Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Iron Fist Season One review

    I'm a big fan of Iron Fist and I'm going to make the very hipster-esque quote of the fact I was a fan of Iron Fist before he was cool. I may have only read him in The Essential Iron Fist but it's not like there's actually much of a character between his Heroes for Hire days to when Ed Brubaker re-imagined him for an extremely good tournament arc. Who is Iron Fist? Iron Fist is basically Batman Begins Batman or Arrowverse Green Arrow with the benefit of actually possessing superpowers. He's the extraordinarily rich kid who ends up learning the martial arts in a foreign land who goes back to take the fight to the streets.

    Before I get to the actual story, I feel the need to address the fact Iron Fist gets under certain people's skin. I'm usually on the side of the Far Left progressives in comics who promote diversity and a more rainbow colored world in comics because, gosh darn it, that's reality. However, the fact Danny Rand is a rich white guy who learns the secrets of an Asian culture than returns to beat up criminals is something which really ticks a lot of people off who use words like cultural appropriation, the Mighty Whitey, and so on.

This should happen all the time.
    The thing is, I'm actually going to state while there's definitely a way you can frame it that way, the story zigs from where people who actually have read Iron Fist assume it would zag. Much like the Karate Kid, Danny's ethnicity is important to his character because he's a white guy who becomes a better person because he enriches himself in another culture. There's a difference between multiculturalism and cultural appropriation.

    People look at Danny and see the rich white guy but he's a guy who barely remembers New York and grew up in Kun'lun. There's a subtle dig at appearances and assumptions if you write the character correctly. He's not the world's best martial artist (aside from Shang Chi) because he's white and does it better, he's the world's best martial artist because he moved to the land before adopting its ways. He also isn't as good as Lei Kun the Thunderer who taught him either--it's just he's the guy who trains the Iron Fists versus being the Iron Fist.

I knew who Colleen Wing was before the show.
    Also, Kun'lun isn't a real place. While it's based on the mythical Buddhist city of Shamballah and its spin off Shangri-La, there's no actual Chinese mythology he's involved in any more than Shang Tsung and Shao Kahn. There's a level of barrier between real life culture and mythology versus the one created in Marvel comics. It's the difference between Tolkien's elves and the Tuatha de Dannan. In simple terms, you can't be racist against fictional races and peoples. There's a horrible history of exploitation and theft with the British Empire against China but Kun'lun isn't China or even Tibet. It's closer to Asgard. I welcome disagreement on the subject and understand why people feel the way they do but think it's a 2 on the cultural insensitivity scale versus a 10.

    Okay, having spent way too much time talking about this subject, I should mention Iron Fist the television show isn't very good. It's not terrible and I actually have enjoyed it more than Luke Cage (blasphemy) but there's a lot of places where it was clear they didn't quite have a handle on who Danny Rand is as a character. It's also clear they struggled with the fact Iron Fist is a lighthearted Pulp adventure with fantasy martial arts, dragons, mythical cities, and good vs. evil when they've been doing gritty street level stories for three series. The fact Danny barely uses his magical fist is a minor but pointed complaint people had about the show but underscores the larger problem.

The corporate plots in this show go nowhere.
    The premise Danny Rand returns after fifteen years of absence and attempts to take back his company from Joy and Ward Meachum (Jessica Stroup and Tom Pelphrey). After getting locked up in a mental hospital, he escapes and becomes involved in a fight against the Hand in New York City. This gets him manipulated by Harold Meachum (David Wenham), a corrupt corporate executive who faked his own death, and results in him teaming up with Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick).

    The story is, bluntly, all over the place. Danny Rand states he's uninterested in money, which he demonstrably is. He likes giving it to his friends but would be satisfied sitting on a mat in a dirty apartment. So, there's no real reason why he wants his company back. He acts like a crazy person and can't prove he's Danny Rand but he could easily prove he has superpowers. Also, while they give reasons why he couldn't have a DNA test or fingerprints, they forgot he'd had dental records. Also, they could exhume the bodies of other relatives for a DNA test. Ward and Joy are alternatively supporting or condemning Danny so the entire corporate plot is poorly written.

