This past weekend, Netflix unveiled their latest Marvel collaboration, Iron Fist. Despite their stellar track record with such hits as Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage, this one caused the most concern ever since its conception. For one, Iron Fist isn’t necessarily a “street-level” character like the other three are. Because his powers are mystical in nature and he spent most of his life living in another dimension in the mystical land of K’un-Lun, it was hard to imagine how this would translate to the small screen in the framework that the other “Defender” shows had already set up. After the first trailer dropped, fears eased, as it seemed to fit right into the paradigm that Marvel TV has so successfully set up. However, when the first 6 episodes were screened by critics and were universally panned, concerns grew once again.
Regardless of early criticism, fanboys/fangirls were going to watch it opening weekend on the streaming service either way. After quickly consuming the 13 episode first season, it seems as though the critics might have been a little too harsh on the show. The show is not the burning pile of trash internet trolls would have you believe it is. The show helped set up The Defenders miniseries in a big way, gave us some well-rounded supporting characters, and tons of MCU Easter Eggs. The show is probably a 6.5 or a 7 out of 10 for its overall effort. But let’s take a look at what went right with Iron Fist, and also what went wrong with the show.
Oh, and yeah, this post is filled with SPOILERS!!!!
Bad: Danny Rand… White Savior (Yeah I know)
Let’s get the obvious out of the way:
In an age where there has been a significant amount of “whitewashing” in popular culture, this stuck out like a sore thumb. Such roles as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange and The Major in the upcoming Ghost in the Shell, as well as countless others, it tends to irk some people nowadays as these are roles that should be going to actors of color, yet they continue to not be a part of their own stories.
Before the message boards get into a frenzy: Yes, Danny Rand is white in the comics. It’s perfectly fine that they continued from page to screen as it was in the comic book. Comic book purists like it when something is followed the way it was written. The “Social Justice Warriors” (such an insulting term) however, would have welcomed a deviation from the norm. When Iron Fist was created in the comics, there as a huge wave of “Orientalism” and exotification of Asian culture. America had been introduced to Bruce Lee in a big way, and Kung Fu was a huge hit on TV. It would have just been an interesting dynamic to see an Asian superhero, though.
Part of what makes it a little cringe-worthy is the cultural image or Danny Rand trying to “mansplain” karate/kung-fu to Colleen Wing in her own dojo. Sure, he was the “immortal weapon” (we’ll get to that too), but to speak down to her as if she’s just a simple novice, when she has HER OWN DOJO, is just culturally is insensitive. It might have been insensitive with an Asian Danny Rand, but we’ll never know because the opted to cast Finn Jones instead of Lewis Tan, who would have been an interesting choice, just based on his brief role as the drunken bodyguard he fought when they went to China.
Good: Ward Meachum
When first introduced to Ward Meachum, we were like, “Oh God, who is this annoying Donald Trump Jr. replicant?” He did not come across at all as a genuine character, more like your usual stereotypical foil for our hero. Ward automatically was not receptive to Danny’s return and went so far as to lock him into a mental ward. He’s basically your 1 percenter dick, and very one note at that.
Throughout the 13 episode run of the first season, his character has some of the most development and growth. You end up liking his character as you see the turmoil he has to go through with his father Harold. Kudos to actor Tom Pelphrey for his portrayal of the character. You see him hit rock bottom as he first abuses his prescription medicine, and then heavily doing hardcore drugs. After finally stepping up against his father, his spiral continues to go downhill and he ends up locked up in the same mental ward he tried to put Danny Ran in making the circle complete. Towards the end of the show, he teams up with Danny to try and stop his father from carrying out his evil deeds, and proves to be on the side of angels. Although the show did not have as great writing as the other Marvel shows on Netflix, his character was very well-rounded and had probably one of the best arcs.
Good and Bad: The Fights
For a show that’s focusing on a “living weapon,” the fight scenes would be expected to be the best Netflix offered, right? Unfortunately, no for the most part.
Especially towards the beginning of the show, the fighting seems very amateurish. In a world where Into the Badlands and Arrow give you reasonably well-choreographed fight scenes, what we got did not make the cut. Daredevil had some great fight and stunt choreography, so there’s really no excuse as to why things were so wooden in Iron Fist.
