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Here's what critics are saying about 'Marvel's Iron Fist' as Marvel, Netflix plot a TV universe

Early reviews for 'Iron Fist' – the latest TV series to come from the Marvel-Netflix team-up that has produced series including 'Jessica Jones' and 'Luke Cage' – are grim.

'Iron Fist' stars Finn Jones (l.) and Jessica Henwick (r.).
David Giesbrecht/Netflix | Caption

Netflix TV adaptations of Marvel superhero stories such as “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” and “Luke Cage” have all been fairly well received. But the streaming service and the hugely successful movie studio may struggle with the upcoming TV series “Iron Fist,” which is being launched even as Netflix and Marvel are busy plotting “The Defenders,” a miniseries bringing together all four title characters.

“Iron Fist” will be made available on Netflix on March 17 and stars Finn Jones of “Game of Thrones” as Danny Rand, the son of a rich businessman who is skilled in martial arts and has been thought to be dead for 15 years before he comes back to New York.

The story takes place in the Marvel universe and is the latest team-up between Netflix and Marvel after Netflix released TV shows including 2015’s “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” and 2016’s “Luke Cage.”

In early reviews, though, the latest Marvel project on Netflix is drawing poor notices. Variety writer Maureen Ryan wrote of "Iron Fist," “Not one element of this plodding piece works. The action scenes lack spark, snap, and originality. None of the flat, by-the-numbers characters makes any lasting impression. And as origin stories go, the tale of Danny Rand (Finn Jones), at least as rendered by this creative team, is about as exciting as a slice of Velveeta cheese left out in the sun too long.” 

Other critics seem to agree, with Hollywood Reporter writer Daniel Fienberg writing that “Marvel and Netflix have their first big misstep.” 

“‘Iron Fist’ feels like a step backward on every level, a major disappointment….,” Mr. Fienberg writes. 

And Polygon writer Susana Polo called it “laughably bad.”

Multiple writers felt that the program had problems with its depiction of Asian culture, with Ms. Ryan writing, “Even if you can put aside issues of cultural appropriation – and the ham-fisted ‘Iron Fist’ doesn’t make that easy, given that it feeds its yoga-bro lead character a series of inert lines about Shaolin wisdom and Buddhist teachings – this superhero drama just feels inessential.” 

Ms. Polo further noted that the problems “Iron Fist" has with its portrayal of Asian cultures and Asian-Americans "are embedded throughout every episode," but that's not the series' only problem. "[I]ts problems with delivering exposition, crafting consistent characters, and even basic dialogue writing run right alongside.” 

With these multiple challenges appearing to dog “Iron Fist,” what does this mean for the upcoming, long-heralded “Defenders” miniseries featuring all of Netflix’s Marvel characters? 

Fienberg wrote that the lack of craft that went into “Iron Fist” is bad for “Defenders,” though it seems he will likely still watch. 

“With a big four-hero mashup allegedly unfolding out of ‘Iron Fist,’ this misstep couldn't have come at a worse time for Marvel and Netflix,” he wrote. “It's a good thing I really like Daredevil, Jessica, and Luke.”

Meanwhile, however, Polo suggests “Iron Fist” may get by on the strength of its links to other projects. 

“’Iron Fist’ is not the strongest of its siblings, but team dynamics being what they are, it’ll no doubt benefit from the association,” she wrote. “There will be plenty of folks out there who watch the show to keep up with the overall plot of the Marvel Netflix shows, and to see how ‘Iron Fist’ presumably sets up for ‘The Defenders’ later this year. Unfortunately, I can’t say at the moment that there are other reasons to binge.”