Why does this TV show exist? That is a serious question. This is not meant to provoke outrage or headlines. I legitimately want to know why this show exists. I know HOW this show exists. Marvel’s Netflix division needed a fourth spot to fill for the Defenders and believed Iron Fist was a perfect candidate. Luke Cage had already been chosen so because of his connection to Danny Rand in the comics, they felt a mix of opportunity and obligation to fulfill the “Heroes for Hire” dream of the comic book fandom. Lost in the thought process however, is whether Danny Rand’s story and character were good material for Marvel Netflix’s grim and gritty television world or the more colorful world presented in the movies. I am certain now that it is the latter.
Iron Fist is one of the most mediocre, tedious shows I have ever watched. I say this having watched Season 2 of Broadchurch, the pilot for Quantico, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, and Seasons 3 and 4 of The Killing. From beginning to end, Iron Fist never ceases to bore. Everything from the story, to the pacing, to the characters, to the fight scenes. Everything comes across unengaged. There are exceptions such as David Wenham (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 300), Jessica Henwick (Game of Thrones, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Ramon Rodriguez (The Wire, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) Sacha Dawan (After Earth, 24: Live Another Day) and returning Netflix/Marvel characters Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) and Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), but they are all underutilized.
The story is about Danny Rand (Finn Jones), who after being presumed dead for 15 years, suddenly returns to New York to reclaim his family company. Due to the fact that this could be a con artist trying to pull a scheme or a mentally deranged person who thinks he is Rand, Danny is forced out of the building. Now he must go on a journey to reclaim his family name while battling the conspiracy within the corporation and the city from the group known as The Hand (the secret ninja death cult from Daredevil Season 2).
There are two main problems with the show. The first is that the show feels like a season 2 to a season 1 we never saw. This is almost like Luke Cage, a show that feels like it had two seasons made into one, but it was still fun to watch, even if it was not as good as Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Due to the fact that Netflix’s Marvel shows are so cheaply produced, we never see this “Mystical Dragon of K’un-L’un” that Rand repeatedly mentions. Not even glowing eyes within a shadow or cave. Also of note is how Danny keeps referencing how his time in K’un-L’un shaped and prepared him to be the Iron Fist but the flashbacks to K’un-L’un never reveal anything except a gateway via the Himalayan mountains and a waterfall that looks like it could’ve been filmed from any of the local ponds, parks, or forests in my own neighborhood. As a result we never develop a sense of this so-called “mystical city”. This has made me seriously reconsider my desire for Agents of SHIELD’s Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna) or even the original Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze, having a show on Netflix. Now I believe perhaps they would be better served on ABC, with its higher budget. ABC is more than capable of going dark, as anyone who has seen How to Get Away With Murder can attest.
The true nail in the coffin is the character of Danny Rand himself. The show cannot decide whether Rand is meant to be naive, wise, brooding, humorous, or disciplined. The one consistent trait he does have is equivalent to that of a narcissistic, bratty teen who had his video games taken away by his parents as punishment and just will not stop about how entitled he is to them. It is easy to see why Netflix and Marvel saw a grim and gritty version of Iron Fist as the equivalent of that kid you knew in high school who spent much time with exchange students from East Asia, then perhaps traveled there as part of a summer trip, came back, and bragged about how he became Mr Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) from The Karate Kid, but I cannot see why anyone thought that is a character audiences would like.
This is not even taking into account the actor. I have not seen Finn Jones in anything else so I have no idea if he’s good in his natural accent, but Jones plays Rand with the charisma of a tree. Rand is also difficult to take seriously whenever he gives a speech about “respecting the dojo” when he has a puppy face and curly hair that gives him the appearance and demeanor less of a warrior monk than a 1960s hipster who just walked over from a drug legalization rally. Danny Rand was in danger no matter who played him.
Yes it is time to talk about the casting controversy. Iron Fist from the beginning was one of various, “white Western man travels to exotic land and perfects special skills to become the chosen one” narratives that simply do not work in the present-day anymore without self-aware comedy. Many have said that casting him as an Asian-American or a biracial half-white half-East Asian American might have alleviated the problem, as he could be an outsider in his own culture(s), as many Asian-Americans face today. This definitely would make for an interesting narrative but the negative side is that this could perpetuate the stereotype that all Asians are martial arts masters and sorcerers. Essentially this show has the same no-win situation that Dr Strange encountered.
