Article by: Anthony Florez
Let this be a lesson to the entitled out there, everyone who has been gorging themselves in this incredible age of television, in the time of The Americans, Stranger Things, Patriot, The Man in The High Castle, Legion, The Walking Dead, et al., for everyone who has responded to the efforts of the previous Netflix/Marvel collaborations with an exhausted “Meh, …it’s okay, I GUESS…” If there is anything about Iron Fist to be grateful for it’s to remind us as an audience how good things have been for so long. Not perfect, Daredevil and Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are not that, but they are well made labors of love by talented writers and directors that capture the fun and compelling things about their comic book inspirations. Whereas Iron Fist is a lazy, half-hearted disaster of a television series with no clear ambition or trajectory that wanders from episode to episode without any of the intelligence or humor of its predecessors. It seems apparent from the start that the only research showrunner Scott Buck and company did before diving in to the writing process was to watch the previous series’ and try to crib as much of the atmosphere and desaturated visuals as possible. If any thought came from reading any of the actual comics or watching so much as a single authentic Kung Fu film that inspired the character’s creation, it’s nowhere to be found in what can liberally be described as the “finished product.”
The most glaring issue with the first (and god-willing only) season of Iron Fist is that not a single character seems to know what they want or why they want it. This is some of the worst writing to make it to television in a long time; there is no clear understanding of pathos by the writers at all, which is almost impressive in this way. Danny Rand survives a plane crash that claims the lives of his mother (maybe) and father in the Himalayas and is rescued by some monks who live in the mysterious city of Kun Lun. Danny then trains hard to become a superpowered warrior known as Iron Fist with all the rigor and intensity you would expect from a homeschooled 10 year old child born to a family of billionaires. A real driven lot, those kids. Why all the training? Because. That’s why. Then there is Ward and Joy, Danny’s long lost ‘friends’ from when he was a child. Who were bastards. Ward and Joy alternately drug Danny, try to murder him, conspire to disgrace his claim to his identity, burn his hospital records, have him involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital, try to murder him again, bond with him over past, collaborate with him, and then maybe just maybe conspire, once more, to murder him, all in various combinations that are difficult to keep track of. Why? Why is the instant before wisdom is born, is probably something stupid Danny Rand would respond to such a question with, which brings us to the next most egregious problem with Iron Fist. Words.
Dialogue can be challenging to a writer who has apparently never heard two adult humans interact with each other verbally, so kudos to Netflix for hiring Scott Buck who clearly must be a teenage shut-in with pet snakes and a Japanese body pillow he claims his is one true love, it’s very open-minded of them. So awful and tin-eared is the writing that it’s actually the show’s main draw for the most part, like a series of word salads the viewer has to decode to try and figure out what’s going on and why but in the end, like Lost, it’s largely an effort in futility. It brought to mind Mystery Science Theater 3000 an old cult show from the 90s where the premise is that three robots and a human being are trapped in a satellite orbiting Earth and shown the worst films of all time by an evil scientist in order to drive them insane. Instead they dissect and mock the material. Hilarity ensues. Iron Fist would be the perfect treatment if it weren’t 13 glacial episodes long, there are these spaces in between people speaking, long pauses that seem to beg for the audience to interject with humorous observations, as if the creators intended to give enough time for the viewer to find the faults in logic and syntax for their own amusement. Or the writers and directors needed to stretch out the material as much as possible like when you increase the font size on a term paper to get more mileage out of it, so they forced the actors to pause….between every few……words. It’s probably one of those two things.
Although there are some folks out there defending Iron Fist for not being all that bad, there is at least a consensus on the fight scenes, or lack thereof. The few that do take place are remarkably underwhelming in every aspect, it’s hard to believe how little effort seems to have been placed on what should have been the selling point of the show itself. Instead it’s about a mysterious Kung Fu master returned from the dead to….litigate ownership of the majority share holdings of a billion dollar pharmaceutical company while investigating a mysterious supernatural criminal organization that we pretty thoroughly investigated in season 2 of Daredevil who occasionally does some Kung Fu while educating Asian people about martial arts. Iron Fist suffers from the same problem that Chris Nolan’s Batman films encountered (not to put them in the same category at all) and it’s a real lack of compelling choreography. There’s a tendency for minions or henchmen to be roughly hurried to the ground during sequences which somehow knocks them out cold so that the protagonist can move onto the next victim of justice. And this is criminal when it’s coming from the same studio that produced the bone-crushing violence in Daredevil.
Here’s how an Iron Fist show could have came together. At its core Daredevil is about vigilantism and, in the second season, capital punishment and violence, everything starts from there and informs the story as it unfolds. Jessica Jones is the reluctant hero, the neo-noir hard drinking detective who wants to redeem herself but has largely given up. And like any good noir the characters do not affect their environment, their environment affects them and Kilgrave is the literal embodiment of that trope, brilliantly executed. Luke Cage is about the corruption of a community and durability of the spirit in the face of prejudice and a history of violence. It’s about Luke trying to find himself again after losing everything. Iron Fist, or what could have been, is the perfect opportunity for the Hero’s Journey which is a classic arc in Kung Fu and wuxia. Some critics have pointed out that Danny is kind of a jerk, he’s stubborn, petty, and occasionally an outright ass, and this is perfectly fine for this kind of story, in fact, it works very well. Since none of the previous series were a traditional origin story and all skipped to the middle of their character’s story, Iron Fist, being an almost completely unknown character, had the freedom to be the training sequence from Kill Bill that turns into a billionaire Peter Parker type. Someone not as dire and haunted as the rest of the Defenders, who fights crime because he can and because it’s the right thing to do. Then hire the guys from Into The Badlands to choreograph your fights because this is what the genre can be and what Iron Fist is so completely not. A boy can dream. Is Iron Fist really that bad? It’s at least worth a look, if only for the aforementioned lesson in perspective.