Review: Netflix Tries To Channel Its Chi With ‘Marvel’s Iron Fist’

Some of the show’s problems seem to stem from trying to soft-pedal this supernatural premise. Details of the origin story are introduced grudgingly and very gradually, and there are no real scenes in the magical realm of K’un-Lun. Instead, we see Rand in present-day New York, where he returns and tries to regain control of his father’s company.


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The first four episodes are largely about the barefoot, Zen-spouting Rand trying to navigate the corporate world, which could be an analogy for how uncomfortable the show seems to be with its mystical martial-arts premise. In Episode 2 a character watches Rand being interrogated and barks: “Ask him where he’s been the last 15 years.” You sympathize with his impatience — you’d like the show to stop poking around, supply those answers and move on to kicking evil’s behind.

The hokiness of the premise is bound up with another problem: At a time when the “whitewashing” of Asian narratives and roles is a hot issue, “Iron Fist” is about a white man who spends a lot of time in a dojo and has a Buddhist aphorism for every occasion. The show has received prerelease criticism of the squandered-opportunity variety: Why not cast an Asian actor, even though the character in the comics is white?

That’s a bandwagon I’m not prepared to hop on. But you’d think that the show would have avoided the casual Orientalism of its depiction of Chinatown, which begins with a lion dance and firecrackers and progresses to hatchet-wielding triads.

The sad thing, and perhaps the hopeful thing, about the dawdling featurelessness of the early episodes is that you can see a better show struggling to get out. The actors — including Mr. Jones; Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing, a cage-fighting ally; and especially Tom Pelphrey as Ward Meachum, Rand’s childhood frenemy — are better than the material they’re given. And the testy, unusually complicated relationship between Rand and Meachum has the potential to be interesting. Until we see the full season, we won’t know whether the show manages to focus its chi.

Marvel’s Iron Fist

Available on Netflix on Friday

A version of this review appears in print on March 17, 2017, on Page C9 of the New York edition with the headline: Trying to Channel a Superhero’s Chi. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe

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