I can describe Marvel’s Iron Fist in one word: underdeveloped. It wasn’t just that the plot was undeveloped or that a few characters needed more lines. Everything was underwhelming, bland, and not thought all the way through. The best example is this: Iron fist is about a super hero who has trained in martial arts for 15 years in a far-off land but the fight scenes are maybe 30 seconds of actual contact at most.
So, in order to process my feelings about the series – that I vehemently defended from critics before its release and just entirely sh** the bed – I’m going to review the entire series based on topic. I will be spoiling some things because I NEED to talk about the characters because they’re involvement in the “story” and “progression” throughout is one of the reasons the series doesn’t work in the Marvel Netflix Universe (MNU). But I will be starting off with the general things and I will let you know when the spoilers are coming your way. I will also include some of good things from the series because it doesn’t deserve 14% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it is nowhere near the caliber of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, or Luke Cage. It wasn’t bad, just ridiculously boring.
THE FIGHT SCENES
Like I said above, this is supposed to be a martial arts/superhero hybrid. In reality though, it’s martial arts-lite. The fights scenes that involve our protagonist Danny Rand in the first half of the series are slow. It’s not that they take a long time to get to them (they do that too) but the actual fighting is slowed down. If you’ve watched a martial arts movie before, the fight scenes are long and the camera tracks the actors while still maintaining the speed of their movements. Now, slowing down fights isn’t new, Bruce Lee was known for having to have his footage slowed to actually showcase each individual movement to the audience, but the actions themselves were never choppy. When Finn Jones’ face is visible and there is no way to switch him out with a stunt double (which is every fight in episode 1-7 pretty much) he moves ridiculously slow. The director does use a slow-mo camera at some points in the later episodes when the yellow fist comes out to say hi BUT it isn’t used in these other fight scenes. It ends up looking like the practice scenes of the fights are the only thing that made it into the final cut. Much of the “contact” doesn’t land and it’s exaggerated by the fact that Jones just can’t move through these moves fluidly and from one to the next. The slow movements makes the fighting not match up to the score. A lot of the fighting takes place with hyper music as the backdrop, but when y
our Iron Fist is moving like he just took a Valium, it doesn’t match. This seems to only be a Finn Jones problem.
Colleen Wing, played by Jessica Henwick, has some great fights, particularly the ones where her sword-work gets the focus. The same can be said for the baddies like Bakuto, Davos, or Zhou Cheng. The latter of which was more of a mini-battle but it is one of the longer fight scenes where a drunken fighter, Zhou Cheng goes to town and brings the much needed hype to an Iron Fist fight scene. Cheng is played by Lewis Tan (the guy who many thought should have been cast as Danny Rand and after this scene I’m firmly in that camp) and steals the scene. This is also the best fight scene because it is almost all done by Finn’s stunt double, as Danny fights in a hoodie and if you pause the show he’s flipping you can see that editors blurred the face of the double. In fact, Zhou Cheng’s insult to Danny is: I thought the Iron Fist was a great warrior, you fight like a child throwing a tantrum. It pretty much sums up the show.
TL;DR: watch the fight scenes in episode 8 and the ones not done by Finn Jones, Lewis Tan should have been Iron Fist, and Finn Jones doesn’t know how to execute fight choreography which is highlighted by the fact that he’s against people who know how to execute.
I was excited that the RZA was going to be involved in choosing the music that Danny Rand listened to on his old music player. The playlist included A Tribe Called Quest, Blackalicious, and Wu-Tang Clan and could have been great — as I am in love with ALL of the musics he scrolls through — except for the fact there is no real connection made between Danny and rap, other than he had it on his player as a kid. Music as a driving point to the story was essential for Luke Cage, but for Iron Fist, it was more of something the RZA wanted to do for a hero he loved vs something he wanted to contribute to the character as a whole. I want to be clear, as a fan of Samurai Champloo, Afro Samurai, and The Man with the Iron Fist, rap and martial arts can mix beautifully, the beats matching to the hits. In addition to this, groups like Wu-Tang Clan (the RZA’s group) have embraced the popular culture surrounding martial arts/kung-fu films. But Danny doesn’t have a connection to the music which is highlighted when Claire Temple (we’ll get to her later) reads out the group names and Danny responds, “I’ve had it since I was 10.” To which, Claire responds, you must’ve been one gangster 10-year old. The music is addressed and dismissed and RZA’s carefully crafted playlist is no-more. Unlike with Luke Cage, music in here seemed like an afterthought that brought nothing and just made Danny look bad.
TL;DR: The RZA is awesome, he can’t do much in ways of music and Danny just comes off as appropriating two cultures that aren’t his own.
This section is going to small. This is one Netflix series that is NOT self-reflexive and doesn’t even hint at the idea that a white guy being gifted the power to save a mythical Eastern sanctuary looks bad. They don’t play with the ideas of privilege, except for when Danny is told he can help marginalized people and he says, “I’m a billionaire” to which he is responded to with, “Even you.” There are many problems with this, especially putting Danny Rand’s marginalization as equal to that of orphans and addicts.
