You’ve no doubt read about Marvel’s Iron Fist via overlong think pieces and rants. Now, read the only unbiased review you’ll ever need.
Oh, Danny Rand… The controversy surrounding Marvel’s Iron Fist (now playing on Netflix) has brought more attention to the character in the past year than at any other point in Danny’s decades-long existence. Unfortunately, Iron Fist is an example of how bad publicity is not necessarily a good thing.
Unlike others, I actually waited to watch all 13 episodes of Iron Fist before making up my mind. I’m familiar with the drama surrounding the casting of Finn Jones (Game of Thrones) instead of an actor of Asian-descent. I also understand where critics were coming from in that an Asian Danny Rand would have rectified the source material’s played out racial tropes. I don’t agree with how these issues came to the forefront. And to be totally honest, the critics’ reasonings were incoherent and spurious.
So, let me address that first and then we can proceed with the review.
Lewis Tan would have been an excellent Iron Fist had martial arts prowess been the only prerequisite. Tan played one of the final bosses Danny had to beat. There is more to the role than just fighting, though. Danny Rand is a sad, haunted human being. While Finn’s acting is somewhat inconsistent, he can still act. Tan was good, but there’s something about him that doesn’t convey the level of naivete and gullibility required of Danny in season one. He would have made a much stronger villain. Hell, he’d be a more worthwhile opponent than The Meachums.
Could they have done more with his Drunken Master character? You bet your ass they could have. And for not doing so the writers and creators played themselves. Tan was so captivating while on screen. Unfortunately, the way he went about bringing attention to the lack of Asian representation in media was messy as fuck. Everybody knows that Hollywood doesn’t like messy. If you don’t have the prestige in that town to back up that mouth, you’re as good as relegated to Sharknado movies.
The critiques were often whiny, based on stereotypical media tropes, mean-spirited, and hypocritical. In some critics’ quest to take down Iron Fist for being White (as he was in the source material), they unwittingly showed their own glaring hypocrisy. I don’t want to be that minority telling another minority how they should be represented in media.
For example, AMC’s Into the Badlands is a whitewashed television adaptation based on a 16th-century Chinese novel called Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. Yet the cast features several non-Asian actors in main roles. This was not an issue for many of the same critics who came down on Iron Fist for less. Why was one accepted and the other derided?
Any further analysis of the critiques will be discussed at length in our next episode of The PettyCast. Still, the critiques left a very sour taste in my mouth. Iron Fist had a subtle anti-capitalist undertone in the first season. In focusing on why Marvel did not rectify an issue the way they saw fit, critics missed an important message.
That’s not to say that critiques of the writing in the show weren’t valid. There were glaring rookie mistakes all up and down the plot. One of the more incredulous mistakes came at the very beginning of episode one. A very disheveled Danny walks into the Rand building like he was only in the Hamptons for 15 years. Everyone is supposed to remember him despite his being “dead” for over a decade? Instead of keeping things fast-paced, the plot slows to a crawl for the first two episodes in order to establish Danny’s identity.
Jones was endearing as Danny Rand. Let’s be clear on that. That’s one kid I’d go grab a beer with. It was harder for him to convey the rage necessary to make Danny truly fearsome. If anything, the finale had him and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) looking like amateurs. Whereas Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Matt Murdock (Fine ass Charlie Cox) both strengthened their resolve to become crimefighters, Danny ends up losing credibility as the Iron Fist.
I hope that in teaming up with Luke Cage, Daredevil, and Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) for The Defenders this summer, Danny will find himself maturing fast. I also hope that he will own the mantle of the Iron Fist with confidence. I’m also hoping that Danny’s fighting skills will become consistently badass. Finn is just a tad too slow in his movements, but he’s not the only one. Some of Jessica Henwick’s fight scenes were a bit clumsy as well. She was more consistent in her ability to execute the fight sequences convincingly, though.
The first four episodes will test your patience because they’re crushed under the weight of too much exposition. At one point, we’re shown a flashback of Danny’s childhood that was more confusing than enlightening. I understand why the showrunners included a flashback summarizing the crux of Danny’s relationship with another character. The execution was piss poor.
I need more darkness from Danny Rand. This means that the director has to pull a certain degree of melancholy and weariness out of Jones for Iron Fist season 2 and The Defenders, Fist will need to be a hardened and mature warrior to win the hearts and minds of some critics.
As for villains, David Wenham’s Harold Meachum didn’t come as hard as the other villains in the Netflix Marvel universe. He was sadistic, intimidating, and wicked… I’ll give him that. If we compare him to Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali), he falls short of attaining such prestige. This isn’t for lack of trying by Wenham. I actually loved how malevolent Harold was. The writers couldn’t bring the best out of an actor as capable as Wenham, unfortunately.
The writers did not fuck up on the character of Ward Meachum, though. Tom Pelphrey was deliciously wicked as the money-grubbing capitalist and emotionally abused son of Harold. In the beginning, I hated his guts and prayed that Danny would whoop his ass. The stages then went from utter contempt to sympathy, to somewhat liking him, to hating his guts, and ultimately hoping that he gets a second chance… You’ll have to watch to see if he does.
There were a few scenes where Pelphrey stole the show. My favorite is a scene where his character hits rock bottom. Pelphrey really dug deep as an actor to nail the anguish and desperation eating away at Ward’s will to live. Pelphrey is definitely one of the actors to watch in Iron Fist, as are Rosario Dawson (Claire Temple).
Claire was the only voice of reason, and her frustration with Danny and Colleen echoed mine often. Dawson’s character has also come a long way from living an average life to kicking it with superheroes and saving their lives. Rosario also got her fight on, so don’t fuck with the Night Nurse, guys.
I would be remiss if I didn’t big up Ramon Rodriguez (Bakuto) and Wai Ching Ho (Madame Gao). I would have loved to have seen the two of them spend more time shading each other, each barb more venomous than the next. Rodriguez was chilling and calculating as Bakuto, Colleen’s vulpine sensei and benefactor. And if you were impressed with Gao before, you’ll be delighted with her in Iron Fist. Trust me.
Contrary to what the critics would have us believe, there were some scenes that kicked a ton of ass. One of my favorites goes down in an elevator. The red emergency light tinting everything a bloody, bold red. It is one of the far too few times where Danny looks like he’s ready, willing, and more than able to kick ass.
All that said, Iron Fist is still a worthy entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe… It just needs to hit harder.