Iron Fist – Entertaining, But Not Stellar

This week’s aggressive hatred for Mass Effect Andromeda has become conflated in some ways in my mind with a similar hands-down hatred of Iron Fist. Mostly what I’m hearing, however, is that people are upset that Danny Rand is white like his comic namesake. Why casting him as an Asian man wouldn’t make the story shudderingly stereotypical, however, has yet to be explained to me and I worry that in all the hubbub we aren’t looking at the actual pros and cons of this Netflix show. Because it does suffer, mostly from a lack of passion in its creation that Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage all had in abundance.

On the whole, I’m ok with Iron Fist, not a rousing applause I know. However, my damp enthusiasm is offset by an inspired performance by Jessica Henwick (Colleen Wing), Wai Ching Ho (Madame Gao), David Wenham (Harold Meachum), and Tom Pelphrey (Ward Meachum). All four are definite highlights and carriers of this show. It seems clear, though, that this is a made-to-fit series, not a work of passion that the other three Defender series clearly were.

Dialogue
The biggest criticism I have for Iron Fist is the dialogue and the character breaks. Although you’ll find a section on the setting as well below. The dialogue often comes across as something written for text, not for acting. It is bland for the most part and over-the-top explanatory at others. Danny’s lines, in particular, are rife with cliches and trite writing and it’s a damn shame.

Spoiler (highlight to read):

 

When Colleen Wing and Danny Rand discuss his power and he refuses to show it (?) she asks: “Why, don’t you think I’m strong enough?” This is a character break from someone who has been in-your-face self-sufficient the whole story through. In fact having her be a Hand cult member and turning into goofy-grinned goo every time her sensei shows up is just as character breaking.

This may be the show’s fault or the backstory’s, it doesn’t really matter. If your original content sucks why would you propagate it?

Another example of character breaking: Claire Temple offers to shoot Gao full of sodium pentothal? And old lady? That seems a little irresponsible from a trained nurse. And Claire’s lines especially surrounding the whole going to China thing were just godawful. She’s all about not trying to get herself embroiled with the Hand and suddenly she decides to come with to kidnap Gao? Say wut?

Also, one more ‘sweet Christmas’ out of her mouth and I’m going to start throwing things. That character is too good to fuck up! Yes we know she’s dating Luke Cage, bro.

 

The Settings
The show is supposed to be a kung-fu love-affair but the settings certainly don’t reflect that much. We have Colleen’s dojo which has more structural pillars in the training area than students. Every time I see that I wince at the thought of how we as kids would bounce around the salle in Tae-Kwon-Do.  But even so, the room is more bare of individuality than Daredevil’s living room. Rotten feng shui, indeed!

This is a story that could be celebrating Chinese art, architecture, music, fighting styles and mythological story-telling. Instead, those aspects are sparsely drizzled in and show no love for the subject at all. It seems more to be a badge of shame than wonder and that’s weird for a story about a mystical “Asian” living weapon/martial arts master.  Maybe instead of Derek/Six Feet Under Scott Buck they could have found a showrunner that either already had a passion for the topic of The Iron Fist (which he didn’t), or for comics in general (which he also didn’t) or at least for the cultural celebration (which he obviously doesn’t). Maybe a writer/producer who loves kung-fu movies? Somehow I think that would do much more for the story’s transgressions towards tokenism and cheesiness than recasting Danny Rand.

 

The headquarters of The Hand was just some college campus? Pretty disappointing. At least Harold’s Batcave looks like something The Goblin might have lived in. In fact, it looked a lot like something Norman Osborn might have designed. And visiting China looked suspiciously like visiting an industrial area in the US somewhere.
And all we saw of K’un-Lun was a non-descript (but very pretty) gorge and stream and a narrow path through some rocks. I guess the budget was really tight on this one.

 

Producer Jeph Loeb on the setting to Hidden Remote:

You know, we’ve been saying from the very beginning that New York City is the fifth Defender. We’ve seen Hell’s Kitchen, we’ve seen Harlem. What we really haven’t seen is the high-end world, the financial world of New York, which is such a big part of it. As Stevie Wonder once said, “Skyscrapers and everything.”

…Ehh so, rich folk town to illustrate the kung-fu story. Yeah. So a love letter to Chinatown would be weird, hey? What do I know?

Music
It may be a small part of a TV series, but these past couple of years have really shown how the music can hurt or uplift a TV series. Look at how music was implemented almost as a character of its own on Luke Cage? Or how it nailed the setting in Stranger Things? Or how terrible it was in the first few episodes of Legion until we understood it as part of his messed-up mind palace. Whatever you do with your music on a TV series, don’t make it boring! Do you really need me to tell you that synthetic muzak doth not spell out awesome Kung-Fu-ness?

 

Image from CBR

So why did I finish watching? In short: Colleen Wing, Madame Gao, and Harold/Ward Meachum. Those four are worth spending your Netflix time on this show even if it means swallowing some meh parts.

I think in the end CBR has it right when they ask for a Colleen Wing/Daughter of the Dragon Spinoff. I’d rather see her teaming up with Luke, Jessica, and Matt than millionaire naïf Namaste-boy Danny Rand anyway. All respect to Finn Jones but the character is boring as hell. In fact, if instead the series had ended with Danny Rand in a coma and the Iron Fist power transferred to Colleen then I’d take it all back. \ o /

Sources:

Q&A With ‘Iron Fist’ Creator Scott Buck & Producer Jeph Loeb.

NDTV Gadgets360.com ‘Danny Rand Is No White Saviour,’ Says Marvel’s Iron Fist Showrunner

CBR IRON FIST: COLLEEN WING SHOULD LEAD A DAUGHTERS OF THE DRAGON SPINOFF

IMDB Iron Fist

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