Marvel’s Iron Fist Could Benefit from a Firmer Grasp and a Softer Touch

Marvel's Iron Fist

Is Marvel’s Iron Fist a bad TV show? Yeah, kind of. But that’s oversimplifying it; the real issue with Iron Fist is that it’s completely uninterested in being anything more than serviceable. In fact, even that description might be too generous.

I don’t think Hollywood’s whitewashing (the original comic book character was white) or White Savior Complex (perhaps a bit more valid) are to blame here, and casting an Asian actor in the role of Danny Rand would do little to address the underlying problems with this show.

To be fair, there are some decent to solid performances from a good number of the show’s main cast. Jessica Henwick does an admirable job breathing life into an otherwise mostly thankless role; she kicks a lot of ass and brings some much-needed charm and spunk. What I wouldn’t give for a Daughter of the Dragon spinoff show (and those brown eyes — be still, my beating heart).

Rosario Dawson and Carrie Anne Moss are also both amazing, considering how poorly written both their characters are. There are two particular moments — one for each of the two actresses — when their characters comment on how ridiculous everything is, and at that exact moment I was thinking the same thing.

Jessica Stroup and Tom Peplhrey are both pretty stellar as the Meachum siblings, especially as the show progresses and both are given some depth.

Marvel's Iron Fist

But the central character of the show, Danny Rand (as played by Finn Jones), leaves an incredible amount to be desired. Jones’ acting can best be described as “look there; move forward.” Much like Shane West, Finn does this annoying trick where he darts his gaze sharply before reengaging eye contact and delivering his next line, as if to suggest that the character has a lot on his mind. It’s a lazy trick designed to sidestep any emotional heavy lifting. He also takes a lot of unnecessary steps forward during moments of grandiose speeches to suggest false urgency — again, much like Shane West.

The show moves at a glacial pace, is perpetually afraid to raise that stakes, relies to heavily on “are they to be trusted?” plot devices, and features poorly staged fight choreography. All of this could be due to production issues that we’re maybe unaware of at this time, to give those involved the benefit of the doubt. But either way, it’s getting harder to trust the union of Marvel and Netflix to produce anything worth watching these days.

Marvel's Iron Fist

For my money, nothing after the first season of Daredevil — including its messy second season — has really been all that great. And with each subsequent offering, you can almost feel the production costs deflating. There is one scene in Iron Fist in which Rand (in a frustratingly rare moment of actual Iron Fist-ing) ground pounds the shit out of a boardroom. The effects look questionable at best, almost like a leftover concept reel from Quantum Break.

It’s just too hard to care about the plight of young Daniel Rand. He comes off as petulant, naive beyond rationale, petty, and pig-headed. He is brash and woefully uncharming, with not a whiff of a lighthearted bone in his mildly-toned body. His reactions are scarcely believable and his emotions are staunchly juvenile, as if he was channeling his inner Alex Jones. He is deadly serious for reasons he can never fully articulate. Hell, even his reason for leaving K’un, Lun and returning to Manhattan to claim his rightful place at the Rand Corporation is never really explored.

Outside of the initial contact with an ill-fated homeless guy in the park, who introduces Danny to Google, he rarely feels like a fish out of water, which is especially odd considering he hasn’t seen the world outside of his fantasy-realm monastery in 15 years. For all the mystic mantras and hokum axioms, he seems like a reject from the movie Airheads more than the greatest martial artist perhaps alive. In fact, he can barely handle himself in most of the fights against regular dudes, which is perhaps why he never actually takes on the Hand as they were depicted in Daredevil — an unstoppable force of highly trained and capable, lethal assassins. Nope, Danny is stuck trying to beat up a couple of dudes with hatchets or a few security guards at a time.

Marvel's Iron Fist

What’s even more bizarre is Marvel’s insistence on keeping these shows unconnected until the great mash-up crossover event looming on the horizon. Iron Fist makes mention of Luke Cage by proxy and Daredevil once, even though you’d think Claire would be like, “Hey, you should meet this dude and learn a little something about being an effective and interesting character.” No one is talking about the Frank Castle massacre of the city’s underworld. No mention of Kingpin. Shit, people are shocked that a character who died 15 years earlier was able to come back to life and is now parading around the office like there wasn’t a large-scale alien attack on New York City just a few years earlier. At this point, there are dozens of known heroes and at least two people with literal magic powers.

I honestly believe that, had Iron Fist predated Daredevil, it would be heralded as a serviceable first entry into the Netflix/Marvel superhero foray, only to then be forgotten once Daredevil dropped its impeccable first season. But this came out after a string of successful shows that — even if not perfect — were at least above average, or managed to deliver incredible bursts of action or interesting psychological examinations. In comparison, the humorless, bland, and poorly written, poorly staged Iron Fist didn’t stand a chance in hell, let alone Hell’s Kitchen.

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