IRON FIST Season Review: The Final Defender Misses His Mark
Iron Fist was created in the ‘70s. Like many stories created in that era, there are some points to the character of Danny Rand that don’t fly quite as well in 2017. While we’ve got a lot more work to do, we as a culture have become more aware of things like the white savior trope and cultural appropriation. When launching an older property in a new time, creators are given an opportunity to adapt stories that can help evolve the characters in ways that stay true to the subject matter while keeping up with the times. Marvel’s Iron Fist fails to do so in every way possible. Even more unfortunate is the fact that it misses the mark in basically every other area as well.
Most heroes, with or without powers, are a mess. It’s to be expected when they’re thrust into whatever greatness they’re meant for by whatever devastating event happened in their past. There are some that manage to be endearing in their problematic behaviors, and others who fill more of the anti-hero role. Regardless of which side of the damaged spectrum they fall on, you still manage to care about them and their crusade. Marvel and Netflix’s Danny Rand is written in such a way that none of those things are true.
Finn Jones portrays a scared, erratic, anger-filled man-child with no idea how to function in the real world. He has kindness, yes, but it is coupled by an utter and complete selfishness that negates any of his better qualities. His privilege is almost palpable in the first six episodes of the season. There are certain things that he is entitled to, like his 51% of the company. While fighting for that, he meets Colleen Wing. During their time together in the first half of the show he blatantly disrespects her wishes repeatedly. She asks him to leave, he stays. Asks him not to contact her, he does. Tells him to be gone by morning and he not only stays, but blares his music, disrespects her in her own dojo, then has the nerve to explain martial arts to her. Then comes the inevitable: the two fall in love.
Who cares that he disrespects her, constantly ignores her wishes, hurts one of her students, and has the nerve to tell her how she should be running her dojo as a complete stranger? He was “nice”, and they wanted a romance angle. Current list of problematic story angles: White savior, cultural appropriation, women getting with complete assholes despite being built up as logical and functional characters. Okay. These things could all get better before the season finale.
Except they don’t. Marvel made the decision to keep Danny white. While that was a choice some folks had an issue with, there were ways that it could have been made better. Colleen could have called Danny out when he tried to explain her art or culture to her. The characters of color could have been elevated to a point where they’re viewed as equally important members of the team. Instead, Danny is constantly telling people throughout the show that he is the Iron Fist, and he’s the only one who can do the thing. As for Danny and Colleen’s inexplicable relationship, Danny could have at least had a little character growth before she decided she had a thing for the guy.
There’s the argument that their relationship never would have happened if the above were the case, which is wholly correct. It also presents another huge problem with the show: Danny doesn’t grow. As a matter of fact, Danny gets worse as the show slogs on. He starts off as the lost puppy who just wants his company back. He’s a disrespectful and entitled ass, but he’s lost and confused, so, okay. Danny gets his company back with the help of Hogarth (one of the only shining moments of the show), and then moves onto bigger, better problems. No longer is he the lost puppy of yore. He’s now the angry, erratic, out of control maniac who can’t stop his random fits of rage! And let’s not sleep on how he eventually becomes convinced he’s gotta kill some folk! First Gao, then Bakudo, then Harold. Only one dies, and it’s not by his hand.
It’s by Ward’s, who, comparatively speaking, has an utterly fascinating story arc. It’s a low bar, yes, but when spending thirteen hours binge watching something of this caliber, you’ve got to find the silver lining when you can. The Meachum’s are a complicated bunch. Some are compellingly so while others make no sense. Harold is thought dead by the world, but made a deal with the Hand to bring him back to life. He’s a master manipulator who only cares about himself, and maybe his daughter. Joy goes from screwing Danny over, to helping him, to screwing him over again. All the while insisting that he’s a good person that she cares about. It’s like she wants to have a heart of gold, but being a bit of a monster is all that she ended up with. Ward knows exactly what kind of person he is, has come to terms with it, and just wants to keep his sister safe. His is a weird arc, but at least it’s not as boring as some of the other events that go down in the thirteen hours Iron Fist had to win people over.
The show never manages to find a consistent through line, and even character’s we know are great aren’t saved from absurd one-liners. There are moments where you can almost feel Rosario Dawson thinking “Do I really have to say this?” This review has been almost all negative so far, so just in case you think I’m being overly harsh, “shut up and die” is said un-ironically right before Ward kills Harold the first time. As for the overall plot? It can never quite decide which way to go, but in the very end we come to one of the most predictable show moments in history: Harold’s been the one behind the Rands’ plane going down this whole time.
Have you come down from your shock over that unbelievable revelation? Don’t worry! Iron Fist has more in store for you! Bakuto? He’s totally a bad guy. So surprising after all of his Pleasantville vibes. Davos? Yeah, he’s gonna be the villain next time we see Danny on a solo mission. An Indian villain? Groundbreaking.
Iron Fist does manage to have one plot twist that isn’t completely apparent until right before it occurs: Colleen is Hand. This results in more questionable moments, like Danny remaining on the Hand compound after freaking out and saying it’s his job to destroy all of them, but it at least wasn’t obvious until right before it happens. She eventually realizes that Bakuto is a crazy person and that the Hand is everything she thought it wasn’t, and the writers do let her be the one to have the final battle with her sensei.
The story was haphazard, to be sure, but even more glaringly unfortunate were the fight sequences. If your show is one about a master of kung fu, your fight scenes should be impeccable. More importantly, they should be visible. So many of the battles in Iron Fist were shot in darkness. The ones that weren’t jump around strangely with camera angles, have weird monologues from Danny or flashbacks to his past. There are a few exceptions to their fight misfires, most notably the sequence between Danny and Lewis Tan’s drunk guard character. The fight is shot in broad daylight and focuses mostly on Tan’s expertise. It’s almost like you should hire someone with a strong stunt and martial arts background for a show like this.
There is a lot wrong with Iron Fist, but it does have a few shining moments. The aforementioned Hogarth and the fact that she genuinely cares about another person, and Tan’s fight outlined above. Claire Temple continues to be the one sure-fire voice of reason in the Marvel/Netflix universe. They give shout-outs to all the Defenders, and let us know that Karen Paige is still at the paper. We’ve gotten more of a look at The Hand, and have more of an idea what their plans are for New York City.
Iron Fist can be a fun and interesting character. I had hoped going in that this would be a fun final chapter leading into The Defenders. Hopefully they manage to figure out what to do with him as the Marvel/Netflix empire continues to grow.