*************HERE BE SPOILERS***************
As with most superhero story-lines, there is a romance, and like most superhero story-lines the romance is underdeveloped. Luckily, Colleen is shown to be very capable, only being saved by Danny when she is poisoned after winning a fight. That being said, Colleen is only in the show to ultimately betray Danny, making her character’s development tied to his. She has an interesting streak in the beginning with absolutely kicking misogynistic ass in cage fights but that’s gone and she soon becomes an other boring person in a large cast of other boring people.
There are antagonists throughout the season. The first introduced is Madame Gao and the
Hand (a holdover from Daredevil). This story-arc is fairly straight forward and the capability of Wai Ching Ho to make the character change from dainty woman to an imposing threat is remarkable. She’s the second best character of the ser
ies because of her ability to be both foe and teacher Danny. But every subsequent villain/antagonist after are convoluted and serve more to make Danny look like a fool than be a real big bad of any threat. In fact, the overlap of each antagonist’s plot makes for a confusing story, which for some reason is boring, rather than intriguing. The Hand was set up to be a big force ready to take down anything in its path but the show-runners thought throwing a sectarian fight into the middle would make for good TV, it didn’t. Although Bakuto is a cool character with great moves, he serves little more than to be a speed-bump in Gao’s way and destract Danny and the viewers from what’s happening with Harold Meachums.
TL;DR: How do you have so many villains and still end up with a slow, boring story?
Ultimately daddy Meachum ends up being Danny’s last hurdle achieve true Iron Fist-hood. Unfortunately for us, Harold Meachum (David Wenham) is just an other undeveloped character for the character to hate. We know he’s immortal because of the Hand and that he made a deal to smuggle in heroin and that he essentially kills Danny’s parents.We find this information out at a decent enough pace, but his ultimate descent into madness that leads to him fighting Danny is a 90-degree angle. To top all that off with the horrible character that is his daughter Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup), and it make you stop and question why are they still here? Joy is clueless. The entire time. She’s pro-Danny the entire time, has a consciousness that makes her want to back out of bad business practices, loves her brother, and is the only one who doesn’t know that her dad faked his death 13-years ago and has been shadow-brokering deals through her brother Ward the entire time. Upon discovering the latter, she automatically decides to take her fathers side in all endeavors. This means, that even after Ward warns her and her dad lies to her, she still believes her dad to have their best interest in mind (despite putting her brother in a psychiatric ward). Even after Danny saves them, she agrees to set him up, to protect the family. And then to close out the season, she is seen talking with Davos about how to take down Danny since everything is all his fault (Davos is the guy who should have been Iron Fist but couldn’t beat Danny and now he’s salty about it). Her denial, refusal to see the truth, and quick switch to an anti-Danny stance, makes her one of the worst characters I have seen.
TL;DR: Joy Meachum is a terrible oblivious character and Harold Meachum just needed some time to shine.
She does her thing. Like in the previous MNU shows, she shows up to help the wounded and winds up getting involved. This is due in large part to her encounters with the Hand in Daredevil season two but the involvement of her character becomes awkward as she tags along to China and comically interrupts sexual tension and makes jokes. She’s not really needed but as a Claire fangirl, I was happy to see her put on a pair of razor knuckles (comment the real name please) and kick some ass. She was also used to keep dropping Luke Cage bombs. From saying “sweet Christmas” every time something surprising happened, to reading his letter from prison on the plane, to giving Danny a bullet-hole filled shirt, she was the specter of everything Iron Fist wasn’t, good writing. Not that her lines were great, she just reminded us Luke Cage where everything was on point.
DANNY RAND/FINN JONES
Now we’re at the protagonist, Iron Fist himself. I’m sad to say that as the superhero, he is one of the worst characters. Without creating Finn Jones just yet, Danny Rand is meant to be a naive newcomer to a world he’s been removed from for 15-years. He doesn’t know the story of his and his family’s deaths, he hasn’t seen his best friends (Joy and Ward Meachum), and he doesn’t know how to work a cell phone. In the beginning, he’s quick to pick up where they left off but the Meachums are very much weary that he is after their money and their company. This is due to the fact that Danny would hold 51% of the shares if he is indeed the last remaining Rand. From the paranoia comes attempts on Danny’s life. They try to kill him once and Danny comes back asking for some understanding. Then they drug him and have him locked in a psychiatric ward. Then they try to kill him again while concealing the last piece of evidence that he is fact the last living Rand. After all this, Danny still keeps coming back. Talking about the importance of family and he gains “acceptance” from daddy Meachum. Who uses him to free himself from under the control of the Hand. And all along, knowing this, he keeps coming back to them. Outside of this, Danny is also an embodiment of a lot of things wrong with the 1970s kung-fu flicks that focused on the white savior coming into an area mastering the martial arts and doing them better than the Asian masters around him. That being said, Danny is pretty inept when it comes to a lot of his opponents. But I don’t know if that is because he was paired with those who knew how to execute fight choreography, or if it was written this way. Danny doesn’t do things to seem aware or investigative of this fact. He’s just a white-guy appropriating Asian culture and doing so in a way that is not even on par with Chuck Norris or David Carradine. In fact, the bad lines he says are made to seem like ancient eastern riddles and the way he breaks into Buddhist prayer is extremely problematic, which has a lot to do with oblivious delivery. He is also the same person in episode one that he is in episode eight. He is still lost. Yes, he solved his parent’s murder. Yes, he “dealt” w
ith his anger. But ultimately, Danny is still the lost child who came back to New York. He knows a little more about the iron fist and he has a girlfriend. But he seems just as unaware of the worlds around him. A lot of this has to do with the actor, Finn Jones.
