Was Iron Fist bad?
Was it good?
Iron Fist was fine.
Is there anything wrong with a Marvel series being fine? Yeah, there kind of is. Iron Fist‘s “failure” is a sign of things to come. From everything I have read, the single factor that led to all of the show’s shortcomings was haste. The series was rushed and cobbled together in an effort to establish Iron Fist, the character they had promised as the last Defender before the actual Defenders miniseries was released.
Because they scrambled to put Iron Fist out before they were truly ready to make a great show, a lot of small things suffered and those small things added up to a lot of big problems. Finn Jones was cast months before they started production, which didn’t give him enough time to properly bulk up for the role. It did strike me as odd that Iron Fist, the literal living weapon, is the only Marvel hero yet that doesn’s have abs. For goodness sake, Paul Rudd had abs to play Ant-Man. ANT-MAN!
The fight choreography also suffered from a lack of preparation. Go look at videos of how Into the Badlands was produced. Look at how they prepared.
The actors went to fight camp where Master Dee Dee, a legend in the martial arts game, taught each actor how to fight. They choreographed and improvised every fight months ahead of time. It was as well executed as anything like this can be. And it shows. The fight scenes in Into the Badlands are GORGEOUS. Every fight is exciting, technically spectacular, and tells an important part of the story. Things are revealed about our characters through combat. It’s everything you want in martial arts.
Compare that to Iron Fist.
Apparently, and I am hearing this third hand so take it with a grain of salt, many of the fight scenes in Iron Fist were choreographed THAT DAY! (When writing an article like this, you want to avoid using capital letters too much, otherwise you risk weakening to overall impact of each capitalized word, but indulge me.) SOME FIGHTS WERE CHOREOGRAPHED AS LITTLE AS TWENTY MINUTES BEFORE THE SHOOT! THAT IS INSANE! FINN JONES ISN’T JACKIE CHAN! YOU CAST HIM A MONTH OR SO BEFORE YOU STARTED PRODUCTION! YOU MORONS!
The fights were what was supposed to save Iron Fist. Kung fu movies aren’t known for amazing plot. At best, they are pretty good. At worst they are some of the flimsiest stories in all of film. You killed my family. I want to kill you now. I am going to kill everyone you know and then you. That can be all you get. But if the action is great, who the hell cares?
There is an Iron Fist clip bouncing around the internet getting a lot of deserved attention. It takes place somewhere in the middle of the series and features a fight between a goon and Danny in a medical supply room. The clip in question is 35 seconds long and features 53 CUTS! That is an incredible amount of editing.
Here’s a fun exercise. What is the best fight scene Marvel/Netflix has produced? If you said Luke Cage vs Diamondback, you can get the HELL OUT! (just kidding but not really) The best fight in Marvel/Netflix history BAR NONE is the Daredevil Season 1 hallway fight between Daredevil and five or six Russian goons. Can you remember how many edits there were in that scene?
ZERO! There were zero edits in that scene. And is that because they just nailed it on the first try like the “You can’t handle the truth!” scene in A Few Good Men? NO! It is 100% because Stephen S DeKnight understands the first rule of good action directing: make sure the audience knows what’s happening. Editing confuses the audience. You can’t quote put together the space of the fight, in your head. And if you don’t know what’s going on, why bother?
But let’s not forget about Iron Fist‘s other biggest problem: Danny Rand. He is a mess. And I’m not talking about Finn Jones. He is…say it with me…FINE. No, I’m talking about the way the character of Danny Rand was written. To explain why, I have to spoil the overall plot of the series. I will try as hard as I can not to go into specifics. Look for the SPOLER tab further down in the article to get back to spoiler free complaining. You have been warned.
So a question many characters ask through the series is one the series never really answers; why is Danny Rand back at all? His duty as Iron Fist is to guard a very specific area in front of the mystical city of K’un Lun. Now Danny will tell you that his duty is also to destroy the Hand, the clan of evil ninjas from Daredevil, and since the hand is operating New York and more specifically Rand Industries, Danny coming to New York makes a bunch of sense.
Except Danny has no idea that the hand is even in New York to begin with! He learns, through the course of the series, that the Hand is operating out for New York, the city he used to call home. He also learns that several characters he knows personally have been working with The Hand and The Hand is using Rand as a front for its global drug/terrorism/evil purposes. Danny also learns that The Hand’s training ground/headquarters? Is located somewhere in New York City. Danny also also learns that the plane crash that killed his family and left him stranded in K’un Lun for ten years was directly caused by The Hand.
But no. It seems like Danny comes back to reclaim the company he has no idea how to run simply because he deserves to own it and he is a nice guy. It is either that or the fact that guarding that one specific area is boring. I’m not kidding. At one point we flashback to Danny and his friend talking about how the unique honor that Danny chose to pursue is actually not very interesting and Danny is tired of doing it. So that seems to be part of it too.
