…but not that good and discordant with its related shows.
Marvel’s Netflix TV shows will gain a sixth show in August with the release of “The Defenders” – the grity TV equivalent of The Avengers. Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist in a single show, fighting bad guys together. For completeness sake, I thought I’d watch Iron Fist despite the lukewarm reviews and whitewashing controversies.
It was OK, in some ways quite good. There are several suitably bonkers martial arts sequences, it has a very earnest commitment to being very silly with a straight face and David Wenham is always fun to watch, and the story rattles along with less padding than the otherwise superios Luke Cage series had.
Finn Jones plays the role well…I think…but that’s only if you assume if the plan was to have your central character be a guiless jerk prone to tantrums. I really do think that was the plan but the proposition of spending several hours with a billionaire man-child is not an enticing one. Go along with that notion, that Danny Rand aka The Iron Fist is really just a twelve year old kid who hasn’t matured emotionally in the past 15 years, and the show makes sense in isolation. It is a silly, goofy, male-wish-fulfillment kung-fu show. If it was a kids cartoon, I think I’d love it.
The supporting cast is good, particulalry Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing and David Wenham as the corporate patriarch Harold Meechum. Rosaria Dawson’s Claire Temple continues in her role as the nurse who connects each of the four TV shows together but she feels a little out of place here. Mainly, I think because the show is just tonally so different from the other three. Daredevil (at least season 1), Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, each took superhero stories as character led shows, with deeply flawed adults. The sex, blood and brutal violence marked them as ‘adult’ shows but also the deeper themes and settings. Iron Fist doesn’t lack personal growth of its characters but it is on a more superficial level.
There is some attempt with David Wenham to create that same sense of over-arching bad guy who is an inherently tragic figure but even he is more cartoonish than the other shows. There are hints at deeper ideas – particularly the notions of privelege and wealth but these are never really explored. The closest we get is Ward and Joy Meechum, Harold Meechum’s grown up children and chief executives of his business have a vague Trump-kids look to them.
The back story is what it is. Young Danny Rand is rescued from the wreckage of a aircraft crash by the warrior monks of K’un-Lun – a Shangri-La knock-off that is only accesible to our plane of existance every 15 years. There Rand trains to become the Iron Fist partly motivated by his own resemblance to an ancient prophesy. Having accomplished this goal, he leaves to find his old life. The cliches and stereotypes become unavoidable and really, the whole thing needed a new or subverted premise from the ground up. Notably, for Rand’s old friend from K’un-Lun and fellow warrior monk Davos, they cast Sacha Dhawan: an English actor of Indian descent (who gets to keep his North of England* accent). Davos’s plot line is that he feels he should have been the Iron Fist and…well, yeah that would have been kind of brilliant. The son of an ethnically Indian business family apparently comes back from the dead and has a bunch of kung-fu powers? Sure why not?
When the show’s casting was announced, the choice was presented as a false dilemma: cast a Chinese-American actor and reinforce a cliche or cast a white actor and whitewash the role. Firstly the who was never going to avoid the cliches of martial arts – they are part of the aesthetic it was trying to capture (just as Luke Cage as a show wanted to capture some of the aesthetics of Blaxploitation movies). Secondly, the casting choice is not stereotyped-ethnicity versus white but a whole range of different choices.
I shan’t dwell further on what might have been. Iron Fist is very much not Jessica Jones, it isn’t as dark or as deep or even as funny. Maybe that isn’t a fair comparison given that Iron Fist is just a goofy comic book take on 70’s martial arts movie but given the shared micro-universe both shows inhabit, it’s a comparison we have to make.
*[Lots of secret Himalayan paradises have a north]