With Doctor Strange behind us, it was looking like 2017 was going to be a year blissfully free of rich white guys falling on hard times and turning to superheroism. I had forgotten, of course, about Iron Fist. But hey, at least I don’t have to relive Thomas and Martha Wayne being murdered in Crime Alley for like, the fifth year in a row.
My hopes aren’t high for this show, between multiple critics citing it as Marvel’s worst yet and Finn Jones’ poor handling of aforementioned criticism. Then the show’s writers and producers shutting down critics who suggested an Asian American Iron Fist would add nuance to the character, even though they almost cast Lewis Tan.
There’s also the fact that Iron Fist is the second Marvel property in two years that relies on cultural appropriation to develop its lead. At this point I suspect Jones must be inhumanly flexible after the reaching and bending he’s done to defend the show.
As far as I’m aware, the main reasons anyone has for watching Iron Fist are as follows:
- Claire Temple
- To get to The Defenders
- Zhou Cheng
- The Defenders though!!
- Colleen Wing
- Just have to make it to The Defenders guys, come on
In the interest of journalistic fairness, I have not read any reviews. Unless titles count, which they shouldn’t, because Twitter is inescapable. Despite this, I am prepared for the worst. I have taped photos of Rosario Dawson, Lewis Tan, and Jessica Henwick to a Homer Simpson-style inspiration board and am ready to begin viewing, and I’m trying really hard not to think about that interview where Finn Jones said he’s different from Danny Rand because he has definitely had sex before.
I feel that I am now fully prepared to begin watching a show that has been hailed as “a big superhero flop,” “can this possibly get any worse,” and “bad.” Inspiring!
I’d like to say that, right off the bat, I’m not getting great vibes from the intro. I gladly sat through a season’s worth of Daredevil intros because the opening was visually interesting and the music was excellent–three episodes in I was watching the intro and living the “mind=blown” GIF when I realized Daredevil is the physical embodiment of blind justice. Jessica Jones’s intro echoed the watercolory covers from Alias and the instrumentals in it and Luke Cage tie together well.
Iron Fist’s intro isn’t nearly as interesting to watch as Daredevil and sounds like they recycled the building instrumentation of Jessica Jones. Somewhere in there, I’m guessing someone was like, “But make it sound Asian,” so they threw in a wind instrument instead of a piano.
Anyway. Danny Rand looks like that guy who shows up at a 100-level psychology class with two cans of Monster, and you can tell he’s never read the book but will participate in the discussion just to hear himself speak. At the very least, he’s wearing the same outfit. Barefoot and bearded, Danny spends the first twenty minutes of the show trying to convince people he hasn’t seen in 15 years that he is, in fact, Danny Rand, son and heir to businessman Wendell Rand.
Danny’s “Convince ‘Em” technique largely involves beating up security people at the company building, saying “I’m Danny Rand” over and over again, breaking into his childhood home, mild stalking of his former friend, Joy Meachum, and not offering to take a DNA test. This does not seem like the way a trustworthy person would go about doing things, but what do I know. Maybe DNA tests didn’t exist until Law & Order: SVU came on TV.
Rejected and still barefoot, Danny hangs out in a public park, where a nice homeless man lets him use his iPhone to confirm that the public believes Danny Rand to have died with his parents. So far, the most interesting mystery in the show is, who taught Danny to use an iPhone? If he could use an iPhone, how did he not already know this information?
Cut to the next morning, when Danny practices Tai chi unbothered on a public sidewalk. Where he found a quiet sidewalk in Manhattan, I am not sure. Let’s throw this on the mystery board with the iPhone thing.
Iron Fist starts to look up 21 minutes and 50 seconds in, which is when I recognize Jessica Henwick from the photograph taped to my wall. This introduction is immediately ruined when Danny begins to speak to her in Mandarin, which is ludicrously assumptive of him.
I can tell a man wrote this episode, because Colleen’s response is to engage with the random dirty man rather than the typical street harassment response of walking away immediately. She’s putting up signs for self-defense lessons, so she could probably handle herself if things went awry, but most women wouldn’t stick around long enough in an uncrowded area for that threat to come to fruition.
Whew. Back to the Meachums, who are discussing the dangerous threat posed by the dirty stranger invading their properties. I must say, Danny hasn’t particularly proven himself dangerous yet. I can understand why he would appear deluded to the Meachums, but the Meachums are treating this issue like Danny is waging psychological warfare on the company. Psychological warfare techniques being… clumsy assault and asking someone to tea?
