Marvel’s Iron Fist comes to Netflix next week! Is the final Defender’s arrival a hit or a miss?
Let’s begin with the least you need to know.
For fans of Marvel’s burgeoning Netflix sub-universe, Iron Fist is essential viewing. Danny Rand completes the dark puzzle snapping together across the various series, linking together with the shadowy (Asian) forces that have long stalked Daredevil. With tantalizing appearances from other familiar faces, Iron Fist is designed to leave fans ravenous for the combined antics of The Defenders.
That being said, Iron Fist is not actually very good.
The show might have felt more successful if it hadn’t been preceded by Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, shows whose demons may have superpowers, but ultimately wear familiar faces. Iron Fist enjoys no such relevance, however.
This is not due to Danny’s mystical and fantastic powers, nor the fact that his antagonists are mythological (Asian) assassins rather than abuse and deception.
Rather, at its heart, Iron Fist flails because of Iron Fist.
Imagine a wealthy college kid freshly returned from a luxurious yoga retreat, and you’ve got an idea of what Danny Rand is like. The years spent on the brutal spiritual plain of K’un Lun have engendered him with little self-awareness and even less humility. He has become the master of a profound and mystical power, it seems, through the combined efforts of physical strength and a convenient destiny.
Danny has suffered, the show wants us to know, but neither his behavior nor his attitude reflect this with any consistency.
The clumsily handled question of race is another factor. Unfortunately, hopes that Iron Fist might subvert its own trope of White Guy Becomes The Best Asian are disappointed. Upsettingly little creativity has been applied here. Blonde, blue-eyed, and richer than God, Danny spouts keywords of Eastern philosophy like a self-important fortune cookie. Bad enough on its own; even worse, as Colleen Wing is the only Asian character not posed as a villain.
It’s not a good look, guys.
That’s not to say that Iron Fist is entirely without merit. Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing is a tough and uncompromising hero. Like the best of Marvel protagonists, Colleen bears plenty of burdens, but still takes it upon herself to help those who most need her. Colleen’s taciturn demeanor hides not a heart of gold, but a heart in pain, an anguish that cracks through in rare moments of brutal illumination.
Claire Temple is another welcome return, as her arc toward Power Nurse bends toward its conclusion. Though it’s tough to see Rosario Dawson relegated again to the status of secondary character, Claire’s presence, as ever, lends cohesion and gravitas to the stories playing out in the Netflix medium.
Iron Fist’s villains are something of a mixed bag. Wai Ching Ho returns as the chillingly diminutive Madam Gao, whose preoccupation with Danny fills in some of the wide spaces in her arcane mystery. Her stereotypical minions, however, have been seen before on Netflix, and aren’t terribly interesting.
Meanwhile, the Meachum family is so cartoonishly strange that it’s hard not to be wryly entertained. The Eric Trump-esque Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey) stands out as a particularly bizarre example of privilege run amok; his sister Joy (Jessica Stroup) stands a lot too, looking concerned in expensive clothes.
And though comments to journalists and recent Twitter spats suggest that he needs to do more research on the subject of representation, Finn Jones is fine in the title role. Jones presumably plays the exact note of self-satisfied serenity that he has been called to perform. He is cocksure and confident, and why not? Iron Fist is almost always right.
But every so often, Danny’s unbearable arrogance is broken by a fleeting concession to true vulnerability. It’s these moments that prove the overall flawed product. With more nuanced writing and a generous dose of introspection, Iron Fist may have found a compelling path through a landscape thirsty for representation; it may, in other words, have found a good reason to exist.
As it is, we are left with that glowing white fist. For all its brightness, it sheds painfully little light.
Marvel’s Iron Fist hits Netflix on March 17.