I started by enjoying Netflix’ fourth entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) second-tier superhero franchise. I entered in with the knowledge that an awful lot of people had either beaten it to death critically or merely used the casting of a white actor to play a white comic book character to paint the show as cultural misappropriation.
By episode #4, the enjoyment began to wain. The writing is just bad. Not Transformers bad. Not Titanic bad. But clunky and almost as if the writers were using one of those writing apps that blocks out the sentences written prior to retain focus. So many moments where the characters said and did things incongruous to the moment before that it almost becomes a David Lynch experiment in superhero television.
I liked Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) until she lost her mind in love with Danny Rand. Her snarky badass attitude suddenly seemed to evaporate as soon as there was sex involved. I continually like Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple but her role in this chunk of MCU is confused—is she the perpetual nurse or a badass in training or merely the only adult in the room? The Meachums (Harold (David Wenham), Ward (Tom Pelphrey) and Joy (Jessica Stroup) are all complex and interesting, especially Ward, and yet go completely brain dead when the obvious is smacking them right in the face.
I understand that casting a non-martial artist in the role of Marvel’s living weapon was a gamble but the fight choreography involving Danny Rand (Finn Jones) is genuinely terrible up until episode 10 or 11 and could the actor have spent a little bit of time working out? The fact that the arms of a 25-year-old who has spent 15 years learning to fight every day has the muscle tone of a six-year-old kid stretches that suspension of disbelief even beyond the Brigadoon device of K’un-Lun.
There are similar nit picks that can be made for almost any Superhero tale. They are a hybrid of science fiction and fantasy. Sticking strictly to the Netflix series, I can list a host of irritations and plot holes and character flaws with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage as well.
The problems with the Iron Fist series, however, has fuckall to do with the charge of cultural misappropriation. Netflix could’ve cast the most Asian cat alive in the role and it still would suffer from the indelible flaw that is its main character. The color of his skin (while accurate to the original comic) and his heritage doesn’t change who Danny Rand is. The fact is (and as the series starts to come to its conclusion, it is explicitly stated) Danny Rand is a terrible Iron Fist. Not because he's white (the character was always about an outsider co-opting the legendary power), not because he's a rich kid, not because he's a bit of an arrogance twat.
Iron Fist is reasonably entertaining except for one fact: Danny Rand is the most Millennial superhero character so far.
Follow me on this. I used to hate the productions of The House Theatre. I mean hate. Then, one day, I was invited to their production of The Sparrow and I realized it was my expectations of the experience tainting things. I reframed the expectation that I was going to see adult theatre and decided to pretend I was watching a show geared toward eighth graders. Smart, Harry Potter reading eighth graders but 13-year-old kids nonetheless.
It worked. I instantly realized that The House was merely using the conventions of musical theater (the highly presentational acting style, the pauses for musical bumps, the physicality bordering on choreography) without the singing. While I still found serious flaws in the show’s writing, I did find that I had less hate for it, and that counted for something.
Reframing Danny Rand was simple. He’s 25-years-old. That's all you need to realize to understand this particular version of the character.
His only life experience is limited to training to fight monk-students and being beaten. His only emotional training has been to try to ignore how awful it was to watch his parents die in a plane crash by learning how to fight. He exhibits all of the traits associated with the stereotype of the Millennial.
He battles the dragon to become the Iron Fist not out of a sense of duty but because he thinks it will make him feel better about his life. When he gets that responsibility, he leaves because he’s bored and thinks that there is something else out there that will fulfill his sense of entitled destiny. He trains for 15 years to control his emotions but, in spite of the near constant intoning of wise Zen-like quotes and affirmations, almost all of his decisions are made due to his inability to detach from his Big Feels. He is so in control of his emotions, Claire has to calm him down, like, eight times during 13 episodes.
Understanding the arrogance and numbskull decision making, the constant flip-flopping in logic and approach, the “I have a hammer so everything is a nail” mantra, are all just due to the fact that Danny is just a fucking kid changes my expectation of him. While it doesn’t make him any less annoying, it does make the series and his story arc more palatable.
Ultimately, in preparation for The Defenders, I’m satisfied if not annoyed as shit with Danny Rand and his Iron Fist. Satisfied in the (perhaps) weakest link in the chain of events leading up to more of the Netflix/Marvel series (including the upcoming Punisher and hopefully Colleen Wing and Misty Knight in a Daughters of the Dragon spin off.) Annoyed that the character, like so many 25-year-olds, needs some seasoning and life experience before he is even remotely interesting.
PS: A quick thought to the writers of The Flash on CW. Is it possible that "Someone Keeps a Secret From the Team" could be retired as a plot? Otherwise, these kids just look stupid all the fucking time.