I finished streaming Iron Fist last night. It didn’t outright suck, but of the four Netflix Marvel shows I put it fourth. In order of my personal enjoyment I rank them Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and then Iron Fist.
I don’t usually review Hollywood stuff, mostly because it isn’t a good idea to insult the work of people you are trying to sell things too. But what really started this blog post was I saw one of those Facebook posts where it was You Have Been Kidnapped, The Characters From The Last TV Show You Watched Must Save You… And mine was Iron Fist, so I realized I was pretty much doomed. (Mike Kupari got Brock Sampson, the lucky bastard).
So then my Writer Brain started picking apart why I didn’t enjoy it. So I’m trying to put all of this in a story telling context.
There’s going to be spoilers. Lots and lots of spoilers.
All of the other Netflix shows embraced their roots. Daredevil was a straight up super hero story. I liked Jessica Jones more once I realized it was actually a detective show with super powers in it, rather than a super hero show. Problem there was JJ came 2nd after a really enjoyable super hero show, which gave me certain expectations. Luke Cage went for the same vibe as the Blaxploitation movies of the 70s that inspired the comic and pulled it off.
You’d think Iron Fist would embrace the awesome mystical Kung Fu angle. The comic was the answer to cheesy mystical Kung Fu adventure movies of the same era they picked Luke Cage out of. Dude, it’s Powerman and Iron Fist. Iron Fist got there eventually, but it felt like it did so only grudgingly. The vibe felt off.
The first couple of episodes there was almost no mystical kung fu action. Yes, I know they were trying to build up to that, but it isn’t like people tuning into the 4th super hero show in a shared universe are going to be taken by surprise when there are super powers in it. Instead it was this slow thing about how these rude business people wouldn’t just accept the random shoeless hobo off the streets of NYC as the heir to their mega corporation. Go figure.
Next, the main characters need to be entertaining. These are shows literally named after the main character. That main character needs to carry the show.
Daredevil, solid job. Pros, the actor did a great job. You feel like you really get to know Matt Murdock. Cons, I don’t like the repetitive emo weepiness about maybe having to kill somebody every other episode. (because really, you beat people unconscious by bashing them repeatedly with batons then hurling them down a flight of stairs yet no mooks ever die?). But that emo attitude came from the original source material, so that’s more of a writing pet peeve of mine than something actually wrong with the show.
Luke Cage, the dude exhudes cool. He’s Luke Motherf’ing Cage, and he owns it. They play him true to the character.
Jessica Jones… To be fair, they also stayed true to the character, only the character was an alcoholic with a laundry list of personal issues. Which is fine, but also cuts into my enjoyment for the same reason I can only give you the name of a couple of Stephen King protagonists. But if you’re going for noir detective stuff, whatever, I get why they did it.
The important thing is the character makes sense, feels like an actual person, and their actions make sense as things that character would actually do in that context.
But Iron Fist, oh man. That dude was all over the board. I can’t blame the actor, this is the only thing I think I’ve ever seen him in, so I don’t know how good an actor he actually is. I don’t know how much of this character was on the actor not playing the character in a way that made sense, or if they just wrote the character in a way that didn’t make sense.
On one hand, they’ve got him doing this optimistic innocent thing to the point to stupidity. Only I AM THE IRON FIST he insists a couple times per episode, and then he’s struggling with boundless rage. He’s supposed to have won this super big deal title by doing some mystical thing with a dragon, which all of the other badass warrior monks couldn’t do, but then he’s getting suckered and duped like a naïve clown.
He’s simultaneously supposed to be super competent and a complete idiot. He’s supposed to be this wise Zen master, and then he’s having a teenage freak out. None of those are right or wrong, and you can have an awesome character be either, but pick a direction and run already. Yes, you can have a character be really good at one thing, yet flawed in another, but those things need to feel right. Hell, I wrote Ashok, who is the walking embodiment of clueless murder machine, but as long as actions make sense in context of who they are, you’re good.
Danny Rand, not so much. “I am this super naïve innocent hobo philosopher-BOUNDLESS RAGE-now I just want to be a normal boy—NO I AM THE IRON FIST BUT I DON’T WANT TO DO IRON FIST STUFF RIGHT NOW. Wait I am once again easily befuddled. BUT YOU WILL DIE FOR THE MURDER OF MY PARENTS. Only I don’t want to actually kill you but you will pay for your crimes. Only we can’t involve the police because that will just make it worse. And I say that even though I do not know how this ‘society’ of yours works because I was raised in a monastery-WHERE THEY BEAT ME WITH STICKS.”
