Oh, Iron Fist, so many people love to hate you. But is it a justified hate, or just criticizing you for falling short of your peers? Well, really it’s the first one, mostly being genuinely sub-par compared to the majority of other content in the same universe. Todd’s already given this series a good breakdown, but I’ve got a few bones to pick myself.
Iron Fist follows the story of Danny Rand, whose plane crashes in the Himalayas when he is a child. He is rescued by monks who train him to be a warrior, and he eventually becomes the Iron Fist, a warrior meant to protect the gates of the city of K’un-Lun. Instead, however, he goes back to New York to get his family’s company back and defeat the Hand as they exist in New York. He comes into contact with his old childhood friends Ward and Joy Meachum, karate teacher Colleen Wing, and attorney Jeri Hogarth, all of whom help him keep the Hand at bay, deal with demons from his past like Ward and Joy’s newly immortal father Harold, and come to terms with his power.
The cinematography, like most of the Marvel Netflix shows, is great — lots of excellent sets, great lighting work, all of the good background work. I do have to say that the fight choreography lack a little, which is weird given that this is the show with the most stylish combat style needed. There are a few notable battle scenes, but it really feels like just another multi-shot, choppy series of fight scenes that adds nothing to the action. Honestly, I just started skipping them all together.
We don’t really see enough of Danny’s backstory to understand where he’s coming from or why he chose to leave K’un Lun – we get plenty of description but never actual images. I could get into acting and directing, all of which are fine but generally uninspired. I think there’s just too much Claire Temple at this point and I sincerely hope they kill the character off in The Defenders. If there’s any actor who does deserve some praise, it’s David Wenham, whose protocol of the slowly devolving immortal Harold Meachum is pitch perfect.
As I see it, there are two big problems with Iron Fist and the first one is Danny Rand. While I think the “White guy is the best at martial arts” trope is bullshit, the character has problems way beyond being a problematic narrative. For one thing, he is dull. We often joke about white characters being so bland it’s like mayo on white bread, but at least mayo has a taste. Danny Rand is a glass of lukewarm water – flavorless and often unpleasant. I think he suffers most from a lack of motivation. In the first few episodes, he just shows up with no rhyme or reason given, wanting to take back his father’s company because it’s rightfully his, supposedly. We only get hints of this struggle on self-identity way after most of the action has happened and never really leads anywhere or has a big conclusion because they didn’t make it a big deal in the first place.
They also go for this having privilege versus earning privilege, what with him getting the Iron Fist through hard work rather than just having it handed to him, but that also goes nowhere. I mean think about it — Daredevil was about the meaning of justice and doing what’s in the best interest of others, Jessica Jones was about an abuse survivor rejoining the world and coming to terms with her role in it, Luke Cage was about power, and protecting a community in constant threat by those who should look out for it. What is Iron Fist about? Taking down the Hand? A balancing of identity, kind of? Something vague about destiny?
I also think Finn Jones, the actor who plays Danny Rand, contributes to this. He tried to play zen and ended up wooden, so when he tries to play angry, it comes off a little too aggressive. He is either too passive or too passionate and the only time we really see him shine is when he’s doing romantic scenes with Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing or when he’s being a fish-out-of-water. I’m not saying he is a bad actor — I just think this wasn’t really the best part for him.
The second issue is kind of a weird one: there is both too much and not enough going on. You’d think these two issues would balance out, but they don’t. The corporate and kung-fu dramas only connect at very specific and small points, and most of the corporate stuff happens when Danny is out punching Hand soldiers. They don’t really develop Ward or Joy in such a way that we come to care for them as we are supposed to with Danny; Ward flip flops more than a seesaw and Joy’s conflicts over what is “right” happens too sporadically to make sense.
There is also no central villain — first we think it’s going to be Ward, then Harold, then Gao, then Bakuto, and then back to Harold. When there’s no central antagonist, the goal of Danny’s journey is constantly in flux. Sure, technically the Hand is the overarching villain but there’s no central character to root against for the majority of the show. Even the drug subplot comes and goes when it’s convenient rather than when it’s organic. I think one plot had to be played down to give the other room to develop, to delve deeper into the nuances of what was happening.
I think what they should have done, honestly, is focus on Colleen Wing. Not only is Jessica Henwick a better actor than Finn Jones, but the character herself is just way more fascinating. A woman trying to keep her dojo alive, trying to help kids on the street be the best they can be, only to be confronted with the terrible truth of the organization that supports her, that gave her a life and a purpose. A person who is isolated, lonely, and thick-skinned who falls in love with the one person in the world who has dedicated his life to eradicating said organization, and by extension, her. That’s interesting, that has the potential for real emotional stakes and drama. But because she didn’t have her own solo series, we instead get Enter the Fist of Wall Street which is a mess of a plot and puts too many balls in the air.
This is not a good show, and it fails not because its premise is more 1970s than 2017, not because of it’s propagation of old and frankly dumb tropes, but because it’s clear that the writers had no idea what they wanted to do with the character and the property and didn’t try too hard to figure it out either. More than any of the other Marvel Netflix shows, Iron Fist is more about leading up to a bigger team-up than it is about actually developing an interesting and thoughtful narrative.
And that’s a shame because they could have made a very powerful narrative about loss, or identity, or duty, instead of a mishmosh of something that kind of seems like a theme if you stare at it long enough and tilt your head.
Thanks but no thanks, MCU
Iron Fist is the cog in the Marvel machine that just doesn’t work as well, or as hard, as the rest, in part because of its premise and in part because no one on the creative team cared enough to give the main character purpose or conflict.