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There is a lot to say about Iron Fist, but the first thing I should mention is I only managed to watch two episodes before giving up. I have been told the second half of the show is much better than the first, but there is no way I will recommend sitting through seven hours of tedium to get there when I couldn’t manage two.
Iron Fist tells the story of Danny, the billionaire kung-fu master. His plane crashed in the Himalayas and he’s been living in a Buddhist monastery for the last 15 years. Now he’s back in New York and he’s having a really hard time convincing everyone of who he really is. It’s not surprising, because he looks exactly like a scruffy trust fund kid who’s just come back from his “enlightenment” yoga holiday in Goa. Apparently it doesn't occur to him how crazy he sounds to other people, so he consoles himself with hip hop on a fifteen year old i-pod (the battery of which inexplicably still works). 15 years is a long time. In 15 years, we’ve already had this plot done by Iron Man and Batman Begins. Hell, Nolan’s Batman had time for two spiritual awakenings in Asia. It’s a Karate Kid fantasy that acts as a teenage primer for those mighty whitey, Avatar type stories, and people find them really boring these days.
This one is especially boring. I’m not exaggerating when I say most of the two episodes I watched consists of this same, redundant scene in which people hang around a sterile office, wondering out loud if Danny is who he says he is. The writing in this is utterly terrible too. One that sticks out to me is when Danny tells a psychiatrist his ordeal when the plane crashed in the Himalayas, and how there was a blizzard and snow everywhere. “That must have been cold”, offers the psychiatrist. Yeah. nice work, Doctor.
The final insult is that there is scarcely any Kung-fu in the damn show up to this point. When there is an action scene it is over before it begins, no doubt in its eagerness to get things back to another watercooler chat. All the previous Marvel tv shows have pacing issues, but they usually fill the time by exploring some interesting themes or perspectives, whether it’s a struggling lawyer’s Catholic guilt, or a super powered rape survivor, or a black ex-con seeing his neighbourhood combat gentrification. No wonder you hear people complaining about Iron Fist’s white protagonist; dated story telling conventions besides, we are used to Netflix Marvel shows doing much better with their leads, and by contrast, poor Danny feels like someone used all the default settings in the RPG character creation and forgot to write in a personality.
I've always loved the Iron Fist character, mostly due his Immortal Iron Fist run, so I obviously come for this show with a fan's eyes.
One of the best scenes of the show is when Lei-Kung the Thunderer gives Danny a monologue. He says "do not doubt. doubt is death.". He turned out to be right, not only about Danny but about the show itself: it's in doubt about what it wants to be.
What really makes Iron Fist work as a superhero for me is the bizarre Kung Fu. Immortal Iron Fist is the character's finest hour because it just turns into Mortal Kombat and Danny has to face all manner of absurd foe.
The show does trip up on this: there's a lot of focus on the corporate politics and shenanigans, which has never been IF's focus (always a subplot at best). But here the corporate shenanigans do work, the Meachums are a fascinating, complex bunch and their interactions are lovely. It's also easy to sympathize with Danny's quest to reclaim his own name.
The problem really is the show sidestepping of the kung fu element. The corporate intrigue was well-done, sure, but the mystic Kung Fu is still missing. The show has an odd reluctance to have flashbacks to Danny's time at Kun-Lun, and this is its greatest mistake.
Given the primary theme here is Danny being split between NY and Kun-Lun, capitalism and Confucianism, West and East, it is absurd that we don't really get any proper introduction to Kun-Lun, its traditions, people and history. We're just told about it in oblique background references.
What this show needed was to be more overt with its mystic Kung Fu aspect. More flashbacks to Kun-Lun, more mystic martial arts, more people dressed in robes, togas and kimonos rather than leather, jeans and denim. While the Meachums are entertaining, the lack of kung fu in their plot is a bit of an issue. You could have had their security chief be a kung fu master with connections to Kun-Lun or somesuch.
Bakuto suffers from the same issue: modernizing. He's just a boring dude dressed like a regular person and acting not different from one. His shtick is so down-to-earth that its boring. I want to see ninjas god damn it.
The show's finest hours are whenever Danny is up against Madam Gao, who is the epitome of "mystic, magic, mysterious and dangerous".
Despite this thematic indecision, it's not a bad show. Danny is a great protagonist, and his romance with Wing is surprisingly well-written. The Meachums are a fantastic Dysfunctional Family and both Harold and Madam Gao are fantastic antagonists. The fight scenes are well-done if badly edited with too many jump cuts, and the plot moves at the smoothest pace of all the Netflix shows, never feeling slow or tired or running out of plot.
But still, a very entertaining show. My advice to the show is the same Lei-Kung the Thunderer had for Danny Rand: You are a a living weapon. Drive all other thoughts out of your minds except this.
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