At one point he fights a Drunken Master (yay!), only Danny loses his crap and nearly beats the guy to death, and then he’s all conflicted and weepy about it. Make up your mind already. THE HAND MUST DIE-Oh no I hurt a ninja and now I am sad!
Frank Castle would have just shot everybody to death and wrapped this story up in two episodes, tops.
I’m not saying you can’t have a character with mood swings, or they’re a hypocrite, or whatever, but you need skill to pull it off. This felt more like the actor wasn’t getting consistent direction. BE MORE CONFLICTED! YOU ARE NOT ACTING HARD ENOUGH!
I realize part of this is because of the nature of the story, they need the heroes to do stupid things to make the plot go on longer, so they don’t wrap it up in too few episodes (and all of the Marvel Netflix shows have suffered from this). This is also why they introduce stupid subplots, but I’ll get to that.
Yes, a dude who has been raised by warrior monks in mystical kung fu land is going to be naïve in certain ways. But naiveté isn’t a switch you can just flip on and off when necessary to advance the plot. I HAVE BEEN TAUGHT TO HATE AND DISTRUST THE HAND! Oh good, I was literally brought back from the dead by the Hand. THEN YOU ARE MY BEST FRIEND.
They weren’t just inconsistent on the character’s nature, they were inconsistent on his Kung Fu powers. On one hand, dude can fight twenty people at one time, no problem. But also gets his ass sucker punched and worked over by a corporate mercenary. I HAVE LOST MY CHI-oh wait, it’s back-NOW IT IS GONE AGAIN. Half way through the season his mystical mentor (a ghost? Astral projection? A figment of his memories? Beats me) shows up to walk him through one fight challenge, but then if he turned up again to help him through any other challenges, I must have gotten bored by then and been surfing my phone so I missed it.
So that’s our protagonist, what about our antagonist? Having a strong bad guy is really important.
Daredevil, holy crap, Kingpin was amazing. The biggest flaw, if you can call it that, is that Vincent D’Onofrio stole the show. He was more interesting than Daredevil. Dude was menacing, smart, super deadly, but also flawed. Excellent bad guy.
Jessica Jones, same thing. Killgrave stole the show. He had one of the strongest powers in the Marvel universe, yet was the ickiest, skeeziest, slimiest bastard with it. Even people who didn’t like JJ all admit that Richard Hammond’s performance was—wait… I was just informed that was David Tennant. Never mind. But anyways, great bad guy.
This was the weakest part of Luke Cage. Cottonmouth was the cooler bad guy by far, but then they killed him off and brought in Diamondback, who wasn’t nearly as interesting (and the costume at the end was just goofy). And Shades should have been given some sort of power where he could actually fight Cage. That was a waste.
But Iron Fist? Ugh… I couldn’t tell you a thing about Bokudo. He shows up ¾ of the way through the series, does some stuff, and nobody cares. Madam Gao was cool, but underutilized, then captured in a stupid way and stuck in a box at the mercy of the boring Bokudo.
Speaking of the stupid capture… They flew to China. And then filmed everything in some abandoned warehouses that could have been anywhere. If you’re going to have a cool bit where you travel out of the country to a new and interesting location, actually use the location somehow. For as underutilized as the supposed Chinese setting was, they could have just as easily said Gao was at some abandoned warehouses in New Jersey. And then at least it would have made sense why Claire went with them.
But I haven’t even gotten to all the multitude of problems with side characters yet.
So you go to the Hands secret base in China, on their home turf… and there are just a couple of guards with swords. And a homeless bum outside who conveniently speaks English to give you handy plot advice? And you kidnap a Hand leader from their home turf, and at no point in time does the Hand intercept Danny Rand’s private jet which just happens to be sitting at a Chinese airport. I’m supposed to believe these magical ninjas have infiltrated every hospital and police department in New York City, but don’t have any friends in the Chinese government around their home base?
In Daredevil season 2, the Hand is mysterious, menacing, and straight up evil. They’re shadow ninjas who can move without sound and come back from the dead who are digging a tunnel to hell or something. In Iron Fist, they’re a youth outreach program and a summer camp.
I guess Harold was supposed to be the real big bad guy, but compared to unkillable shadow warriors, dispatched without issue in the 2nd to last episode, who cares. Yawn. What’s Harold’s power? He’s mean and crazy? You kill him and he comes back from the dead later? In a fight against a dude who has a fist which explodes walls? That end fight made no sense. Why is Danny having to struggle here. It’s anticlimactic.
If you’re going to use Harold as your finale, make it so when he comes back from the grave, he does so with eerie kung-fu mystical evil powers. Have Bokudo or Gao say something about this violation of evil chi being an abomination, which in super hero terms equals bad ass fight scene. What a waste.