It’s as though the producers received feedback from each episode as they progressed, and upped the ante. Although all the episodes were released at once to facilitate Netflix’s binge-watching model, it feels as though it was a week to week episode format, where they improved based on how the perceived viewers complained about the previous week’s episode and towards the end of the show drastically improved their fight scenes. The later on in the series it went, the more time and effort they put into their fight scenes. It’s still not Into the Badlands, but it was a 100% improvement from where it started. It’s as if, the later in the series they went, the more training and choreography went into the fighting for the show, and we got a better finished product.
Bad: Too Much Board Room Stuff
The show is called Iron Fist, not “Rand, Inc.”
It’s understandable to show the everyday goings at Rand to show how Danny fits into that world after being gone for 15 years, but it seems like it’s treading water when they show multiple scene surrounding the corporate world that have nothing to do with Danny and have no impact on his specific story. While a few moments here and there gave us an insight to Ward and Joy Meachum, most of it tended to be on the tedious side and didn’t add much overall.
While Daredevil approached disability, Jessica Jones approached being a rape survivor and Luke Cage with being black in America, Iron Fist promised to show the 1%. However, most of those moments happened without our main character involved with it. He is our avatar, and if it’s not connected to him as the main character, it feel like filler.
Good: More Exploration Of The Hand
When they were first introduced in Daredevil, the hand just seemed like an evil Ninja cult. Here it revealed, they are Iron Fists’ mortal enemy, we got to see more of them, which is great as they will be the big baddies in The Defenders. One cool thing was the reveal that they are not a single monolith, but instead have rival factions, which in fact, disagree (and fight) with each other as Madame Gao and Bakuto were at odds with each other.
Bakuto also showed that The Hand was not just a group of ninjas causing havoc, but almost business-like in their strategy to accomplish their goals. They have control rooms, monitoring people in The Rand Corporation. They recruit wayward youths, build them up, and put them in positions of power so that they can carry out The Hand’s influence on many levels.
Bad: Need More K’un-Lun
It is understandable that Iron Fist, in keeping up with the other Marvel TV shows on Netflix, wanted to be “grounded” and not veer into the world of the fantastic. However, when a mystical world like K’un-Lun is introduced, sometimes showing is better than telling. The brief flashbacks offer little more than a tease to this magical place Madame Gao describes as “heaven” when she questions why Danny Rand would want to leave such a place.
Probably one of the biggest disappointments is that they really danced around the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying. It is unclearif they didn’t have a budget for a CGI dragon, but the tease was too little. In a world where Game of Thrones can give us 3 realistic looking CGI dragons, Iron Fist should be able to manage 1 for a brief scene instead of showing glowing eyes that then do an “Arrow-flashback-wipe” into a bunch of lights. Given how much money they are shelling for film rights and new Original Programming, Netflix has the money to do something expensive.
To make matters worse, as soon as Danny and Colleen get to K’un-Lun at the end of the season, it’s gone. Hopefully, we’ll get to see the mystical land in season two.
Bad: Too Many Bad Guys
Like Luke Cage, Iron Fist suffers from the problem of juggling too many bad guys. For most of the time, Madame Gao is our primary villain. The introduction of Bakuto gives us another side of The Hand, giving us another layer of a villain. Harold Meachum plays in the background, but is always 50/50. He’s with The Hand, he’s with Danny. It’s only at the end of the season does he go from “playing it safe” to full blown mustache twirling villain that Danny has to defeat. While Daredevil (Kingpin) and Jessica Jones (Killgrave) had one villain, it gave our superhero an antagonist to focus on, and also offered the best character development for said villain. By having so many players, they didn’t get the chance to fully develop.
Good: Set Up A Future Bad Guy In A Good Way
In the comics, Davos is a bad guy because he was jealous of Danny Rand passing the trials to become the Iron Fist and that’s his primary motivation. The show takes a different approach, which makes his origin story better on the TV show.
