Netflix’s Iron Fist is worse than bad; it’s bland.
Despite hearing the string of negative reviews surrounding the show, I still tried to watch the series with an open mind. I didn’t expect to be wowed, I just wanted to be entertained, but even that turned out to be asking for too much.
Sadly, the dialogue is unoriginal, the premise is flimsy at best, and the fight scenes are kind of boring. All in all, the show is just not a hit. It lacks the careful aesthetics of Daredevil, the grittiness of Jessica Jones, and the cultural relevance of Luke Cage–which doesn’t bode well for Iron Fist’s place in the Defenders’ pack.
With no preamble, Danny Rand–presumed dead for fifteen years after a plane crash with his parents in the Himalayas–shows up in New York City with no shoes and only a basic understanding of social etiquette. He spends most of the first episode trying to convince people that he is who he says he is but he goes about it in literally the worst ways possible: by breaking and entering, kidnapping, and beating up scores of security guards who are given very little choice but to assume that Danny is homeless and/or crazy based on his behavior.
And his behavior is precisely the reason why this series doesn’t work.
DANNY RAND IS THE ‘INVINCIBLE’ MAN-CHILD
Now, plot and casting choice aside, from the fist scene there is a complaint to be had with inconsistent characterization. Although it makes sense that Danny would come back to New York expecting everything to be the same as it was before he left, it doesn’t play out well. Danny’s entitled assumption that well yeah the company SHOULD be mine doesn’t track at all with the rest of his character choices. He seems to understand the importance of name and status and money, without actually wanting any of those things. Nothing about his character’s motivations are ever that clearly defined.
Meanwhile, he’s swinging wildly across the emotional spectrum, grinning one second, trashing computer monitors the next. He lashes out when people don’t believe him, forces his way into buildings when he’s asked to leave, and he’s completely baffled when he’s rightly called out for being a bully. He’s hostile, condescending, and manipulative–albeit unintentionally although that doesn’t make it better.
Not to mention that the first three women he meets in New York literally have to threaten him with physical bodily harm to get him to leave them alone and they are absolutely justified in feeling uncomfortable around him. Danny is immature at best and dangerous at worst.
At the very least, Danny acts like someone who actually should be considering some form of mental health treatment.
All of which is to say that Danny Rand is a ten-year-old in a twenty-five year-old’s body.
And not in the way that people throughout the series keep likening Danny to a child to demean and belittle him, I mean literally. He literally behaves with all the maturity of someone who received severe head trauma at the age of ten and hasn’t matured mentally or emotionally since.
Which makes sense when you consider the fact that Danny was removed from society at a very impressionable age and raised into adulthood in the isolation of a magical monastery while training to become the ultimate warrior. He had to go through puberty without the judgment of his peers to temper and hone his behavior and attitude. Of course he has the mental fortitude of someone who was raised to believe that abuse and suffering are good for you with all the real-world discipline of a child throwing a tantrum.
No wonder he’s confused all the time.
Now, this could all very well be speculation, as I haven’t found any interviews citing this as a specific character choice by either the actor or director, but honestly, it’s the only thing that would make this character remotely redeemable.
Because it’s not a bad place for a character to start emotionally–provided that character is actually forced to grow up, but Danny isn’t. Not really.
Despite how badly Danny treats the people around him, they rarely call him out on it, and even when they do, they still enable his behavior. It’s like everyone decided that making Danny a better person isn’t their responsibility so they just foist him off onto the next person like a bizarre game of pass the baton. And as far as I can tell, the justification is that everyone can see his good intentions. It’s like everyone somehow knows that he is the protagonist–and therefore ultimately infallible–but what it ends up feeling like is bad writing.
Danny is constantly messing up and disappointing everyone but instead of making him seem human, it just serves to make him seem really, really bad at everything. Particularly the one thing he’s supposed to be good at: defeating the Hand.
He had one job. To protect K’un Lun. But because apparently being the magical protector of heaven isn’t enough for Danny, he also has to take back his billion dollar inheritance–despite the fact that he immediately forgets about it the second his first responsibility comes back to bite him.
Ultimately, all of Danny’s life choices can be summed up with the phrase: “Danny made a poor decision.”
And at first, his childishness seems like a unique trait, however, the further into the series you get, the more you realize that no one is capable of making a rational decision or behaving maturely in any situation. Every argument results in violence and name calling like children on a playground and Claire is left playing the reluctant babysitter who can’t control her charges.
Until the final episode throws everything out the window and starts fresh with all the characters having already adjusted to their new circumstances; Danny and Ward deal with their mutual daddy issues in an abrupt moment of brotherly bonding, Davos and Joy have decided to become super villains after both realizing that Danny is–naturally–responsible for ruining their lives, and Claire gets one more chance to tell Danny how “effed up” he is.
IN MARVEL’S DEFENSE
Did we really need to witness this half-hearted journey of self-discovery?
The problem isn’t that Iron Fist is a bad show. Sure there are any number of ways that the show could have been better, but to be honest, Marvel just probably shouldn’t have bothered making it at all.
By the end of the first episode of Daredevil, the audience knows that Matt Murdock is a lawyer who understands that sometimes the system doesn’t help people who need it the most. Jessica Jones takes a little longer to get the point, but it’s still clear early on; trauma takes time to heal and sometimes you have to face your demons head in order to destroy them and move forward. Then Luke Cage blew both of those away by having an open and frank discussion about black culture and racism and current events, recognizing the significance of having a “bulletproof brother.”
All we get with Iron Fist is a Mega-Rich, White Man-Child who is presumed dead, learns martial arts and other unique skills, before coming back to fight for his old life and protect his city. Aside from managing to tie together a few loose ends left by the other three shows, Iron Fist contributes very little to the Netflix MCU in any meaningful kind of way beyond the introduction of Danny’s character and (hopefully) providing a foundation for a new level of emotional maturity to come.
After all, Daredevil had already provided the set up for Madam Gao and the Hand being in New York. There was already plenty of reason for Danny to show up. Instead, we get an Iron Fist who leaves his sacred duty to protect K’un Lun for no other reason than… he didn’t want to do it anymore? At least if he’d been sent specifically to keep the Hand from gaining a foothold in New York, that would have given the show more direction, instead of having the audience aimlessly follow Danny around while he questions his place in the world.
Well, with a tentative release date of May 2017, at least we don’t have to wait long to see the results.
I for one am still optimistic that, despite one pretty serious misstep, The Defenders still has the potential to be great, or at the very least, fun. After seeing what each of these ragtag, would-be-heroes can do alone, it will be interesting to watch them have to learn to work together to defeat an enemy from another realm and save the world.
Nope, still not it. Hang on.
There we go.