Jones faced severe critique for playing the role instead of a changing the narrative for an Asian-American actor. I was on Jones’ side of this initially because I was hoping for the best. Netflix’s writing has been great. It’s reflexive nature in the narratives have been able to investigate ideas of power, racism, and misogyny. But Jones brought none of this awareness to the role. He blamed a lot of the problems on Donald Trump making people not like privileged white-men and said that critics were out of touch. Danny Rand was bad because Jones was bad. It wasn’t that he was a privileged white-billionaire that made a bad show, it was that even in moments of extreme anger and strife, Jones could not deliver the intensity that was needed to make the audience feel for him. I am a life-long Marvel fangirl and as a fan, this was bad. As I explained above, Jones was incapable of being in a single believable fight scene. His line-delivery was awkward and in the scene when he sees Colleen Wing hanging fliers for her dojo, he immediately begins speaking Mandarin. Which, this may be because I’m a language and culture person, but was pretty weird. Colleen follows the bushido code, a Japanese style of martial arts and the ads were her dojo, again a Japanese cultural expression. Instead of speaking to her in English, since they are in New York, he begins speaking in Mandarin, even though the slightly less offensive thing would be to speak in Japanese. She does tell him this. But Jones comes off looking like a jackass. Jones’ inability to form a connection with the music may be writing, but also goes to his inability to show emotion through his face. In Luke Cage, Mahershala Ali (Cottonmouth) was able to express so much joy and pain when the camera came close to him during musical scenes, whether he was playing the piano or he was looking at the band perform. Don’t tell me he couldn’t bridge the gap between his playlist and his deadpan face. Although Danny Rand is underdeveloped and a badly written character, it’s hard to tell what is the fault of the writers and what is Jones’ problem. Either way, he easily the worst part of the show.
TL;DR: Danny Rand is the absolute worse and is the same from episode 1 to episode 13. Finn Jones can’t fight, show emotion, or make you fall in love with Danny.
So did anything work in the series? Yes.
Although the Meachums were an underdeveloped addition (like almost everything), Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey) was the single character that underwent a full story-arc. He starts off by trying to kill Danny. As their relationship gets expanded, you learn tat Ward was a bully, to the extent that he would both physically and psychologically hurt young Danny. As we pan out into the present and see his life as on of the few people who knew that his father had not in fact died from cancer, we see that his expressions of anger and violence have to do with his father. He tries to keep the company safe because it’s what daddy Meachum wanted and he is prepared to kill and die for his father. Hiding the bodies of some of his father’s kills, but all the while, his mind is slowly slipping. Ward slowly spirals into addiction the more unhinged and violent Harold becomes, the more he uses prescription drugs to deal. Ultimately resulting in using the new synthetic heroin pushed by Madame Gao. He then kills his father, suffers a break, and when his father comes back to life, he tries to flee the Meachum responsibilities but he is locking in a rehab ward to detox. When he comes to trust Danny and help him with disposing of his father, he does so for his own gain. He doesn’t switch to a pro-Danny stance, but rather realizes the danger his father is to him and his sister. But in the end Ward is better and he is looking to work more with Danny, to be the Meachum and the Rand that their fathers should have been. Character development. Finally.
As I pointed out above, a big part of Colleen’s development is tied to Danny Rand. But ultimately, when she is in the scene with him, she steals the show. Jessica Henwick is able to show her emotions in every scene. She is also strong and when she fights she holds her own against the stuntmen (and she is almost always taking down men). I am not sure how much more time she put into the fight choreography, but it seems like she was preparing for this role beyond just learning a few moves. She is seen training with a dummy, and every hit is fast, precise, and puts Danny Rand to shame. The same happens in the cage fighting and even more-so when she starts using her sword more. She is also outspoken, and doesn’t allow Danny to steamroll her. Kicking him out of her dojo when he begins punishing one of her students. The romance is unfortunate but she still shines through.
As I said above, she is the big bad that is everything. She has been around since before the 17th century, and commands an army. The Hand bows to her, in one of her most powerful scenes, she orders one of her men to kneel. She then stabs her cane (which is a sword) through the back of his skull, effortlessly. She even mentors Danny, as she is well aware of what it takes to be the Iron Fist. In one of my favorite parts, Danny goes to punch information out of her and even though he stops his fist just an inch short, she is unphased. I love Madame Gao. I loved her in Daredevil and I love her now. More please.
Since you made it this far. This is one of my favorite scenes in the entire season. He just wanted some vanilla icecream. Watch it here.