And when Danny’s friend from the past suddenly appears to help Danny escape a situation he was very stupidly put in, the friend berates Danny on how Danny’s decision to leave his post and return to his home was selfish. And Danny’s friend is right. Danny should not have done that. We are even shown later in the series that Danny leaving had some pretty serious consequences that he is completely responsible for.
The part that kills me is that if Iron Fist changed one tiny detail, this could all have been avoided. Instead of having Danny leave for no reason, have him learn that The Hand is somehow connected to Rand and leave SPECIFICALLY to defeat The Hand. You see, those two principle duties of the Iron Fist that I laid out before are fundamentally at odds. You cannot both defend the pass to K’un Lun AND destroy The Hand. It’s one or the other. And maybe Danny is the first Iron Fist to break with tradition and consciously decide to leave K’un Lun and take on The Hand himself. Perhaps it is his single-mindedness or his different way of thinking or even his knowledge that owning Rand gives him an advantage none of the previous Iron Fists would have.
That way, when characters are asking Danny why he left K’un Lun, he has a reason. It isn’t an amazing reason but it makes sense. And his internal struggle that compliments leaving K’un Lun can be the classic superhero temptation to become the person you used to be and leave the superhero business behind. Maybe he secretly does want a normal life or is tempted by that possibility but it is NOT the sole reason he returns.
And now the argument Danny has with his friend over shirking his Iron Fist responsibility has some meaning. Danny is an outsider who sees defeating The Hand forever as more important than guarding that one pass while his friend is a traditionalist who just wants to please the culture he grew up in and sees Danny as a deserter. With this dynamic, we can side with Danny instead of his friend, who I honestly couldn’t help agreeing with. Instead, Danny Rand really is the worst Iron Fist ever.
The series isn’t all bad. Like I said, it’s fine. Some of the actors are very fun to watch. 300’s Davin Wenham plays Harold Meachem, the fast-talking secretly dead Rand former boss and is quite entertaining. He’s also an interesting character to watch since he is clearly a villain with a plan but he’s kinda flying by the seat of his pants and has to constantly adjust his plan on the fly. And unlike other shows, you get a look at him losing control.
Jessica Henwick as martial arts teacher Colleen Wing is also pretty watchable. Even though Colleen’s motivations really start to spiral out of control as the series goes on, Henwick does manage to pull a fun and memorable performance out of the series. It seems like fans really do want Wing to team up with Misty Knight in a Daughters of the Dragon series. Sure. Misty was also one of the best parts of Luke Cage. My only concern is that the sequels to Luck Cage and Iron Fist would suffer immensely without them unless of course the Heroes For Hire series materializes in Phase Two.
ALSO, EPISODE SIX IS GREAT. And not like, compared to everything else great. Like this could have been a truly great show if every episode was like Episode Six. This episode features a crucible of colorful characters that Danny has to defeat one by one to save a girl. Each enemy has a pretty clear gimmick that makes their fights super memorable. The choreography is also markedly better than anything else in the series (save for one Drunken Master fight that is also pretty decent). And if you still aren’t sold on Episode Six, it was directed by RZA, my third favorite member of the Wu-Tang Clan behind Method Man and Ghostface (although he might have moved up to two after this).
RZA represents what Iron Fist is severely lacking, someone behind the scenes who really loves the genre. Kung Fu movies aren’t easy to make and the equivalent of seven of them is an even harder task. Sisyphean. And while RZA isn’t perfect, he knows what makes good Kung Fu; memorable characters, a simple story structure, and top notch action. Hopefully, if Iron Fist manages to pull a second season out of its hat, (Oh speaking of hat, what the hell Marvel. No costume? Come on!) the bosses at Marvel/Netflix will go straight to RZA, get on their hands and knees, and beg him to put Danny Dumpty together again.
I am just realizing that I never explained to you exactly WHY Iron Fist being rushed is a harbinger of bad things to come, but I’m sure you can guess. It is because of Defenders. Marvel/Netflix committed to a season of Iron Fist before Defenders even though it should have been obvious that they were incapable of making a good one. This is why Iron Fist‘s failure truly worries me.
Marvel has yet to really get behind the 8-Ball. Even the mess that was Ant-Man produced a good movie. For Crane Mother’s sake, did you see Paul Rudd’s abs? This is the first time Marvel has called a shot and missed. And this was not your average miss. They went down, looking (baseball metaphor for the worst way to strike out). I really hope this won’t affect Defenders negatively and I look forward to a potentially good second season in the future since the viewership numbers for Iron Fist are still apparently pretty good. I just hope if Marvel ever gets into the same position they were in a year ago, they take some advice from Danny and sit down, breathe, center their chi, and really think about whether it’s worth it or not.