There’s Not Much To Marvel At Iron Fist
Warning: Spoilers Ahoy
Marvel’s Iron Fist arrived on Netflix March 17th. Following in the superhero footsteps of Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Daredevil. It’s thirteen episodes of thirty-second fight scenes throughout thirteen hours. Where the characters run through the same few moves in an otherise gripping narrative. While the show nails some of the classic Marvel superhero elements, the narrative elements dissipate, leaving a somewhat unfinished body of work.
The show begins clumsily, as pilots often do, introducing Danny Rand (Finn Jones). The heir of Rand Enterprises stumbling back into Hell’s Kitchen from K’un-Lun, China. Where his family’s plane crashed and he was the sole survivor, raised by monk warriors. Blessed with the show’s namesake Iron Fist Rand channels his mastery in the arts of chi into a lethal fighting technique. That makes his fists all-powerful, and maybe capable of healing. Had the show bothered to flesh out its powers and limits.
Danny discovers that life-long friends and siblings Joy (Jessica Stroup) and Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey) are now the Rand Enterprise. In the meantime, he’s befriended Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), sensei of the Chikara Dojo.
The New York of the Marvelverse is dark and gritty. Colleen gets involved with cage fighting while Danny combats the corruption at his company. With the main bulk of the story finally starting to set in around the end of episode four.
Episodes five, six, and seven slumber along with forced character development. Danny and Colleen’s relationship undergo a series of appallingly cringe-worthy scenes. Enter Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), the figurehead of the vile drug cartel The Hand, who had enigmatic poise in the other shows, and now has a transparent apathy and nonplussed stares. Her threatening demeanour is gone. She is merely a device for maintaining a facade of character development. By asking characters annoyingly mysterious questions and allowing them to respond with emotionally charged monologues.
Episode ten sees the massive bombshell of a plot twist that Colleen is in fact in The Hand. It barely lands as a plot twist at all between the stale acting and weird pacing. With Gao nothing more than a boring captive, we meet Colleen’s old sensei and Villain #2, Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez).
The series culminates in betrayals left and right, as Joy cannot figure out whether to trust her brother or her father. Danny’s name is raked through the mud and frames him as the one who’s been distributing the poisonous drug. Then Gao informs Danny that it wasn’t The Hand that killed his family…it was Villain #3, Harold Meachum (Ward’s father).
The show manages to hit on certain superhero clichés and deliver on important Marvel tropes. Yet poorly execute so many fundamental narrative aspects. But the show quite simply fails because Danny Rand is an awful man.
A common motif of the show is Danny forcing himself into spaces. We constantly see him kick down doors, strut into meetings, intrude in on Colleen’s dojo. Yet yell and remind everyone at every step that he is a billionaire. How do we love and root for a character who doesn’t fit into his own narrative? Then pushes his stale, square character through circular holes?
The fight scenes have interesting dynamics: sensei versus student. Bakuto fighting for his life against someone he has orders not to kill. The sacrosanctity of life forcing characters not to murder. Yet they last mere seconds, like the choreographers have no idea what martial arts are. The dialogue is muddy, repetitive, predictable, the acting stale and awkward. The most exciting Marvel moments were implicit references to the other Defenders.
It’d be remiss not to mention the controversy surrounding the show, and rightfully so. The white male learning martial arts from a monastery and returning to America, speaking like he is the master. The way he speaks to a stranger in Mandarin when she is Japanese. How he speaks about saving the poor and the sick from his leather couch in his mansion. How he explains martial arts to a literal sensei, like she wouldn’t know. How Joy is one of the smartest people on the show and yet is unjustifiably always one step behind her male counterparts. Danny is the ominous spectre of a lack of diversity in TV. Always drifting through walls and doors closed to him for spaces that aren’t for him.
After all this I’m kind of worried about how The Defenders will turn out.