Even before its release Marvel and Netflix’s fifth outing together, Iron Fist, has received a lot of negative exposer. With claims of whitewashing a potential Asian character being the biggest issue, Iron Fist seemed to have an uphill battle before it released on Netflix on March 17, 2017. A week before Iron Fist’s premiere reviewers were allowed access to the first eight episodes of the series to preview. Collectively reviewers were very harsh in their criticism of the show. With the topic of whitewashing still at the apex of these criticisms, Iron Fist was also accused of having poor acting, a horrible cast, poor martial arts fighting, and a sloppy and boring story.
Danny Rand, the Iron Fist was always one of my favorite characters. I have always been a fan of the “Street Level” characters of Marvel Comics and I count a lot of them as my favorites. Everyone from Daredevil to Punisher and Spider-Man to Moon Knight lived and operated out of New York City and their adventures seemed obtainable and real. The backdrop was a real place, the landmarks were real, and the problems of crime and corruption were sadly very real (well, depending on which era you read). New York City itself was a living and breathing creature that was always the unofficial guest star of a majority of Marvels comics.
So when the news came out that Marvel and Netflix were teaming up to bring some of the “Street Level” heroes to the streaming service I was very excited. To be honest I came in a little late to the game. I had to wait for my cable contract to expire so I could drop my premium channels first so I could justify spending more money on television, and in the process save a couple bucks. When I finally joined Daredevil seasons one and two and Jessica Jones were already released and Luke Cage was months away from release. I had plenty of time to catch up on all of the Hell’s Kitchen ass kicking and every weekend I knocked back a few episodes. When Luke Cage was released I finished the series off over two weekends. Iron Fist, one weekend.
Now back to the topic at hand, Iron Fist. All of the Marvel shows thus far have been spectacular and have stood on their own and have a sense of emulation of different genres. With each new Marvel show comes a new director and writers who bring a new sense of style and storytelling. They work independently from one another but are also part of the same quilt that is patched together to form one whole and full universe. Iron Fist is no different. It blends into the over all story seamlessly while giving an enjoyable and independent story of its own.
First thing’s first, there is no whitewashing going on here. This is the character as he was created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane in 1974. Of course some things have been changed for the sake of television, but this is Danny Rand. I cannot speak on how it may feel to some people seeing a white person embody Asian culture and martial arts on television. I can only speak on this matter with facts, comic book mumbo jumbo, and my own opinion.
When Iron Fist was created in 1974 martial arts movies were a growing trend in the American market, ushered in later the previous decade by the master himself, Bruce Lee. To capitalize on the fascination of martial arts and martial arts masters almost all mediums of entertainment dabbled in it one way or another with martial arts. Comic book companies were no different and Marvel being the home to more grounded and real heroes saw an opportunity to expand their roster with even more down to Earth characters. The first was Shang-Chi in 1973 and since his debut there have been martial arts masters of every color, nationality, and creed within the Marvel Universe. No stone has been unturned and dozens of fighting styles have made their way to the Marvel Universe, all performed by a very diverse cast. To say that there is any racism in this matter is a little silly, honestly. Kick ass kung-fu is all inclusive within the pages of comic books.So when the masses start saying things should be changed, like Danny Rand’s nationality, it really bugs me because they should be saying “I want Shang-Chi”. Don’t change things, elevate what is already there. And the fact people think only an Asian character should be performing martial arts is a little racist in itself.
There is such a problem with people wanting things changed to suit them when there is already characters and situations in place that fit the bill. Albeit these characters might not be as popular or have the mainstream following as the ones people want changed, but if you gave these heroes a chance maybe they would be as popular and find their way to the cinema or television screen. We live in an age with almost limitless possibilities for entertainment, we sometimes have to seek it out though. It might not be top tier companies, characters, or creators but it’s out there to be found. So instead of wasting time on “what ifs” and “what should be”, use the time to find what suits you instead of fighting to make people create things to suit you.
I may be just a white dude but I have an open heart and an open mind and no matter someone’s origin, that is a trait all human beings should have. Hell, I’m poor (even more so in these new United States we live in) and I struggle everyday alongside people of all colors, genders, and backgrounds to keep my head above water. I work a job that gets no respect and I’m segregated and abused because of it. At the end of the day I can take my uniform off but the lessons I have learned and the respect I have learned to give EVERYBODY, doesn’t go away. I may have a ton of beef with my parents and how they raised me but the one thing they did right was to teach me that the human heart beats the same for everyone on Earth.