Taking a page from Doctor Strange, the show had Danny’s true nemesis actually be his “brother,” someone who trained with him and was completely down with him. In fact, Davos is the one who goes all the way from K’un-Lun and saves Danny from the clutches of The Hand. The only reason there is a change of heart, is because Davos (like Mordo from Doctor Strange) is too much a purist and sees Danny as going soft on his charge. For the simple fact that Danny doesn’t want to return to K’un-Lun or kill Colleen, or kill Bakuto, Danny is unworthy of being the Iron Fist, and therefore, is now Davos’ enemy. By making them have a “break up” to set them up as antagonists, is actually a smart move on the writers.
Good: Claire Temple and Colleen Wing
The real MVP on Iron Fist is Colleen Wing. It’s surprising that actress Jessica Henwick, who was very disappointing in Game of Thrones as Nymeria Sand, was absolutely excellent in Iron Fist as Colleen Wing. It would be hard pressed to not find a fan looking forward to her and Luke Cage’s Misty Knight eventually teaming up to be the “Daughters of the Dragon” and get their own spin-off as both were easily the start of their shows, outshining their male superhero counterparts. The twist of her actually being a member of The Hand was a welcome surprise, and even better that she left her group for Danny once she saw what they were really about.
Claire Temple, the glue of the Netflix shows, continues to shine. Rosario Dawson is pretty much the Nick Fury of the Defenders Universe and can now do this role in her sleep. It’s good that she had been taking some classes from Colleen as her fight game stepped up this season on Iron Fist and her character could get stale if all she does in heal our heroes.
Bad: Danny Rand Himself
It might be a problem with the writing, it might be a problem with the actor, but it’s still a problem. We’ve seen Finn Jones work well in Game of Thrones, so he’s not a terrible actor, but Danny Rand was well, Danny “Bland.” Some of his acting, choices, and frequent mood swings made it seem as though this casting was a misfire. Not all the the blame can be put on Finn Jones, because he had writers, fight choreographers, and directors alongside him, and this was the final product that they delivered. Almost all of the supporting characters had better story arcs than he did, and he’s the main character. We still don’t have a clear idea why he left his post at K’un-Lun other than, “I want to find out what happened to my parents.” Perhaps if they devoted some time to him when he was at K’un-Lun via flashback sequences (hey, Arrow does it ever single episode, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t), we could understand his character motivations. For season two, they are going to need to take their time and actually roll up their sleeves and actually make the character work better. I’m very interested in seeing how his character progresses in The Defenders as the miniseries will have a different showrunner, writer, director, and fight choreographer, so we’ll be able to determine if all the Danny Rand problems are the actor, or the people behind him.
Good: Plenty of Easter Eggs And Setups For The Defenders
Because of the interconnectedness of the Netflix shows, there was plenty of the other shows bleeding over into Iron Fist. Jerri Hogarth had a large role on the show, connecting it to Jessica Jones. There was a surprising Luke Cage character: Daryl from Colleen’s dojo was actually one of the kids who got roughed up by the cops when they were looking for Luke Cage. Of course, The Hand was also Daredevil’s primary antagonists, especially Madame Gao. The show did a great job giving you breadcrumbs connecting to the other shows. Some Easter Eggs were very subtle, like Joy Meachum mentioning a PI she used that was never sober (Jessica Jones), and others were very blatant, “Like Goddamn Daredevil.”
The show helps truly wet your beak in anticipation for the upcoming Defenders miniseries. Although the show heavily concentrates on Danny Rand, we all know this is the pregame before the big party. Remember that big hole in the ground in Daredevil Season 2? Well now, there’s a big hole where K’un-Lun used to be. While some who did not receive Iron Fist so well are now concerned for The Defenders, optimists are more excited than ever for how that show will tie everything all together.
Ultimately, Iron Fist is a bit of a mess, but still a good bit of a mess as it did deliver some of the goods promised. They had the impossible task of bringing an outdated character, hip-deep in mysticism, into the current political and storytelling climate. That doesn’t mean we should excuse the show for its faults when we know what Marvel and Netflix are capable of. Overall, it way still an enjoyable watch, you just had to look past a whole bunch of errors. Hopefully, they will heard some of the complaints, and do some course-correcting for the second season and beyond. They have given Marco Polo, Hemlock Grove, Fuller House, and even The Ranch multiple seasons, and they also were not that great. The show can recuperate from its failures and turn them into successes.
Iron Fist is currently streaming on Netflix.