by Mike Lunsford, Editor
When it comes to cinematic world-building, Marvel/Disney is the envy of the industry. The same can be said with their television endeavors, especially the Netflix side. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage had established that they really were on top of their MCU on both big and small screens. And then there was the prodigal son, the “last Defender”, Daniel Thomas Rand.
*SPOILER ALERT LIKE BIG TIME. I DON’T EVEN TRY TO HIDE IT. I REGRET NOTHING.*
Daniel, or “Danny” for short, is the titular Iron Fist, and the newest member of Marvel’s Netflix family. As discussed by fellow editor, Matt Sernaker on this very website, the first 6 episodes of the series were uneven, but not horrible. If you’ve read any of the other reviews of this show, you’ve seen how savage they have been. Words like “failure,” “flop,” and “miss,” are in frequent use. In this reviewer’s opinion, those reviews are hypercritical. While the show has it’s faults, it also has merit. We’ll start with the bad first so we can end on a high note.
Throughout the whole series, I kept waiting for the intensity to go somewhere, but it never happened. There were so many fight scenes or moments of dialogue where I started sitting on the edge of my seat, thinking “here comes the payoff!” And then nothing happened. In retrospect, this might be a good “year zero” for Iron Fist/Danny Rand as he sheds his attachments and becomes “the living weapon,” but overall the series was lacking in depth. One should not rely on a subsequent sequel or follow up to complete a story.
Too many whys were left unanswered. In most cases, a simple line of dialog would have fixed most of this. Imagine if Danny had simply said “I spent 15 years learning to control my body, my mind, and my heart…but as soon I returned home, I was flooded with emotions I wasn’t ready to handle.” He could have alternatively said “No matter where I am, New York or K’un L’un, I feel like I’m an outsider.” This was a huge aspect of this character that was never discussed. He’s a 10 year old trapped in a 25 year old’s body in a New York that he doesn’t understand any more.
On the K’un L’un side of that coin, he’s a white boy who was found by monks and trained in a martial art that is normally forbidden for outsiders. Oh, and he’s in a mystical city that can only be accessed once every 15 years by a magical portal. He’s a twenty-something who like many of us before him, is struggling with his own identity and a place to belong. I wanted to be sympathetic to his struggle but damn, when I have to fill in the gaps and ASSUME that is what he’s going through, it certainly makes it difficult.
To that end, why couldn’t Danny keep himself calm? He trained for 15 years in multiple forms of martial arts and even says at one point that he’s trained to control his body, mind, and spirit.
Danny Rand/Iron Fist is supposed to be the best martial artist in the MCU. What we saw in this series was that Colleen Wing could probably kick his ass, Daredevil could kick his ass, Black Widow could kick his ass, honestly…I think Claire could have kicked his ass.
That reminds me of another thing: why the HELL do we have to keep seeing Claire? Are they really going to be that transparent when it comes to “how the Defenders meet?” I don’t mind seeing Rosario Dawson but seriously, do you just walk around New York looking for people who have powers? Is it a fetish? I mean, we all know you’re freaky Rosario. You’re dating Eric Andre. But, I digress…
Why did Danny leave K’un L’un? This could be inferred when he stated that as the Iron Fist, it was his job to protect K’un L’un and that mountain pass. I’m sure that sounded like the worst thing ever to a twenty-something hipster prototype. This is something we need to hear from him though. There was far too much left unsaid throughout the rest of the series. Davos calls him out on this. And thank God for Davos. We finally had someone say, to Danny’s face “you are the worst Iron Fist ever.”
And that relationship, the Davos and Danny friendship? There could have been so much more development there! We got some of it, and Davos was in fact the most fleshed out of all of the characters. We saw that he had yearned to be the Iron Fist since he was a child. But there could have been so much more to build upon. In fact, you could kill two birds with one stone by showing their friendship as you showed a HUGE missing piece of Danny’s backstory: his actual origin as the Iron Fist.
Every single Marvel character on TV or in the movies has had an origin story. You want to know why this Marvel Netflix series has the worst reviews? Knock the performance of Finn Jones all you want, but the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of whoever decided that Danny Rand’s backstory could be shown with 10 second clips of him getting beaten with kendo sticks. We were shown the very beginning of his training and the very end; when he gets the Iron Fist ability. And we never even saw the dragon!!! What a rip off! We needed more.
Imagine if you will…a scene in Iron Fist that was reminiscent of the scene in Kill Bill Vol. 2 where Beatrix Kiddo meets Pei Mei for her training. Replace Uma Thurman (who also, could kick Danny’s ass) with Finn Jones. Have Davos there with him as they get trained mercilessly by Lei Kung. And, as a throwback to my desire to have more of the Danny/Davos friendship, show us that Lei Kung, even though he is Davos’ father, favoring Danny as his prized student. There’s a reason these classic stories work. They’re universal and we can all put ourselves in the shoes of the character.
The rest of my gripes can be bullet points:
- Why was Ward such a knob for 9/10ths of the series? He was just a douche. No reasons are ever given but there were a few subtly implied (shocker in this series, right?).
- Why do I hate Joy Meachum? Oh wait…no character development! The only Meachum that was really interesting was Harold and that’s because he was nigh immortal.
- You know how I knew that Davos was going to be a villain at some point (other than being familiar with the comics)? HE DIDN’T LIKE PIZZA! Only a true monster doesn’t like pizza.
- How the hell does Danny’s 15 year old iPod still work? I know the residents of K’un L’un have some pretty boss mystical powers, but keeping that gen 1 tech running? And keeping it charged when I’m sure the monasteries don’t have electrical outlets. Truly magical.
The first half of the series took some time to get going, but it started to find its comfort zone right around the 4th or 5th episode. I do want to give a shout out to episode 6 in particular though. It was directed by Wu Tang Clan alum RZA and had the most distinctive martial arts movie feel to it. It paid homage to Bruce Lee’s Game of Death and was my favorite episode up to that point. OK, moving on to the second half:
Many people had issue with the choreography. In particular, the consistency. I didn’t see this issue. The editing of the fights were inconsistent and never gives you that “daaaaaamn” moment like Daredevil did in both season 1 and 2 (the hallway scene and the stairway scene respectively). There were also knocks that Danny’s kung fu was lacking. I did not see this issue and consulted with artist and martial arts enthusiast Ben Shaw who had this to say in defense of the show:
“The martial arts techniques are in use situationally. Every style has a practical application, case in point is how Danny would start a fight. He would escalate in technique, speed etc… Based on the skill level of who he was fighting. The Iron Fist is a living weapon, imagine a sentient sword that could make choices. The problem with Danny is he hadn’t shed the rest of his humanity so we got to see a day one Iron Fist that still has much to learn.”
This show did succeed in one place: it kept me wanting more. Many people gave up on the series out of frustration of varying levels. I stayed tough and finished it, not once thinking it was a chore. I’ve bailed on series before. This one wasn’t one of them.
ComicsOnline gives Marvel’s Iron Fist 3 out of 5 Immortal Living Weapons.
The pieces are there. I feel like Finn Jones could do this character justice and with Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing, this could get better with a second season. They teased us for season 2 with Steel Serpent as a major villain but teaming him with Joy Meachum and the always delightful Madam Gao? That is exciting. Plus, with Danny being the “final Defender,” we will see him again with Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. Maybe that will help flesh out his character. I’ve got hope that Iron Fist will only get better with time…and hopefully some new writers.
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