Earlier this week, armed with a preview of the first six episodes of Marvel’s Iron Fist, I made plans to binge watch as many instalments as possible with a comic book-obsessed friend. Now that the entire series has been released on Netflix, many people are doubtless hoping to spend their weekend doing much the same thing.
One episode in, alas, the planned indulgence turned had turned into a bit of a chore: my magnanimous “Yes, of course you can watch it with me!” swiftly turned into a pleading “Can you bear another?”. Iron Fist, for those unfamiliar with the premise, tells the story of orphaned Danny Rand (Finn Jones), a martial arts whiz and heir to a business empire who has spent the past 15 years living as a warrior monk in a mystical alternate dimension.
Despite this promisingly out-there concept, however, the show doesn't really start to get interesting until around the sixth episode – and for a 13-part series, that’s a pretty major flaw.
Of course, for some viewers the otherwise impressive Luke Cage felt slow, at least at first. For me, watching the first season of Daredevil, it took a while to get to know blind hero Matt Murdock, and even longer to actually care about him (Vincent D'Onofrio's villain Wilson Fisk was miles ahead in the charisma stakes). Even Jessica Jones, arguably the strongest of the Marvel TV series so far, probably could have lost an episode or two without suffering.
But Iron Fist's issues go beyond these kind of quibbles. It simply drags – and a show about a back from the dead billionaire who can sporadically “focus his chi” and summon magic glowing super fist powers shouldn’t drag. It should zip along nicely, with a few self-aware jokes, lots of tense action and a sense of its own absurdity. Small moments of humour – between David Wenham’s sinister Harold Meachum and his assistant, for example – were welcome, but simply served to highlight just how flat the rest of the show is.
For modern day audiences, white comic book heroes whose powers draw upon perceived Eastern mysticism can be problematic: Marvel faced a whitewashing backlash ahead of the release of Doctor Strange, and a white saviour backlash ahead of the release of Iron Fist.
Without minimising the legitimate concerns raised by these kind of critics, it’s worth pointing out that Jones (who also played Ser Loras Tyrell in Game of Thrones) does a good job of portraying someone caught between cultures: he's no heroic saviour figure, but a vulnerable and childlike man, struggling to find his identity and connect with the boy he was when he disappeared.
Likewise, the rest of the cast are also strong: Jessica Henwick makes a cool, self-possessed Colleen Wing, a local Dojo owner who reluctantly befriends Rand. Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup impress as brother and sister Ward and Joy Meachum, childhood companions of the long-lost hero and co-heirs to his family business who are now struggling with his apparent return (Ward in an murderous way; Joy in a more conflicted way; both in a stylish business attire way). Fans will also welcome the return of Rosario Dawson's Claire Temple and Carrie-Ann Moss's lawyer Jeri Hogarth.
All are let down, however, by the show's odd, meandering pace and tiresomely repetitive dialogue. Plot points that should have been charged with urgency – Rand confined in a mental ward and struggling to prove his identity, for example – simply ended up feeling a bit dull, while the fight scenes themselves, at least in early episodes, lacked any real sense of danger.
It also felt as if the writers could have done more with Rand, perhaps by ramping up his otherworldly qualities and giving us a proper look at the mystical city where he had spent most of his life – and, by extension, actually allowing us to root for him, as well as just feel a bit sorry for him.
Fans who feel they absolutely have to watch the series in preparation for Marvel's forthcoming TV superhero team-up The Defenders will probably stick with Iron Fist to the end. But I suspect many others will give up much sooner.
Whether it's for a takeaway or a Southern Rail train, no one likes a long delay... And very few of us can spare five or so hours to wait for a TV series to get good.