right contact. It looks bad during first watch and ATROCIOUS during a second viewing.
There is a reason the Daredevil hallway fight showed up in Episode 2. They knew that if the audience didn’t believe Marvel/Netflix could do this right, no one would stay with the show. By contrast, this pathetic fight with the guards is the first scene of the show. THE FIRST SCENE! It’s the TV equivalent of going to a fancy restaurant where the first course is a plate of undercooked pizza rolls.
Just for kicks? Is the title sequence any good?
The title sequence is bad.
This shouldn’t matter but this one really gets to me. And unlike everything I have mentioned so far, it does not get better. It is a constant reminder that much of Iron Fist lacks vision or taste. And this is the softest of balls for Buck and crew to miss.
The title sequence involves the 3D silhouette of a man doing kung fu. Every action is followed by a particle trail that builds like a statue around him. Fine. No inherent problem here. And since Iron Fist’s colors are traditionally green and yellow, the figure in question is green and the particle trail is yellow.
No, wait a second.
THEY ARE BOTH BLACK. Instead of being a colorful callback to a character that was created in the funkadelic seventies, the Iron Fist intro looks like someone covered a stuntman in oil and told him to jump around for a bit. The silhouette doesn’t even have the same haircut as Danny. Who is it then? What is the point of any of this?
BUUUUUUUTTTTTTTT the series is okay and I will cover that in my overall review. This first episode is not. It chatters like monkeys. It’s action sequences are like lace curtains. How could a show about chi have so little positive energy?