I know I said this blog would be about horror… but if you stretch your imagination, suspend your disbelief and just let me have my way, Iron Fist really is the bastard child of the horror genre. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but horror films tend to be set in the past, both literal and metaphorical. They occupy a space that scares us for a variety of reasons; often it’s the mistakes and dominance of past generations that scare us the most. As well as settings like forests you’re likely to come across churches and sometimes just an out of date aesthetic like in the 2014 film It Follows. Well Iron Fist feels like its set in the recent past, or at the very least like it was made by someone late to the cultural appropriation party. The original comic was released in the early 70’s when Kung Fu was cool and all, but I’m guessing white Americans didn’t believe in the existence of Asian people?! Or probably that Asian people could be the lead in an American production. Either way, it was written way back when we make excuses for people because they didn’t know better or some such patronizing nonsense. The point of this, is that now they are supposed to know better, and yet…
Iron Fist follows rich kid Danny Rand, the lone survivor of a plane crash in the Himalayas, and his return to wealthy New York society fifteen years after the fact. Except now, having travelled to a mysterious land and trained very, very hard, Danny is the best person in the world at Martial Arts. No question, the best, cannot be defeated, ultimate. His supporting cast look like they’ve simply aged out of Gossip Girl and landed in their rightful, privileged lives, sans boy drama. I rooted through their IMDB history and honestly cannot believe this isn’t the case, not a single credit between them. The show begins by hinting at a sense of self awareness, but it doesn’t follow through. During the first five minutes I thought that maybe Danny Rand would know that this situation was ridiculous, and would make some wise crack about how you can’t (and shouldn’t) make an all white sitcom anymore, but what actually happens is much more dull. We follow a poor rich kid, that nobody listens too even though time and again he’s proven to be right, about everything. Just listen to the white man dammit! Even the opening credits don’t live up to the Netflix Marvel standard, it looks like a foosball player has come to life and is melting, in circles.
Rosario Dawson, who’s frequent Marvel character Claire shows up in episode five, is a welcome breath of fresh air – but she’s misused. In this world a millionaire irritatingly wears blindingly white sneakers with his suit to meetings, like he’s just walked off the set of Big. Characters speak in inane clichés in a manner deserving of only the best navel gazing CW teenage shows. Daddy issues run rampant and influence every major decision in a way that even Freud would find ridiculous. Dawson exists only to babysit, to look on wryly as the other characters mumble about vows of chastity, and to inexplicably insert herself into situations where she is clearly a liability rather than an asset. It’s frustrating to watch, and infuriating to try to understand. She is shoved into scenes to liven up the screen and it wears thin pretty fast.
The thing is, that self-awareness I’ve come to crave from shows like this, is sort of there. Danny calls himself a child, a few times, but they do nothing with it. It’s not fun, it’s not endearing, and it never once enhances the dialogue or character’s relationships. Netflix and Marvel have worked together to create a more inclusive, artistic and character driven corner in the Superhero genre, but with the upcoming release of The Defenders they painted themselves into a corner. They need Iron Fist to fill out that particular quartet of heroes. However, I don’t think they needed him to be white anymore. It seems perfectly plausible for there to be an Asian family at the head of a corporate dynasty in Manhattan in 2017. So I don’t understand why. It’s so unbelievably lazy, and that rings true for almost everything else in show. From rich boys with drug problems to women in business, showcasing their skills by dressing up and drinking champagne in the back of a limo with a potential client, who they win over by appealing to their emotions. Essentially everything we’re seeing has been done before, and it’s been done better.
Even the fight scenes are lackluster, barring a few stand outs. Being completely honest – I’ve yet to finish the series, but I’m on episode nine and the there was nothing that grabbed and held my attention until episode 7, which was directed by Kung Fu super fan the RZA. His love for the genre is obvious during a string of fight scenes between Danny and a few servants of his mortal enemy The Hand. Episode eight also has a fantastic and fun (about f*cking time!) fight scene between Danny and a witty drunkard sporting a terrible British accent. The drunkard is played by Jon Kit Lee and he brings style to the fight, something desperately lacking from most of the previous episodes.
It feels like Marvel knew that this would be a very difficult adaptation and just phoned it in instead. They try to overcompensate for the idiocy of Danny by making him too nice. On every level. He demands his massive corporation charge it’s new release medication at cost instead of $50 a pill, Danny admits to Rand Corporation’s possible culpability for a mass poisoning that caused illness in children, and he asks for consent not once but twice from his girlfriend before they have sex. Are these things supposed to happen? Of course they are. Do they happen? I have no idea, because I don’t know any rich white dudes. From what I read in the news though, it’s kind of a rarity. All of this is supposed to make it ok that Danny is who he is, it’s supposed make him likable. The problem is, he makes these decisions because he is still a child, he is naïve. They consistently remind the audience that this guy is unreal. On top of that they lay it side by side with all the apparent wisdom young Danny has gained from his time spent learning Martial Arts and the mysterious monastery. The show can’t make up its mind what Danny is, and it suffers enormously. Is he a well-meaning man child, or a sage master of martial arts? Because he can’t be both and win over audiences. Audiences are notoriously disinterested in people who have it all, and are nice. Especially when there’s a shit script.
So, I recommend giving it a miss, and rewatching whichever of the other Netflix adaptations is your favorite. Here’s looking at you Jessica Jones.
Wino Forever x.