By: Tom Magennis
Marvel and Netflix’s Iron Fist is bad. Not awful, but fairly bad. To be fair to it, it’s no Suicide Squad. I sat through Suicide Squad. Seven thousand, three hundred, and eighty seconds of my life I will never get back. An interminable offence against the very concept of filmmaking, a two hour long glimpse into the infernal abyss in which human misery is forged. It isn’t that bad. But it is bad. Normally, this wouldn’t be a very big deal, but up until now, the quality of the Marvel Series, and the films, have been more or less pretty consistent. Well, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Series 3 was apparently awful, but I don’t watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and let’s be honest, nobody really cares about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Netflix series, in particular, have been widely lauded for not only being of high quality, but for being unique, individual, groundbreaking examples of the superhero genre. So for Iron Fist to come out, and be not just bad, but bland, is, to be fair, pretty shocking. We’ve come to expect a certain standard from Netflix and Marvel, and so I think it’s fair to examine this more deeply, to see just what exactly went wrong here. Because it’s relevant to our study of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an experiment which is, it’s fair to say, one of the most significant and influential cinematic endeavours of our lifetimes. And also because I feel like it.
Danny Rand is one of the single biggest problems in the series that’s supposed to be centred around him. In a word, he’s unlikeable. In a bunch of words… Well, look. I’m not one of the people who believe that there was no way to make a good series about Danny Rand, or that they absolutely needed to cast an Asian Actor in the role, but I will say, they could have made the character Asian-American, changed literally nothing else about the show, and it probably would have made the character around 50% less of a complete and utter douche-balloon. As it is, Danny Rand comes across as that guy from college who went on a gap year to Burma or some shit, and now thinks he’s a mystic. If the concept of cultural appropriation had a human face, it would probably look a little like Danny Rand. It doesn’t help that he’s a patronising, self-serious, uncharismatic blowhard, and while I did previously say that the whole racial politics side of the debate surrounding the character didn’t concern me as much, when you consider the stable he’s entering, with previous series starring a disabled man, an African American man, and a female rape victim, yeah, the white guy with billions of dollars of inherited wealth and superpowers he basically stole, does struggle a little to come across as sympathetic.
So, we have an unlikeable, unsympathetic, actively obnoxious main character, and really, not a huge amount going on with the supporting characters than can draw attention away from him. I sort of enjoyed Harold Meachum, and Ward had that cool ‘Eric Trump on Heroin, no but really actually’ thing going on, but aside from them, Coleen Wing is a cool concept, but executed poorly, Bakuto is basically just Ras Al Ghul but shit, and I genuinely can’t remember what Ward’s sister was called. Claire Temple is there, naturally, to keep the frankly astonishingly thin veil of inter-series continuity going, and I have enjoyed her character in previous series, but here, she’s just as hampered by the abysmal script as everybody else, and it really doesn’t help to fight off the sense that her character’s really a little played out by this point.
I really do have to emphasise just how bad the writing is in Iron Fist. To be fair, dialogue has never exactly been a strong point of the Netflix series, but it’s rarely dropped below decent. Here, the rich, all-encompassing terribleness of the script serves as a millstone around the necks of the already bland and largely forgettable characters, meaning they have nothing interesting to say on top of being just generally uninteresting. The dialogue for the most part just wavers from generic grim and gritty superhero angst to “Hello, I am character X, have I explained my character motivation today?” With, I am fairly certain around 50% of Danny Rand’s lines in the first episode consisting of the words “I just want to talk.” Damn is it repetitive, too. Concepts being explained to us that you’re fairly certain were just explained to you in the previous episode, though to be fair, that’s probably just a precaution against how utterly forgettable each episode is. The inter-character dialogue is invariably clunky, and at times almost literally hard to listen to. A bit of wit and charm, or even an iota of self-awareness could have helped salvage this, but what little humour is present here is uniformly tiresome.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject, let me just indulge a personal gripe for a second. The whole idea of like, “scepticism of the supernatural” in the Marvel Universe can just go away. The guy who doesn’t believe in Mystical Monks, is also aware that Thor, the actual Norse God of Thunder, as well as the rest of the Norse pantheon, exists, and has a fairly laissez faire attitude towards interfering in the mortal world. When Colleen scoffs at the idea of Danny’s powers coming from a Dragon, bear in mind that she lives in New York, a city that less than five years ago was being torn apart by flying whales from space. This is a world where a super-advanced AI has tried to turn an entire city into a world-ending meteor. The continued presence of scepticism more suited to our world than to this one actually serves more to break the suspension of disbelief than to maintain it.
