Early reviews of Iron Fist hit the internet with an overwhelming consensus of negativity towards the show. At the time, I suspected the outburst of frustration in the reviews, although I didn’t really read many of them, was from a deep-seated disappointment the show runners did not adhere to the request to cast Danny Rand as an Asian-American. After watching the show and writing in depth about my thoughts on the Asian-American and Asian cultural appropriation issue, I still believe a large portion of the professional critiques are the result of anger towards the Finn Jones casting.
First, I want to create some foundation from which to work from. While randomly looking around on the internet a few days ago, I came across this article written by Jack Pooley over on What Culture. I thought his list was concise and it pretty much covers what I see everyone saying about Netflix’s Iron Fist.
Pooley complains about the following:
- Badly choreographed fights.
- The origin story is too dull and similar to the likes of Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Bruce Wayne (Batman) and I’m guessing pretty much any rich (I’ll add White) male turned vigilante superhero.
- Finn Jones didn’t give a good performance (He argues Jessica Henwick outperformed Finn).
- The business subplots were subpar.
- Hated the product placement, citing iPhones, M&M’s, Hyundai, etc.
- Weak villains.
- I agree with him here that Madame Gao was far more interesting than the other two villains.
- Claims the romance was unnecessary.
- Most of the characters weren’t interesting.
- Jerri Hogarth and Claire Temple were wasted on Iron Fist.
- Felt Scott Buck was the major cause for the lack of quality in the show since fans consider him the major cause for lack of quality in the Dexter
A few days later my phone notified me of an article written by Katharine Trendacosta over at io9 where she attempts to argue a White Danny Rand is the reason for the perception of an uninteresting Iron Fist show. While doing so she pretty much regurgitates the arguments for an Asian-American Danny Rand and I already dealt with that issue in a prior thought piece.
A while back I stumbled onto Kwame Opam’s piece on the Verge where he demanded Iron Fist must be relevant in the shadow of Luke Cage. He specifically stresses Iron Fist give its audience “an authentic portrait of blackness in its superhero narrative” and he sees Marvel shows on Netflix as shows about “othered people and the contexts they live in.” From this Opam asserts:
Iron Fist, a story about a white billionaire martial artist with mystical abilities, can’t hope to wrestle with similar themes, and that’s a big problem. Danny Rand may very well be a fun and interesting character in the same way other white billionaire superheroes like Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark, and Oliver Queen are. But unless Marvel finds a way to make his perspective fresh and interesting, he can’t break any new ground. Making matters worse, Iron Fist is a product of Orientalist appropriation, and that already has the potential to be more offensive than inspiring, especially at a time when Marvel has styled itself as the standard-bearer for diversity in superhero stories. When fans are already up in arms about how Doctor Strange whitewashes major Asian characters, it’s clear that audiences are more sensitive than ever to how their cultures are presented.
However, if you’re not convinced here is another reviewer from Vox, Alex Abad-Santos claimed Iron Fist was simply boring and lackluster, but again spent most of his time dealing with the Asian-American controversy and how Marvel citied the 1974 material as their reason for casting Finn Jones plus Jones’ own attempts at defending the show. To be fair, Tredacosta, Opam, Abad-Santos and Pooley, who only really implies the Asian-American issue, may not speak for the whole of mainstream criticism, but it was enough to confirm my suspicion that somewhere underlying all of these negative reviews is the progressive complaint of “too many White people.” However, to be totally transparent on this I’ll say this, my wife agrees with me about the Asian-American issue and unnecessary representation requests or the unnecessary “swappings” of characters away from their source material, but she felt Iron Fist was worth a 2.5 star rating for a variety of reasons while I gave it 4 stars on Netflix. Thus, I’m not trying to say everyone who has a low view of the show is harboring some hidden ill will towards it due to the Asian-American issue, but it seems the hand full of reviews I have read happen to fully go that route or imply it. Although, I have seen average watchers complain about the similar things Jack Pooley mentions so I will mostly focus on his list to some degree.
So as I move forward I want to stress this is not an attempt to respond to Jack Pooley, Kwame Opam, Alex Abad-Santos or Katharine Trendacosta, but I will cover what I think about Iron Fist in general. I’ll stress where I felt critics were probably being fair and where I felt they were overhyping the negative consensus. Remember, however, when it comes to these types of things it is all about subjectivity. If you disliked the show, more power to you, if you liked the show, more power to you, but I hope you disliked or liked the show based on its own merits and not because of some propped up political agenda of overly progressive minded individuals in the media.
