I’ve been struggling with Marvel’s Iron Fist on Netflix for a number of reasons, some of which I spoke about earlier in the week. My biggest issue has been how different it is from the previous Netflix series that have come before, at least based on my viewing of the first four episodes. We will be reviewing the whole series in time, in four episode segments. I suppose I should preface this with a disclaimer: I’ve been reading comics my whole life, including Iron Fist comics. I’m also a huge fan of Kung Fu and other martial arts films, so if you’re going to disagree with my review, be a little bit more creative with your insults and take this these facts into account. This is our review of the first four. Spoilers will absolutely follow.
It’s Mystery Box Storytelling
So my biggest struggle with the opening of the series is that it’s written like an Abram’s show. It follows in the legacy of JJ Abram’s famous “Mystery Box” TED Talk. I have a number of issues with this type of storytelling, but it can be a really effective tool given the proper story. The problem with Iron Fist, is that we already know the answers to all the mysteries before the show even starts, and the series does nothing to subvert any of those expectations.
Even if I were the type of person who had never read a comic, I would know a few things about this series based on the previous marvel movies and TV shows (and the promos for this show in particular): I would know that Danny Rand is a karate chopping super hero. Yet, the first three episodes are consumed with trying to make the viewer think that Danny might be crazy. Seriously, he even gets committed to a mental hospital. They’re always inferring that you should second guess everything Danny says like he’s an unreliable narrator. They challenge constantly that he’s probably not actually Danny Rand, much less a glowing fisted superhero. What’s worse, they never do anything with it. They spend all this time making you think he’s crazy only to reverse course and accept everything he’s saying as truth by the fourth episode. It makes no sense and is nothing but wasted screentime.
All of this supposed story tension is based on the fact that we are presented nothing as fact by the time Danny is introduced. He’s literally a barefoot hobo when the show starts. He could legitimately be crazy, except we know that he’s not, because this is a Marvel show. When people say they are a superhero, they always are. We are given nothing visually about his backstory except through 1-2 second flashes of monks looking down on him or beating him, but since this is all playing during the whole “is he crazy” phase of the story, it’s impossible to take as fact. This is the pattern the show continues to follow, it proposes a mystery that we already know the answers to and drags it’s feet in answering it. We have no idea what the iron fist is really, even when the fourth episode ends other than “the only thing that can defeat the hand,” but based on how often he gets owned by random goons, he’s not defeating anyone. It feels a bit like watching season one of Lost after watching the last season.
For instance, we all know that the big threat to New York is the Hand, because if you’re watching Iron Fist you’ve watched Daredevil. So you and Danny are the only people who understand the threat that the Hand presents. You also know who Madame Gao is, but the show takes pains to hide Madame Gao in the shadows, and they also take pains to keep the Hand and Danny away from each other for four episodes. Yet, we already have a pretty good idea of what the Hand are up to before they even literally start asking what the Hand is doing with Rand in episode 4. It’s asinine. It’s like the writers didn’t actually bother to watch Daredevil before writing this show.
This Undercut’s Danny’s Character
Because Danny is so closely related to the purported mysteries of the show, this results in Danny himself being a mystery himself, which totally undercuts his emotional arch. By episode 4, we have no idea why Danny is actually in New York, why he cares about reclaiming his birthright, what the Iron Fist is, or basically anything that happened to him between the plane crash and the time he arrives in New York. What we do know is told through Danny’s mouth, but because the show has spent so much time challenging Danny’s sanity there’s a natural urge to take what he says with a grain of salt. Therefore the show violates a primary tenant of storytelling: show, don’t tell. This prevents us, the viewer, from actually caring about Danny, and he basically just become a object to move the plot along instead of a person we care about. The reason that’s bad, (other than being bad storytelling,) is that the other characters are so damn good.
This all would have been fixed if we had got to watch Danny grow up and become the Iron Fist before making his way to New York. We would understand, and sympathize with his struggles. It would also really seal that no matter where he is, he is an outsider. It would show that he was always an outsider in K’un-L’un, and that after living there for most of his life, that he’s now an outsider to New York as well. The way it is now, is basically watching Batman Begins after Bruce Wayne shows back up halfway through the movie in Gotham with no understanding of the hell he’s been through.
Everyone Else Is Fantastic
The Meachums, for better or worse, are the emotional anchor of the show. I think that’s probably because the showrunner, Scott Buck (Dexter, Rome, Six Feet Under), is the kind of writer that is drawn to darker, dysfunctional characters. I think that’s why the Meachums and their relationships are so well drawn out and why Danny is underserved by the story. Danny Rand is basic. He’s the good guy, and he doesn’t really have any character flaws. He’s not like any of the other Netflix heroes — except for Luke Cage, who is also a pretty plain good guy. If you watch this show for anything, watch it for the Meachums. They are just great, complex characters, and their actors are great at selling their emotional/moral complexities. The problem with this is, of course, that this shouldn’t be their show.
Why Is This Show So Lame?
So the Iron Fist comics are super weird, like Doctor Strange weird. That’s part of why I thought they would hold off on putting this show out until Doctor Strange came out so that the audience would get used to the mystically weird. The show, however, doesn’t even approach the level of weird that the comics get to. I mean, there’s sentient dragons, aliens, demons, and every other sort of mystical beings. Instead, he might make his fist glow for a couple of seconds every other episode. It’s weak sauce.
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- Is it just me, or do the Hand look very different from the Hand in Daredevil. Did they watch Daredevil? Seriously?
- Madame Gao, up until this show, was not a part of the Hand. It was Nobu who was in charge of the Hand in New York. Like, Gao actually helped Daredevil take out the Hand. Did they watch Daredevil?
- So the fights in Iron Fist have been very low key, which is weird because it’s about a martial arts Jesus figure. He should be really good at this stuff, and he keeps getting punked. Like … seriously, did they not watch Daredevil?
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