We’re not even halfway through this episode yet, folks.
The next step in Danny’s Convince ‘Em Plan is to kidnap Ward Meachum by forcing Meachum into the passenger seat of his own Lexus. I’m now a little more convinced that Danny is dangerous, but still uncertain about the psychological warfare thing. As Ward threatens him with a gun that was hidden in the glovebox, Danny laments that he’s been met with nothing but hostility since his return.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind you all that Danny has offered no concrete proof that he is who he says he is, and barged into a building only to immediately begin assaulting people.
Another thing to toss on the mystery board: Why does Danny know how to drive? At one point he mentions that his dad used to let him drive around their property but I will also take this opportunity to remind you that Danny was ten when his parents’ plane crashed. Is letting ten-year-olds drive a rich people thing?
Ward tells Danny what Wikipedia has already told him. Frustrated and without answers, Danny speeds out of the parking garage, crashes into a concrete barrier, and runs away.
Back in the park, the nice man from last night gives Danny chicken parm. They have a discussion about purpose and Danny says his is to protect K’un-Lun from oppression, which means absolutely nothing to his new friend and reminds me of the uncomfortable current of white savior-ness running through the show.
With part one of the Convince ‘Em Plan failed, Danny shows up at Colleen’s dojo, where she has just finished teaching a class. Once again, he asks her to teach a class and, once again, she refuses, telling him that her studio is closing. He asks her if she’s thought about teaching Kung fu, since that makes money. If Colleen doesn’t achieve sainthood for putting up with Danny’s constant mansplaining by the end of this season, why are we even watching.
Outside of the studio, two of the Meachums’ security guards come after Danny and he fights them before escaping. You’ll never believe this, but Colleen saw all of that. The feeling I’m experiencing is foreshadowing punching me in the face.
Seemingly recovered from his Lexus death ride but having failed at happy murder time, Ward pays a visit to–gasp–his father, who definitely hasn’t died from cancer like the Meachum children told Danny he did. The Elder Meachum knows about Danny, and he isn’t happy about it. They discuss Danny’s return, wondering, “Does that mean his parents are still alive?,” “Who has he talked to?,” “How the hell did he learn martial arts?,” and “Why has he waited so long to show up?.” These are all valid questions that I would also like to know the answer to. More for the mystery board.
Back in the park, Danny discovers that his only friend has died of an apparent overdose. He sneaks back into Joy’s office where they have a frank discussion about Ward’s happy murder time and the plane crash before he realizes he’s been drugged. Danny wakes up strapped to a bed, remembering the moments of his parents’ deaths, and the episode ends.
Look. This show was neither the best thing I’ve ever seen nor the worst, because I watch bad horror movies in my spare time and Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark? It was bad. (I would like to point out that it did pass the Bechdel Test, though.) On the other hand, Iron Fist also did not give me the emotional fulfillment of watching a giant mechanical shark destroy a megalodon.
Ignoring the fact that Danny Rand should have been Asian American, the first episode suffers because it just doesn’t feel as fresh or original as Daredevil or Jessica Jones. Going up against a corporation is pretty much the theme of the Batman, Arrow, Iron Man, Daredevil, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man movies that preceded Iron Fist, and so far it’s not doing much to reinvent tropes. I couldn’t help but think about the opportunities Iron Fist could have offered for varied storytelling and bringing a well-rounded Asian American character into the MCU as I watched. I mean. Just look at the possibilities.
Instead, the story was bland, bogged down by weirdly written dialogue and the introduction of too many storylines. Danny was overly optimistic and trusting for someone who spent 15 years getting smacked in the face with practice swords while learning Kung fu in a secret city. The Meachums were at times villainous to the point of cheesiness.
An optimistic superhero is a pleasant change of pace from Bruce-Darkness-No-Parents-Wayne, but it doesn’t make up for the slow pacing, lack of character development, and writing. The white savior-ness of Danny’s character hangs over the show like a “well, actually” cloud, as does the PR disaster of Jones and the show’s producers denying that they heard or thought about Any Of That while the show was in development.
If you can ignore all of that or live in a bubble where Batman Begins doesn’t exist, this might be your show, though.