I love the homage to her comic outfit.
    The parts where Danny are fighting the Hand feel like they come from a different show and actually work much-much better. There's an entire episode dedicated to a kung fu tournament which feels grossly out of place and yet is easily among the best in the season. The cheesiness of it all is something that works well for Iron Fist and it's when they try to stuff Danny in the same box as Jessica Jones or even Daredevil then they fail as a result. He's a man who punched a dragon to death. They should embrace that.

    It also hurts they try to make Danny into a moron. Danny constantly makes poor impulsive decisions which his training would have required him to overcome. The character is played as an immature youth despite the fact the character is thirty while also having spent his life as a monk. Much of the plot depends on Danny not sitting down to explain his situation or show his powers. There's also a few moments of inexplicable rage from Danny which feel out of place with his otherwise Zen attitude. I don't think this is Finn Jones' problem and think he's mostly stuck with bad writing.

Harold Meachum is easily the most entertaining part of the show.
    David Wenham basically runs circles around the majority of the cast, which is ironic because the character doesn't really have much to do for the majority of the show. The fact he's a Hand ninja as well as corrupt corporate executive makes me think the biggest problem with this show is its inconsistent confused mess when a much simpler story would have worked better: Danny comes back to the company, finds Harold controlling it, and Harold dispatches a bunch of ninjas to fight him.

    Jessica Henwick also does a tremendous job with the perpetually likable Colleen Wing. Indeed, you could eliminate the Meachum siblings from the story to increase the role of her and Harold and I think the show would only benefit. Colleen is a likable sensei, Japanese to Danny's Chinese in style, and someone who is struggling with her own desire to beat the crap out of people. I even like their romance, though I think they also could have worked well as friends.

Finn and Jessica have real chemistry.
    There is one major problem with the show, though, which is the fact it's a martial arts show where the lead doesn't know martial arts. Finn Jones' allegedly, had about ten minutes to get ready for his first fight scene because of late casting. He does a reasonable job of making fights look effortless (because he can't actually hit anyone) but this is a severe issue in a show about punching people. It's also a major step down from the electric fight scenes we saw in Daredevil. It's also confusing because they could have given him the Iron Fist mask and used a stunt double.

     The Hand is probably the best handled part of the show as Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) does an excellent job being the archnemesis of Iron Fist and I hope they have her come back after The Defenders. We get a tie between Kun'lun and the Hand as well as get to see how their street operations work. Seeing them work in corporate offices, criminal gangs, and in dojos where they recruit teenagers without hope is a perfect display of Illuminati-level terrorism. Sadly, they don't get to show off their awesome until the end.

    In conclusion, Iron Fist is the weakest of the Netflix shows so far because they weren't willing to commit to an over-the-top martial arts show. They wasted much of the season on Danny getting thrown into idiot situations where showing he had superpowers or dental records would have resolved most of the issues. They also portrayed a very competent and intelligent hero in the comics as an immature manchild. I enjoyed the show enough to watch it to the end but it could have been much-much better.



  1. Ward was the best part of the show. The writing was actually pretty subtle about his motivations and how he treats Danny. It was implied that Howard at least verbally and emotionally if not physically was abusive toward him and doted on Danny greatly in comparison. That explains Wards mean spiritedness and bullying of Danny. Also his antipathy to Danny returning and his father seemingly embracing Danny. The drug abuse is self medication for the trauma. It is also the reason why he was okay to take the buy out of Rand. He wanted to get out from under Howard's thumb.

    As Ward as the season goes on realizes that Danny never was his enemy and he warms up to him, probably feeling a bit guilty about his bullying during childhood. He becomes Danny's ally because he was finally able to move past his childhood resentment and abuse.

  2. Spot on review Charles, and agree with you Michael that Ward was the best part of the show. Helps that his actor constantly gave the deepest performance on the show.

    Biggest flaw of Iron Fist is that apart from the lacking fight scenes and martial arts. Is that Danny is so vanilla and uninteresting that he brings the show down.

    When the main protagonist is your weak link. It deflates much of your work.