Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Block Review: Iron Fist episodes 1, 2, and 3

After the slog of reviewing Stranger Things an episode at a time (which I eventually just abandoned) I want to look at Iron Fist, which I have hopes for.
Daredevil season 1 was very good (I will eventually review that since I think people missed a lot) and the first half of season 2 is good so far. Jessica Jones was a snoozefest. I am watching Iron Fist before Luke Cage mainly because I am terrified Luke will be as boring as Jessica.
My Background: I was never a huge fan of Heroes for Hire. Sure, it had its moments, but it was one of those early '70's comics a lot of comics nerds don't like to talk about in public - pop-culture comics.
Enter the Dragon was released in 1973 started a massive pop-culture focus on martial arts. Marvel made Master of Kung-fu by the end of '73 and Iron Fist within a few months. While Shang-Chi was associated with a license to make Fu Manchu comics, Iron Fist was off to the side, being all topical and relevant, so they teamed him up with Power Man who was...
...another pop-culture comic character. In this case, blaxploitation. Luke Cage's dialog was peppered with 'jive turkey', 'sweet Christmas', etc. for the first few years. By combining the two characters they survived the short shelf lives of their pop-culture origins until '86 when their combined comic was cancelled with a real shocker of an ending.
Crew: Scott Buck is showrunner and head writer. he has experience and has been on some fairly successful shows. He's joined by Dwain Worrell (who hadn't done much prior) and Quenton Peoples (more experience than Worrell). The directors for these were John Dahl, who has a fair amount of TV experience, and Tom Shankland (also a decent TV resume). In all three the cinematographer was Manuel Billeter, who was solid if not exemplary. Good use of lighting, his day scenes were as interesting as his night, and he captures fights well for a Western cinematographer. I'd like to see more camera motion, though. Editors were (in no real order) Jonathan Chibnall, Miklos Wright, and Michael Knue. Editing was decent, although Chibnall was a little 'heavy-handed' without detracting from the quality.
Main Cast: Finn Jones is the male lead. He is obviously a skilled actor with range. Jessica Henwick is the (so-far) lead female protagonist. So far she is pretty one-note with 'irritated and dismissive' her only mood. Tom Pelphrey is the primary male antagonist and he is doing very well with little and is slipping a little pathos into his character (and is the only one that seems to notice how ridiculous some things are). Jessica Stroup is the (sofar) female antagonist. As an actor, she's pretty enough, I guess. David Wenham is the hidden male antagonist. A talented actor, he's virtually wasted here so far. I hope he gets a chance to do more later. So far the best scenes are Ward and Harold in the penthouse because Wenham and Pelphrey together are wonderful.
Acting: I am breaking up the flow I usually do to get this out of the way. The real problem in the first three episodes is the actors and the acting. I separate them for one reason - Finn Jones. He's a competent actor: you can see it on the screen. He is just horribly miscast. For being 6' tall in real life, Jones comes across as a loveable hobbit onscreen - all I want to do is tousle his hair and give him a cookie. Again, he is obviously competent, he just isn't the guy to play one of the deadliest kung-fu masters on the entire planet filled with smoldering anger over his past losses. Wenham and Pelphrey are good and are great together, but they don't get to do enough in the first few. But the real problem are the female leads. Henwick is giving a master class on how to play every scene as 'mildly irritated' and Stroup might as well be the boom mic for all the emotion she projects. When Carrie-Ann Moss shows up in a minor role and actually, you know, acts, it is a painful reminder of how the female 'leads' aren't.
Plot and Writing: The origin story is a solid one and the writing is better than I expected. It is certainly better than it appears. The lousy acting from Stroup and Wenham is effectively erasing the emotional content from 2/3rds of the story. The miscasting of Jones is watering down almost all the rest until Iron Fist is almost just people on-screen talking and who cares?
That is a shame because there are some really interesting bits in the story. For example;
-Danny Rand does his best to always tell the truth which virtually always lands him in trouble. This is rather pointed commentary in the contemporary world!
-A couple of characters believe that anyone can be bought and are surprised when this isn't true. Another interesting critique of contemporary outlooks.
-Plenty of people know, for a fact, that Danny really is Danny, but they need specific physical evidence for this to be official. Nice examination of objective truth versus official truth that could be really interesting.
There is more, of course, but plenty to be done.
I do see some weaknesses, however. My main one is how Danny's emotional instability. Yes, I get it - he's back. But wouldn't a kung-fu master with 15 years experience in deep meditation be able to get a grip?
When Colleen Wing defeated a much larger man in the ring there should have been more discussion along the lines of 'that's impossible!', etc. After all - she's a superhero! That was her origin story. It should stand out that she was only able to do it because she is Special.
But it is early, so I hope these concerns will be addressed.
So far the action is pretty good, even though we need a lot more.
Bottom Line: I enjoy it enough to keep watching. If you aren't a huge fan of Marvel, don't seek it out. But don't avoid it on a rainy Saturday afternoon, either.