Marvel and Netflix’s powerful string of dramas featuring second-tier heroes runs into a wall with “Iron Fist,” a martial-arts character that lacks the punch of its predecessors.
Not as gritty as “Daredevil” or as cool as “Luke Cage” and “Jessica Jones,” this latest component of what will be put together as “The Defenders” lands with more of a dull thud. If the Marvel-Netflix team-up has sought to assemble the Beatles of brooding brawls, think of “Iron Fist” as a notch below Ringo.
To be fair, Iron Fist was never a particularly great character even in the comics, owing an obvious debt to the ’70s TV show “Kung Fu.” Arriving now in this form, the title feels even more derivative, with a touch of both “Batman Begins” and “Doctor Strange,” as the white heir to a billionaire fortune returns from the Himalayas with mad fighting skills.
The series opens with Danny Rand (Finn Jones) staggering into the corporation his parents oversaw, bearded and shoeless. Since he was supposed to have died at age 10 in a plane crash when his folks’ plane went missing, management is understandably skeptical, and perhaps a little confused after he promptly beats up a handful of security guards.
The company is now under the stewardship of Danny’s childhood friend Joy (“The Following’s” Jessica Stroup), with whom he bonds anew, and her brother (Tom Pelphrey), who does all he can to prevent him from claiming his birthright. Danny also cozies up to a martial arts instructor (Jessica Henwick), who earns extra cash fighting in cage matches, presumably just to show her off pounding much bigger guys.
Beyond his martial arts prowess, Iron Fist can summon his energy into a glowing hand capable of shattering walls. It’s a talent that he uses only sporadically in the half-dozen episodes previewed, as Danny girds to battle The Hand, a shadowy organization he has trained his whole life to defeat.
Netflix’s binge approach obviously provides the latitude to gradually unspool this origin story, but “Iron Fist” practically crawls along, and the characters aren’t especially interesting. That includes a squandered David Wenham (“300”) as the hidden power behind Rand Enterprises.
The show grows only marginally more interesting as it progresses, including a sequence where Danny must engage in a sort-of duel where he’s asked to choose a weapon. “I am the weapon,” he says, one of those lines that looks better on a paneled comics page than it sounds on a screen.
Marvel completists will no doubt feel compelled to check “Iron Fist” out, but the show plays like a relatively weak cog in its otherwise pretty well-oiled machinery. While the Netflix collaboration has shrewdly expanded its arsenal, this “weapon” fires too many blanks.
“Iron Fist” premieres March 17 on Netflix.