After watching all thirteen episodes of Iron Fist, I have to say I enjoyed the show. While it is not the greatest show I’ve ever seen, it Is not the most horrible show either. This is what leads me to continue to suspect the early reviews had an axe to grind. Yet, with this said, I have to be honest and admit the following:
First, Netflix has to drop this formula they have utilized for each show. It seriously has me worried for The Defenders. Granted, there are areas Iron Fist’s pacing is rather slow, this is true for all four of the Netflix Originals: Jessica Jones, Daredevil 1&2, Luke Cage and now, Iron Fist. Each of these shows dragged on at areas while speeding up in others only to slow down again in other areas. They need to do something to speed up the pace generally and keep people watching from show to show without losing interest. It took me a long time to get through Jessica Jones, slightly less time to get through both Daredevil seasons and Luke Cage and Iron Fist are the only two shows I binge watched in under 48 hours. Yet, still, I admit both of those shows had a rather uninteresting pacing. None of the reviewers I mentioned nor any I have come across have mentioned the pacing, but this has always been a concern of mine. It appears that in the light of Luke Cage, the Netflix formula has harmed their progress rather than strengthened it.
Second, while Iron Fist had more than one villain, there should be more super powered villains if the show is about characters with super powers. Hopefully, for Cage, Jones and Iron Fist second seasons they will find themselves involved with more than one or two super powered villains and the confrontations won’t drag out so long.
In regards to Pooley’s complaints, he is entitled to them as well as other reviewers. Given the fact I was privy to the 1970’s Iron Fist origin story I wasn’t surprised of the final villain. It was the secondary villain of The Hand which came as more of a surprised. It’s possible since the show did not focus on one major villain that two of them seemed underwhelming. I suspect this is the result of Iron Fist attempting to take the baton passed to it from Daredevil season 2 and continue to set up The Hand as the big bad for The Defenders. Perhaps if this weren’t the case the show could have focused on a completely personal vendetta between Danny and whomever would have been his antagonist. Still, I suspect “in the shadow of Luke Cage” as Opam put it, people wouldn’t have appreciated a simple hero versus “cookie cutter” villain story. I suspect this was Netflix & Marvel somewhat going back to its roots in this regard. I’m not saying it was a great decision nor am I saying it was a horrible one, but it surely wasn’t as bad as most people make it out to be.
Thirdly, and this is mostly my wife’s complaint as well as many others, but I will submit it is a valid issue. She felt some of the characters were bland due to the actors and actresses, mainly the Meachams appearing as only people dressed nice to deliver lines without any passion. It wasn’t until Ward went full-blown pyscho in order to release years of pent up tension and stress that she made the comment, “There’s the passion.” I didn’t have an issue with the acting as I’m usually easily entertained, but my primary problem was my first issue and it has been my problem with each Netflix show. If I don’t binge watch them, it usually takes me some time to get through them. Nevertheless, I felt Jessica Henwick and Finn Jones did a decent job carrying the show as Colleen Wing and Danny Rand. I admit the Meachams came off a little uninteresting, at first, but the story kept me watching. Madame Gao, in my opinion, stole the show, but it’s apparent she is set up to be a recurring villain between Daredevil and Iron Fist until she’s finally dealt with.
Another thing I want to deal with here. I’ve noticed plenty of reviewers jumping on Finn Jones for his performance and while I’m not at liberty to tell anyone they’re wrong for their opinion of his acting, I am at liberty to disagree. Yet, some of these same people are loving Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing, which again, sort of confirms my suspicion some people out there are only about the ethnicity of the character rather than the actual character. I didn’t dislike Colleen Wing, but my wife and I spent some time in discussion about the similarities between her and Misty Knight on Luke Cage. One of the main problems we had with both of these female characters was their mysterious frustration and unnecessary combativeness. Both Wing and Knight came off as forcefully combative to their male counterparts in their respective series. Granted, as you will see below, Colleen warms up significantly to Danny long before Knight got over her mysterious frustration with Luke. At these times, it harmed the characters for us, me at least, cause I tried to figure out if this was supposed to be someone’s definition of a “strong female character” which is where said character is just constantly frustrated and combative for no reason? Still, I will submit, Henwick did a great job as Colleen and she was one of the better parts of the show.
