BINGE-R #28: Iron Fist + Westerns to Watch
IRON FIST S1
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 13 episodes now streaming
Netflix and Marvel have blown it. Iron Fist is meant to be the crucial fourth and final building block in a crossover franchise, but in the wake of Daredevil (so-so), Jessica Jones (excellent), and Luke Cage (solid), their latest superhero foray is wan and predictable, a cookie-cutter exercise in familiar tropes, leaden pacing, and uninspiring performances. When the quartet’s shared stand – titled The Defenders – does start streaming later this year, it’s going to have to dig the two companies out of a deep hole.
Who is Iron Fist? On one level he’s a lesser Marvel character who’s been on comic book pages since the early 1970s, but his TV iteration is essentially Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne/Batman from Christopher Nolan’s 2005 launch pad Batman Begins. The ticks come readily: an orphaned child of great wealth, trained by a mystical eastern cult, returning to his former city to reclaim his position and confront a secret society dedicated to wrongdoing. Similarities by themselves shouldn’t be damning, but the series moves so slowly that you can’t help but note them, as well as the boilerplate storylines.
Barefoot and excessively boyish, Danny Rand (Finn Jones) arrives back in New York to the disbelief of his childhood acquaintances turned corporate replacements, Joy (Jessica Stroup) and Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey). A surf bum with the skills of a martial arts master and the power to hit things with extreme force (i.e. the Iron Fist), he falls in with dojo boss Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) and proceeds to do… not a great deal. The 13 episode seasons have been an issue for Marvel’s Netflix shows, but it’s terminal here. Rosario Dawson – connective tissue to the previous series – peps up episode five, and The Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA adds some spark to the sixth’s direction, but it’s a slog to get that far.
Bread and butter qualities such as the fight scenes are slickly anonymous with excessive editing – Daredevil didn’t have much going for it, but a handful of great combat sequences at least gave it a calling card. The show’s creator, Scott Buck (Dexter), has overseen a diligently dull recap of every Marvel cliché – can Danny bear the weight of being Iron Fist? – just as the comic book adaptation is finding new weight in cinemas (Logan) and on pay television (Legion). The only true heroes to be found here are viewers who make it through the entire season. I didn’t.
>> Bonus Binge: Don’t let Iron Fist put you off Netflix’s Jessica Jones, a Marvel title notable for its acute depiction of female empowerment and trauma with Krysten Ritter as a reluctant superhero with cape fear and David Tennant as a compellingly malignant adversary.
WESTERNS TO WATCH
The best westerns – whether from the Hollywood canon (John Ford’s The Searchers) or the revisionist era (Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch) – have not yet made it to our streaming services. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find films that capture the troubling myths and distant horizon of America’s 19th century frontier. Those that are available are hardy pioneers, staking out their ground and giving you good cause to get back in the saddle.
The Salvation (Netflix, 2014, 92 minutes): One of the western’s resonant strengths is that in depicting how America was settled it also reflects on the country now. In Danish filmmaker Kristian Levring’s movie that’s prominent, as the experience of immigrants is measured against corporate greed; corpses lying beside a pool of oil have a contemporary equivalent. Mads Mikkelsen – here suffused with soulful suffering as opposed to his bonkers disdain – is the Danish soldier turned American farmer whose family is attacked by outlaws, sparking a cycle of bloody vengeance. The new world is brutal and unforgiving, and it draws in those who hoped to leave that life behind. The supporting cast includes Eva Green as the mute, widowed sister-in-law of the villain: she can’t speak, but expresses herself most eloquently.
A Fistful of Dollars (Netflix + Stan, 1964, 100 minutes): The original spaghetti western, directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood in his iconic debut as the Man With No Name, A Fistful of Dollars was a lean, amoral inspiration, a film whose belated success outside Italy changed the western’s parameters. Riffing closely on the plot of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, Eastwood’s taciturn, destructive force plays the two sides seeking to control a Mexican border town off against each other. Leone pans across the parched landscape but finds the twitchy tension of gunfights in tight close-ups, so that the heroic is undercut by venal expediency. It was the defining role of Clint Eastwood’s career, rightly turning him from a TV actor into a movie star.
Meek’s Cutoff (Netflix, 2010, 104 minutes): In this quiet, naturalistic thriller, the dynamic governing a group of settlers trying to cross the Oregon High Desert in 1845 begins to change when they realise their guide, Meek (Bruce Greenwood), is lost. Defined by hand wrought detail and a keen eye for the era’s gender roles, Kelly Reichardt’s film sees the change through the wives – played by Michelle Williams, Zoe Kazan, and Shirley Henderson – of the uncertain men, who become more involved as the journey stretches out and desperation leads to the capture of a Native American, who may or may not be leading them to water. Reichardt, whose subsequent feature films include Night Moves and Certain Women, turns the vast landscape into a threateningly intimate mystery that distorts convention.
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