[Spoilers Ahead. Skip to the Next Bold Line to Avoid]
Speaking of Dr Strange, I would like to share the exact moment I realized a proper crossover between the MCU films, ABC shows, and Netflix shows would never occur aside from minor references. In episode 10, Danny wakes up in what looks like a college campus where several young adults are practicing yoga and martial arts. It is run by Ramon Rodriguez, who Jessica Henwick is a protege of. We later find out it is secretly a faction of The Hand, opposed to Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho). Rodriguez tries to convince Rand to join his faction, “the nice Hand”, but Rand’s duty as the Iron Fist is to be the sworn enemy of The Hand. Or it could be because anyone even slightly familiar with mob or mafia like organizations knows there is no “nice” version.
This is where the show wasted two opportunities! The first is a crossover with the Dr Strange cast of characters. Rodriguez’s school looked like an extension of the warrior monk class we saw in Dr Strange. This might have been a good opportunity to have someone from the movies arrive!
In the first half of the fourth season of Agents of SHIELD, Coulson (Clark Gregg) and co. are looking for a magic book with Ghost Rider. That was an opportunity to have Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) have a guest spot on one or two episodes in the background, secretly communicating with Ghost Rider without Coulson knowing. In Iron Fist, after the events of those SHIELD episodes and Dr Strange, when Mordo’s gone, Wong (Benedict Wong) could arrive to Rodriguez’s hideout and inform Rodriguez of Mordo leaving the group. Right after that, The Hand arrives to wipe out Rodriguez’s students, perhaps bringing a magic monster or two with them. Wong would assist Rodriguez and Danny in a fight scene. Perhaps Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) arrives right at the moment it looks like Rodriguez, Wong, and Danny appear to have been defeated and uses his magic prowess to turn the fight in their favor. Alas, we are stuck with a boring “Nice Hand”, narrative that the show seems to believe the audience will be fooled with instead of the alternative opportunity it could have used.
The second opportunity is to be an allegory for criminals taking advantage of underprivileged youth. You will notice that many of Rodriguez’s students are lower to lower-middle class young people. Essentially Rodriguez’s charismatic, sinister, in-the-shadows villain is taking advantage of these downtrodden children and giving them a home, somewhere they belong, while exploiting them and misusing their talents for criminal activity. This is not uncommon. Most groups require a charismatic, charming, rhetorical leader to draw in recruits to a sense of belonging, like they are a part of something. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Irish, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese Americans for example, were subject to discrimination. Many Americans demanded they “go home” because they didn’t belong. As a result, for these ethnic groups, the mob, mafia, Triads, and Yakuza became the de facto organizations for protection and a chance for success. Those who knew from experiences back home how the mobs were nothing but trouble were scared to fight against them because many police at the time were corrupt. Those that were clean and not prejudiced were too few and kept quiet by figures such as “Boss” Tweed in New York. Today the mob is not as strong as it once was, police are far less corrupt, and Triads and Yakuza have more trouble today than they had previously. However, this is an issue still occurring today as Latin American drug cartels take advantage of underprivileged Latino youth through fear and intimidation or financial incentive. The show does not seem to realize it has this allegory handed to it on a silver platter and it takes no time to explore this!
I cannot stress how bad Iron Fist is. Iron Fist is so dull, I am actually forgetting elements of this series that I despise. I am struggling to find a way to end this review. All I can do is stress how you should not spend any time on this show. If, like me, you are a strong supporter of Netflix as a legitimate program/content creator and distributor or even as an alternative to traditional Hollywood and television, this is a bleak spot for the company. Stick with the other three Marvel shows and with shows such as House of Cards, Longmire, Stranger Things, or with international (non-American) shows they have rights to stream like River and Fauda. If you are a die-hard Marvel Cinematic Universe fan and/or must keep up-to-date with the Marvel material, read a plot synopsis.
*Image Source: avforums.com
Editors note, original version of article erroneously referred to Gabriel Luna as Diego Luna.