Now, to a few more positives. First, I felt the story was great. I also feel most people missed the point of the beginning of Danny’s journey, and this was when they probably turned it off. In the beginning, Danny’s character essentially reverses the stranger in the foreign land trope often mentioned by advocates of the Asian-American Danny Rand. Instead of watching him be the outsider in Kun-Lun, we see him as the outsider in the modern world of New York, in the company of his Dad, Rand Corporation and in modern relationships in general. He is naïve, innocent, overly trusting of those he considers the last of his family as he is seeking a family to be a part of. Although, I felt frustration early on due to his overwhelming innocence which bordered on stupidity, I calmed myself after understanding Danny grew up in martial arts monastery where martial arts were life and also, in a mystical land similar to ancient Asia. His knowledge of the modern world ended when he was ten years old. Thus, when he returns to it, he is still in regards to experience, a ten-year-old man. In other words, Danny has the innocence of a child. He doesn’t understand when someone is manipulating him until later, he doesn’t understand when someone is deceiving him until later. Thus, as the story progresses Danny begins to discover who he is and embrace the reality he is an outsider in his native land and to those he felt were the last members of his family.
Opam may have wanted Iron Fist to be relevant similar to Luke Cage in regards to social commentary from a progressive sense, but I submit that unlike Tony Stark who starts off with everything, Bruce Wayne who similarly starts off with everything aside from the trauma of losing his parents, and Oliver Queen, who depending on which origin story you want to cite be it CW’s or the original DC Comics version still started off with everything minus the loss of his parents. Danny is different. He does not start off with everything. Yes, he eventually claims the inheritance of half of his company, but in the beginning, he has to fight for this. Plus, his attitude towards it is mostly about carrying on the name of his parents and not simply to be rich. In fact, he often states he doesn’t even care about the money although it is a convenience for him. In the beginning, he starts harming the business more than he helps it due to attempting to be sort of the people’s businessman and carrying for the people rather than the mighty dollar.
Granted, Stark, Queen, and Wayne are similar and I’m not arguing there aren’t any similarities, but overhyping the similarities always ignores the glaring differences there are. Unlike Wayne, Queen, and Stark, Danny doesn’t use any of his inheritance to be Iron Fist, it’s just who he is after his time in Kun’Lun. As stated before his outsider nature is more about being an outsider in the modern world and I’m sure this is relevant to many people who feel ostracized by modern culture just for being “different.” Why does he have to be Asian-America, Black or the storyline has to focus on the Same-Sex orientation of the character for people to get the fact Danny is obviously different from everyone else. He’s treated that way and he begins to recognize it and attempt to act accordingly, which turns out to be his mistake, which he also figures out. It seems like “in the shadow of Luke Cage” it was impossible for some people to appreciate a story told from this perspective without dealing with racism, sexism, gender or sexual identity issues, just a simple story about a lost boy, returning to a city which makes him still feel left out.
Overall in regards to story and characters, I enjoyed Danny’s journey from naivety to his growth and acceptance of who he is as the Iron Fist and who he wants to be as well as what he doesn’t know. I enjoyed Colleen Wing and the reveals about her, but mostly her relationship with Danny. She was a very energetic character. I also found myself sympathizing with Ward as his story continued to unfold and the stress of his situation began getting to him as a character. I found myself cheering for him to escape. Although he was antagonistic to the main character, I couldn’t help but feel this way due to the what Ward was going through. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Joy. I hope they do better with her in season 2 or The Defenders. Harold sort of just fit his role, I can’t say he was a good character or a bad character, he was, well…predictable.
I’m a kung-fu fan, action fan, generally speaking, I enjoy some good martial arts fights on film. Some have critiqued this; I disagree with them and they are entitled to their opinion. The fights in Iron Fist are different from the fights in Daredevil. Danny fights in a sort of Tai Chi style as opposed to Daredevil/Matt’s more brutal sort of mixed-martial-arts style. However, I had no problem with the fight choreography. For instance, there is one episode where Danny has to fight the Hatchet Men, a Chinese-American gang who fight with hatchets. This fight happens primarily in an elevator as he has to navigate around and protect Joy Meacham. It was interesting to watch. Even my wife found herself jumping in her seat at times during this fight scene and many others. In fact, it was the fight scenes (and romantic scenes) which often pulled her from her iPhone she had beside her while watching the show.