Damn, sorry. Back to the show…
Was Iron Fist perfect? No. There are a lot of things I would have liked to have seen and some aspects they focused on should have been glossed over. I would have really enjoyed a lot more in the way of magic and mysticism and a bigger focus on Danny’s time in K’un-L’un. That would have been time better spent than corporate take overs and board meetings. There was more time devoted to paper pushing and stock markets than anytime spent in the other-dimensional world of monks and dragons. Was it to cut costs? Maybe but it was sorely missed.
Another thing that was sorely missed was seeing Danny in costume. I get that it didn’t really need to happen but who cares it would have been awesome. Not all is lost though because we got to see a past Iron Fist from 1948 wearing the costume in a black and white movie and it was awesome. So here’s hoping we see it in The Defenders!
Also I felt when it was over the unofficial character of the series was The Hand. The Hand got almost as much play as anyone else and that felt like that was for the sole purpose of setting up The Defenders. Granted it brought so nice things to the show and we got to see more of the delightfully villainess Madam Gao. Oddly Madam Gao ended up being the only honest person Danny came across in his journey through New York…well and Claire Temple. I’m also happy to report that Danny is the first manly hero Claire hasn’t slept with…but I guess technically she hasn’t slept with Luke yet…and Punisher doesn’t count as a hero…yet.
Speaking of Madam Gao and The Hand, this show had so many villains that danced within the shade of gray. Everyone that was seen as a foil or villain came to the table with reasons that at times seemed justified. That made the show very compelling to watch because so many pieces were in place and nobody seemed right or wrong in their motivations. But the biggest baddie of them all was David Wenham’s Harold Meachum who was the multi-layered puppet master behind the Rand’s misfortunes. Wenham (Lord of the Rings) was a joy to watch and as a viewer I questioned whose side he was on because it wasn’t fully transparent from the start. But as good as he was there were a few stumbles in the villain department but all and all it didn’t take away from my enjoyment.
Now onto Finn Jones’ portrayal of Danny Rand/Iron Fist. I had no problems with his portrayal or his acting ability. Danny’s emotions went from boyish innocence to harden vengeance seeking warrior back to boyish wonder realistically. I heard people had a problem with Danny’s portrayal and the boyish/young aspect of it. I for one didn’t have a problem with it and it made sense to me. While in K’un-L’un Danny had only 2 things to focus on, his past life (when he was 10) and his training. When he left the mythical K’un-L’un and returned to New York he was back to being the 10 year old boy. That was his last exposer to his home and the people in his life. Besides, it was that side of Danny that helped me see how him and Luke Cage could banter back and forth like in the comics.
Another tipping point for people was the martial arts itself. To be honest it could have been a little more kinetic. When your character is one of the worlds best fighters it should come across a little better in the chorography. The fact that he got beat on by low level thugs is okay, it’s a something we see in martial arts all the time…but when the time comes to get all Iron Fisty wow us. There were some good parts but as a whole it could have been done a lot better. Now again, that’s not saying it’s bad, just wish it seemed a little more SUPER. I get that Danny is still learning the Iron Fist and all but c’mon.
So in closing, Iron Fist was good but could have been better. Danny Rand is a welcomed addition to the Defenders family and I can’t wait to see more. I think it was put under a microscope before it even had a chance because of the public outcry over the race issue, that really wasn’t an issue if you know the character and your comic book history. Comic Books are now in the public eye more than they ever were before and a lot of causal observers react with knee jerk response. Over the years companies have been trying to fix some of the broken bits when it comes to social and racial rights in comic books. Sometimes things aren’t broken at all and need to be looked at in another and fuller manner. It’s funny how comics used to be called the funny books and now people look to them for complete seriousness.
I know I missed a lot for this to be a real review and I apologize. I am franticly just trying to get a couple points across during a hectic day. I really did like the show and I thought it needed to be defended a little bit. I apologize if my defense trivialized anyone’s struggle with cultural and racial issues that they may be facing. Believe me, there are social, economical, and racial injustices everyday in America and across the globe that need to fixed. Iron Man is just a show and my statements pertain to it and other comic book media.