By Drew Parton
I cannot quite describe how excited I was when I first heard that Marvel was doing a Defenders show- I was immediately giddy to see Iron Fist on screen. He is one of my most favorite superheroes, and after how great the previous Netflix marvel shows were, I was super psyched.
So, the day finally arrived when Danny Rand was to battle Shou Lao the Undying, and gain the mantel of “Iron Fist:” defender of the mystical city of K’un-Lun and one of the seven immortal weapons of the capital cities of heaven [NERD]. It should have been fight scenes, intricate choreography, mixed with ancient magic, framed by the realistic tone of the rest of the marvel Netflix universe. What we got was a boring, disappointing, wet blanket of a show.
Remember when I said that Sherlock season 4 was the most disappointing thing in my life (until my future children)? I take it back, Iron Fist has now surpassed that.
I wouldn’t even say that the show is especially bad; it’s just so mediocre, flat, and frankly, useless. As I watched the first episode, I was shocked by how little actually occurs. When the episode ended, I was quite confused. Nothing really occurs, and 45 minutes felt like 5. Further more, nothing made sense about it. Part of me is reluctant to give away spoilers- but considering how much I’d recommend avoiding the series, I will freely talk about the plot.
There’s a term in writing called a “holding pattern.” In terms of aviation, a holding pattern is when a plane is circling an airport, waiting to land. In writing, it’s a period where the plot is essentially twiddling its thumbs, not moving or advancing. Iron Fist feels like an entire season of “holding pattern.” Perhaps it’s because it is waiting until the upcoming Defenders show to really dig into the plot; the spiritual conflict has been hinted and slowly unraveled as far back as Madam Gao and the Hand in the first season of Daredevil. Marvel has always been careful in crafting and building its shared universe piece by piece. The first four parts of the Netflix shared universe teased that something greater was going to happen, but managed to exist all on their own as series. Iron Fist picks up some of the threads from Daredevil, but doesn’t do an awful lot with them, and actually brings all of the momentum and tension built up by the other shows to a grinding halt. Most of this is the writing’s fault: the plot drags its feet, the dialogue is terrible, and Finn Jones’ Danny Rand is blander than light mayonnaise.
In a way, Danny Rand is very similar to Oliver Queen in the CW series Arrow. They are both playboys who are marooned in a stranded location all alone. They then return, and attempt to gain control of their father’s companies*. Both become powerful warriors, and both dedicate themselves to being a hero.
They also both happen to be FUCKING BORING.
*What’s with Danny and Oliver trying to take back their companies? Yo, you have been stranded in the wilderness for years, you are not qualified as an executive.
Even if the characterization was poor, Iron Fist could have still made up for it with visuals and fight choreography. And, unfortunately fails with both. The hallway fight scene in the first season of Daredevil is one of the best-choreographed and best-composed fight scenes in modern media. Iron Fist was about mystical martial arts. It should have been thrilling. It should have been flowing. It should have been magical (pardon the pun). Instead, it’s rather blasé and feels so artificial. It felt more like Power Rangers and less like Bruce Lee.
Here’s one of the problems with large-scale shared universes: if one of those pieces is bad, then it drags every other part down. Avengers: Age of Ultron was lackluster, and just felt like required reading for the rest of the movies. After reading all of the terrible reviews of Iron Fist, watching the series was more of a chore than an experience. I knew that I would have to eventually watch it in order to prepare for Defenders (which I am still excited about), but it was with a hefty sigh.
Now, let’s talk about the racial casting. Fair point: in the comics, Danny Rand has always been a white dude. But the “comic accuracy” excuse feels empty coming from Marvel, seeing as they had “The Ancient One” (a mystical Tibetan sorcerer) played by Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange. Iron Fist started out in the 1970’s from the Kung Fu craze, and it was a different time back then. I’ve discussed the “mighty whitey” trope before in my review of The Great Wall, and it was definitely a part of the original Iron Fist comics. Since then, however, Danny Rand has been written into a great character in the comics. But the casting of a white person does not necessarily make the show immediately bad. In theory, if a character is written well, the race really shouldn’t matter. So I won’t pretend and say that the race casting was what doomed the character. Casting an Asian as Danny Rand would not have made the writing better (though I think that anybody could have acted better than Finn Jones), but could definitely have elevated the character’s development. So, let’s talk about Daniel Rand, and what an Asian actor might have brought to the role.
Danny Rand is meant to be a “fish out of water” character on two fronts. On the one hand, he has been missing for 15 years and away from western civilization. He doesn’t fit in when he goes back home to try and take back his company. On the other hand, he never quite belonged in K’un-Lun, always feeling like an outsider that belonged elsewhere- so much so that he abandons the city, and his sworn duty to protect it, given the first opportunity to return to America. So, there’s a character torn between his birthplace and his adoptive home, feeling misplaced in both cultures, trying to stay attached to both, and finding his own unique identity. He has two cultures, so you might say that he’s… bi-cultural. Enter Lewis Tan.
Lewis Tan is a half-Chinese, half-American actor with extensive experience in stunt work and martial arts. Tan was originally in the running for Danny Rand, before Finn Jones was cast. Tan was then cast as a generic ninja assassin in one episode. Tan represents such a loss of potential for the character of Danny Rand.
Overall, Iron Fist is a let-down, and the weakest Marvel series by far. It lacks any sort of character development, motivation, or memorable traits. The choreography is pathetic, and the plot is barely there. I can only hope that Marvel rights itself with the upcoming Defenders series- or at least adds more Jessica Jones.
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