However, my friend who likes Iron Fist and had some formal training in martial arts disliked Finn Jones’/Iron Fist’s form in the show. He felt after over a decade training in Kun’Lun, Danny should have been a better martial artist, but to him the actor and the character seemed to only display a basic level of martial arts training. I suggested to him this may have been because of a rushed schedule given the Netflix scheduling of Iron Fist and subsequently The Defenders, but he argued they shouldn’t have felt rushed with the actor’s practice and if it were possible he feels they should have found a good actor with existing martial arts skill. To some extent, I agreed with him. There are, at least, two scenes where I even noticed Finn Jones with a seemingly lackluster form. Yet, this is coming from someone with only street level fighting experience. Still, overall, my friend said he felt the fighting scenes got better with each episode.
Danny and Colleen’s early relationship is both a positive and negative move away from the MOCU. There, Danny grew into a serious relationship with Misty Knight who debuted on Luke Cage, played by Simone Missick. Knight, in the MOCU, didn’t show up until Marvel Premiere #21 during a period Iron Fist was in conflict with Batroc, framed for the death of Harold Meachum (remember this is in the MOCU) and Joy was out for revenge. During this time a death cult of Kara-Kai appeared and kidnapped the Wings. Danny and Misty meet in the dojo where she proves to be a formidable fighter. Over time, the two grew closer and became intimate. Colleen and Danny were always close friends.
Thus, I was curious about how Marvel and Netflix would handle these on-screen relationships in respect to their MOCU counterparts. Danny and Misty, Luke and Claire, Luke and Jessica, Daredevil and his on again, off again flames, etc. Marvel honored Luke’s first serious relationship in his solo series with Claire Temple after teasing with Jessica Jones. However, some feel this is unneeded in Iron Fist and some may argue this isn’t in the MOCU, but in the Ultimate Marvel Universe, Coleen is the wife of Danny Rand. This is revealed in Ultimate Spider-Man #110 where Danny tells Daredevil, Shang-Chi, Spider-Man, and Dr. Strange he has a daughter with a girl named Colleen Wing and the reason he betrayed them was because Kingpin found out about his child and threatened their lives. Colleen is later seen in a panel with Danny and their daughter in the same issue. Thus, it appears the MCU is borrowing from the Ultimate Universe when it comes to this much like it has done with other things. See below.
I said all that to say the romance between Danny and Colleen works in the show. There are a variety of reasons why if you accepted the show for what it presented to you. First, she is the only person who understands him on a cultural level. Yes, I can hear the SJW’s screaming now, “But, but, you said in your other article this wasn’t Asian cultural appropriation and this very point means it could’ve fit an Asian-American Danny Rand.” While some of that may be true, what I mean is the two have a moment in regards to fighting, kung-fu, plus there is a lot more I’m not trying to spoil in regards to Iron Fist and The Hand when it comes to the Netflix/MCU version of Iron Fist. Similar to the comics, she becomes his first main ally and just like in the comics with Misty, over time the two grow closer. It didn’t seem forced to me and in fact was probably one of the best parts of the show.
Lastly, the Hand. I enjoyed the connection to Daredevil season 2 where the Hand were first introduced. I’m hoping there’s more connection in The Defenders. It is good to see Netflix is creating a universal big bad for each of their shows to deal with unless the Hand are defeated in The Defenders. Madame Gao really played her part, and as stated, I found myself enjoying her character more since she received far more exposure in Iron Fist than she did in both Daredevil seasons. In general, you could say I enjoyed the villains. It took the time to unveil the true villains, but some you will suspect and others you may not suspect up front.
Overall, I enjoyed Iron Fist. It didn’t have to have social commentary like Luke Cage, and I know some felt it should have. I believe this was a mistake of Marvel to allow Luke Cage to be so heavy in current, controversial social commentary to the point of the show almost coming off as social justice warrior propaganda. Iron Fist, however, is simply a story about the emotional and maturity journey of Danny Rand as he unveils the truth about what happened to him over a decade ago in the Himalayas when his family died and coming to terms with who he is and who he isn’t.
It was nowhere near as bad as early criticism stated and as stated here it is nowhere near as perfect as it could have been either.