Now, side characters. The weakest part of all the Marvel Netflix shows, because everybody hates Foggy.
I think the reason we get into these meandering subplots for side characters is that they’re trying to stretch the shows out a few more episodes. I would have liked JJ a whole lot more if they’d chopped it down to fit in fewer episodes, because there was a whole lot of nothing in the middle. I don’t really care about blonde reporter lady’s career or relationship problems.
Iron Fist is the worst. It’s like they looked at how Foggy is the least popular character in the universe, said challenge accepted, and gave us Joy and Ward. I can see how those characters were necessary for this plot, but the show is called Iron Fist, not Ward’s Struggle With Drug Addiction. Danny Rand was inconsistently written, but the supporting cast’s motivations didn’t make a lick of sense.
Coleen Wing the Love Interest. So Danny the shoeless hobo runs into a woman putting up ads for her dojo in the park. They hook up (ladies love shoeless hobos). Okay, fine. But then there’s the subplot where she goes to underground fighting rings to beat the ever living shit out of men who look like Owen Z. Pitt, two at a time… And at that point I’m thinking to myself, either she has the power of Joss Whedon’s Waif-Fu writing upon her, or she’s got some sort of mystical fighting background too. Except wouldn’t that be strangely convenient in a city of 8 million people if the one other woman who’s got mystical kung fu powers just happened to bump into Danny.
And it turns out she’s Hand… Because what are the odds? Come on, writers. At least throw us a bone about destiny or mystical kung-fu guiding their paths together, or something. Coleen also carries a samurai sword into battle but doesn’t want to kill anybody… A friggin’ sword. Not exactly my first choice for a less lethal weapon.
Speaking of long odds, Coleen is also Claire’s kung-fu teacher.
Now, I like the character of Claire Temple (it helps that Rosario Dawson is hot). She’s the obvious set up for the Defenders, and how all these super powered people know each other. Only the way Iron Fist used her was ass backwards as everything else they did.
In order to have Claire (previously established as a nurse who doesn’t want her super powered friends to kill people) inexplicably tag along on our upcoming kung-fustravaganza, Coleen says something about how she’s a surprisingly quick learner. Which is why after a short amount of training, Claire is able to Tiger Claw fight against Hand Ninjas who’ve been training their entire lives in an organization where failure means getting brain stabbed.
And you guys thought I was joking when I wrote about Kung-Fu Panda Syndrome in Tom Stranger.
So Claire goes with them all the way to China to capture Madam Gao… At no point does she say, you know, since I watched a group of elite shadow warriors murder their way through an entire hospital and now we’re going to their home turf, I know a guy who is indestructible, a lady who can throw cars, and a blind Catholic ninja, maybe we should invite them. But we can’t have that, because the Defenders isn’t until next year, and this is Danny’s chance to shine (albeit poorly).
Claire’s arc in Iron Fist makes zero sense. Having her stich Danny up, offer some advice, and then get the hell out of the way makes more sense for what’s already been established about her character. Nope. Now everybody is kung-fu fighting.
And poor Davos. Now that dude should have been the Iron Fist. He knows it. Danny knows it. The audience knows it. Deep down the writers know it too (come to think of it, if that actor can do a variety of accents he might make a good Lorenzo though).
The final kung-fu showdown isn’t between Danny and bad guys, it is between him and Davos, and it is mostly Danny being petulant and threatening to explode his non-super powered best friend’s skull, because his friend had the audacity to tell him he should be doing the job he signed up to do, instead of screwing around in America.
Now for some other pet peeves, the Rand business subplots, where Danny is telling the board that they are going to sell drugs at cost because principle… Derp. Just derp. And then this drug company never developed another drug ever again. The end.
Also, I’m a writer, not an actor or a fight choreographer, so I might be getting out of my lane here, but it seemed like the fight scenes in Daredevil were way better. Which is sad since this is supposed to be the martial arts show. I think Coleen actually got more fight scenes, which makes me suspect that actress is actually better at performing cool looking martial arts, while most of Danny’s flipping around action scenes were actually done by a stunt man with a dyed Bob Ross wig. But I have no actual idea if that’s true.
Overall, I was let down. I had high hopes for Iron Fist. He’s actually a pretty neat character in the comics. After the initial controversy when the SJWs were pitching a fit about cultural appropriation because they’d chosen a white actor to play a white character, I was hoping it would be excellent just to spite them.
I’ve heard that the Defenders is being directed/produced by the same guy who did Daredevil, which gives me hope. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But the most important thing is that they don’t screw up The Punisher.