The lackluster script builds in to yet another of the series’ core issues, it’s lack of individuality. While Daredevil had a hardcore action meets gritty legal drama vibe, Luke Cage emulated 70’s Blaxploitation and 90’s-00’s Hip-Hop Culture, and Jessica Jones was doing that whole Film Noir thing, Iron Fist has no comparable personality, no defining style that runs through the series. The Fight Scenes were generic and uninteresting, with no truly standout sequence to rival the Hallway One-Shots from Daredevil, or the Crispus Attucks Assault in Luke Cage, barely able to match Jessica Jones, a series where the fighting was never really the central focus. For a show called Iron Fist, the fact that the fight scenes are a bit mundane and tiresome really is a problem. Even the title sequence is kind of bland and boring. And it’s heartbreaking to see, because if they’d had the guts to inject even a little camp, silly fun amongst the grim grittiness, it might have been half-way enjoyable. This is a show about a hipster with glowing golden hands beating up ninjas, and it takes itself so tiresomely seriously that there’s just no fun to be had. If they’d gone for full on Big Trouble in Little China insanity, they might even have been able to create something truly great.
On top of this, there just isn’t really anything that the series is about. Daredevil was about the failures of the justice system, and the debate around vigilantism, Jessica Jones was about sexual assault and the long term psychological torment it leaves behind, and Luke Cage was about the problems inherent in the modern African American experience. Iron Fist? Well, I guess it’s about the personal struggle between duty and vengeance, but that concept’s only really interesting when you’ve got an engaging and sympathetic character to explore it through. And all we’ve got is Danny Rand. Ah well. better luck next time, Netflix.
Ultimately, the most significant problem with Iron Fist, the single rotten beam that caused the whole damn house to collapse in on itself, is that it was rushed. With the Defenders and the Infinity War looming on the Horizon, Iron Fist clearly wasn’t a priority for Marvel, and its creators weren’t given much time to put the series together. According to one of Finn Jones’ extremely defensive interviews, on some of the fight scenes they were given just fifteen minutes to prepare, and the whole series has this feeling of a rushed, hastily put together mess, with no time for artistic vision, or energy, or fun. A cookie-cutter, generic, grim and gritty show, with nothing of any real value to offer. One of Marvel’s greatest strengths is how laid back it usually is with its universe-building, willing to allow individual passion to shape its projects, as opposed to DC’s rushed, bleak, stencil jobs. Here, Marvel, pressed for time by incoming high-priority projects, has sacrificed passion for expedience, and it shows. Every one of Iron Fist’s problems has its roots in the evident rush of the show’s production. In the time allotted, it’s hardly surprising that the script was substandard, that most of the cast seems lost on set. When you know how rushed the show was, and it’s fair to assume that basically everyone on the set knew that the corporate branch didn’t really care either way about the overall quality of the project, yeah, it’s hardly surprising that the end result felt passionless and dull.
Again, Iron Fist isn’t an abject failure, I feel that merits repeating, it’s just sort of passé and inconsequential, and in a run of stand-out series, that really is worth mentioning. Marvel so rarely drops the ball, that it is definitely worth dissecting its failures when they occur. But please, don’t let the more than 1500 words I’ve put into analysing this dud convince you that it’s worth your watching it. Iron Fist is only interesting as a vague psychological insight into the mind of an unfathomably vast, uncaring multinational media empire.
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