Iron Fist Packs A Fairly Weak Punch

Iron Fist Packs A Fairly Weak Punch
Courtesy Photo Finn Jones stars in Iron Fist, the latest series in the Marvel Comics series on Netflix.

Courtesy Photo
Finn Jones stars in Iron Fist, the latest series in the Marvel Comics series on Netflix.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve diligently covered every aspect of the Marvel/Netflix deal. Beginning with Daredevil in 2015, Netflix launched their own corner of the Marvel universe with the promise of more to come, a TV version of the plan that launched The Avengers and created the modern age of interconnected film universes.

Soon after Daredevil came out and wowed critics and fans alike, Jessica Jones showed that just because you have a superhero as your show’s titular figure doesn’t mean you’re unable to take on bigger themes. This carried on into season two of Daredevil and finally, to Luke Cage.

The final corner of Netflix’s Defender universe was filled in last Friday with the lackluster release of Iron Fist. Where the other shows succeeded in visceral action and gut-wrenching dramatics, Iron Fist seems content to just go through the motions.

When Danny Rand’s (Finn Jones) plane crashes in the Himalayas when he is just a kid, he’s rescued by warrior monks belonging to an ancient extra-dimensional city called K’un-Lun. There he is trained in kung-fu and takes the ancient power of the Iron Fist, the guardian figure of K’un-Lun. On his return to New York 15 years after his supposed death, Danny struggles to prove his identity as Danny Rand and continue his existence as the Iron Fist. Along for the ride are Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), the leader of a local dojo, and Netflix/Marvel stalwart Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson)

Iron Fist was always going to be something different than the other shows it shares a universe with. Where Daredevil took the time to ask questions of morality, giving its central character a guilty conscience about some of the actions he’s taken, Jessica Jones took the time to talk about the psychological toll these people with powers might take on others, and even Luke Cage took the time to look at its hero through the lens of the common experience of African-Americans, Iron Fist just never comes out with any deeper themes. It’s danced around, things like survivor’s guilt and rectifying two halves of oneself into a whole person (Danny Rand wants to be both Danny Rand and the Iron Fist), the show just doesn’t seem confident enough in itself to dive into these issues headfirst the way its companions have. For that reason, Iron Fist is definitely the weakest of the Marvel/Netflix fare.

That isn’t to say there’s nothing to like, though. Finn Jones is great if not exceptional as Danny Rand, and Jessica Henwick kills it in every scene as Colleen Wing. It’s just with as heavy-handed and serious as the other shows set in this universe have felt, Iron Fist is lacking in something.

There was a lot of controversy before it aired in regards to Danny Rand’s ethnicity. In the comics, he’s a blond-haired, blue-eyed white guy. Folks wanted Marvel to change things up and cast an Asian actor in the role. There was a lot of back and forth about this because each version of Danny comes with its own set of tropes. As it stands, Danny basically falls into the White Savior trope, though they do turn that on its head just a tiny bit by making Danny’s mission to save his own good name instead of the Seventh City of Heaven, K’un-Lun. Had they cast an Asian actor in the role, that came with its own set of tropes (Fish-Out-of-Water/Strange Foreigner and All Asians Know Kung-Fu, respectively). One of the larger themes the show dances around but never comes out and deals with directly, which honestly could have benefited both the narrative and the show’s reception among critics and fans, is that of white privilege. Most everything that Danny does, especially after he is accepted as a Rand and heir to his empire, comes from a place of privilege. Had the writers had the presence of mind to spend just a minute analyzing that theme in a bigger way, maybe it would feel more like an actual theme of the show than just something that sticks out among a litany of other, larger themes.

The fights are fun, though, and this is still a Marvel show, so it’s rooted in something I’ve loved since I was a little kid. While it gets caught up in set-dressing for the upcoming Defenders, laying the groundwork for how and why these four heroes end up working together, it does a good job of showcasing Danny Rand with all of his faults intact. He’s a ten year old stuck in arrested development with an obsession for kung-fu and homeschool education, so to say he can be both aggravating and arrogant is a bit of an understatement, but it works for the character they’ve built. Danny has a lot of growing to do as it stands. Hopefully Iron Fist sticks around long enough to let that happen.

All episodes of Iron Fist are currently streaming on Netflix, while production on Defenders just recently wrapped and should release sometime this summer.

Categories: Commentary
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