Marvel’s newest show on Netflix, Iron Fist, focuses on Danny Rand, sole survivor of a plane crash that killed his incredibly wealthy parents, the founders of Rand Industries. He was presumed dead in New York but taken in by monks in the city of K’un-Lun, a mystical city near the plane crash, only to return home 15 years later. When Danny discovers sinister plots within his company, he hopes to weed them out and return Rand Industries to its glory with the help of his martial arts training from K’un-Lun and the power of a mystical force known as the Iron Fist.
But doesn’t this just sound a lot like Arrow, where playboy Oliver Queen was the sole survivor of a shipwreck and kept himself alive by training in martial arts before returning to his hometown five years later? A little bit. But all of Marvel’s other Netflix shows — Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage — have been great, so this show should be good too. Right?
Well, let me reel my criticisms back a bit. The show is incredibly mindless, meaning it’s a passable show if you just want to completely shut your brain off and have some noise running in the background. Iron Fist does improve over each episode, especially during the second half of the season. It expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in a huge way by connecting each of the other Netflix shows together, mentioning the names of the other Netflix heroes and tying the characters and events of those series to form a history behind Marvel’s Netflix-based narratives. This nearly establishes a different world from the Marvel movies.
But from the first scene of the first episode, where a homeless-looking Danny Rand walks around New York to the tune of OutKast’s “So Fresh, So Clean,” you are left just as confused and lost as Danny is. In fact, the first three episodes of the series have little relevance to the overall plot of the show. Seeing Danny return to society from K’un-Lun was incredibly boring and set the show off on a bad foot, setting up an unnatural and bland vibe for the rest of the episodes moving forward. The characters are painted as extremely childish, often getting into verbal fights rather than actually resolving any character action. Additionally, the show was poorly written to an astounding degree, filled with banter and arguments that stick out as cliché and tiring. The show’s writing also comes off as slightly racist, making it just uncomfortable to watch. Combined with the show’s boring pace, Iron Fist constantly left me disheartened and exhausted.
The only clear point that Iron Fist makes in its beginning is of the show’s plan for a martial-arts centered story – which would be great if the fighting sequences were as exciting as hinted. The fourth episode of the series shows the huge faults of these fighting sequences, moving at what feels like a sluggish pace. The use of slow motion during most of the fight sequences adds to the slow pace of the show, and seems unnecessary to each scene as a whole. While the motion and pace pick up halfway around the series, the other film techniques that the show uses, such as a shaky camera, are still utilized poorly.
What also contributed to the show’s discouraging potential and vibe was Finn Jones, the former Game of Thrones actor who plays the lead role of Rand. Since the announcement of the show, fans petitioned for Marvel to hire an Asian-American actor to play the role of Rand. The original comic property, created in the 70s, played to outdated racist stereotypes of Asians. Fans argued that casting an Asian-American actor, rather than staying true to the comics’ “white savior” trope and casting a white actor, would not only update the property for the modern day, but also introduce new and interesting storytelling elements to the character. However, defenders of Jones argued that casting an Asian as a kung-fu master pushes that racial stereotype forward and would put the media focus of the show solely on Danny rather than the entire show. After Jones was cast, the controversy only solidified in its place and was subsequently made worse by Jones’ overtly-childlike characterization of Rand from the writers. Jones’ performance only amplified his annoyingly youthful characteristics, coming across as infuriatingly stubborn and arrogant. Coupled with the show’s poor timing of its release two weeks prior to the release of the equally controversial Ghost in the Shell and as the next entry into the MCU after the controversial Doctor Strange, its controversy has now become a permanent fixture in the show’s history and discussion.
Despite the initially childish writing, the supporting characters of the show eventually became intriguing to watch. The dynamic of siblings Joy and Ward Meachum, Danny’s family friends, became interesting to see throughout the show. Actress Jessica Stroup’s portrayal of Joy is heartfelt yet fierce, while seeing Ward’s character devolve was fascinating and ultimately heartbreaking to see.
However, Jessica Henwick’s performance as Colleen Wing, a martial arts teacher who befriends Danny in the first episode, was one of the biggest highlights of the show for me. Henwick portrays Colleen as multidimensional and makes her initially aloof personality charming. Seeing Henwick on screen always filled me with excitement, and I saw parts of myself in Wing, an Asian-American New Yorker, filling me with pride. Despite this, her character towards the end of the season ended up falling into the clichéd role of a love interest that left me confused and let down, and the decision seemed uncharacteristic of her. While Henwick’s performance was the breakout of the show and amazing to see, her overall character unfortunately left me a little disappointed.
I had few motivators to drive me to watch this show: I’m writing a review on it for this paper, it’s a Marvel property, and it’s incredibly integral to the upcoming Marvel Netflix show The Defenders. Apart from that, even thinking about the show just lets me down. Additionally, the show’s reception has also begun to set up a divisive front between defenders, who appreciate the surface value of fun of the show, and attackers, disappointed by the show’s greater potential, which is the most disheartening result of Iron Fist’s release.