I've seen criticisms about cultural appropriations and such. I understand intellectually that this is a problem. I know that no art is made in a void, and with similar controversies popping up around other properties like Ghost In The Shell, Iron Fist was bound to take some heat for it. However, I'm a white guy who thinks kung fu (and martial arts in general) are fun to watch. It doesn't actually bother me. That's my lens; you know where I'm at.
What I know about Danny Rand (aka The Iron Fist) is that he is perpetually a fish out of water. A white kung fu master. A Buddhist-esq billionaire. A playboy with a chastity vow. If all good comic heroes are a metaphor for Jungian archetypes, Iron Fist is about the struggle to do what you're told you can't, and the conflict between spirituality and materialism. One of my favorite traits of this character is that he doesn't even seem to realize his money and his religion are at odds with each other.
But. I don't think this first season delivers on any of that. In fact, I found it hard to identify with anything about Danny Rand. With Daredevil, you see a flawed person struggle to maintain his life while he attempts to do the right thing. With Jessica Jones you watch someone take responsibility for her wrong doings while confronting those who have wronged her. Luke Cage is about building community by being as virtuous as possible, in face of corruption. Daredevil season two shows you someone second guessing the path they're on - what is the difference between Daredevil and The Punisher? Should Daredevil take the law in to his own hands? If you spend any time thinking about super heroes, that is a compelling tale.
With Iron Fist we get... uh. A rich guy trying to reclaim his place in the world. Maybe a bad story about family? I'm not sure. I'll probably watch it again before Defenders to see if I missed something, but as it stands this is a show about watching martial artists fake punch each other, I couldn't find anything to latch on to. Also, I thought season 1 of Daredevil did a better job delivering on the fight sequences. That's not to say there weren't great fights. I particularly liked the fight with the drunken boxer. I never get tired of seeing that style.
Then there are the plot holes they asked me to swollow. The soon-to-be Night Nurse (Claire Temple, played by Rosario Dawson who continuously knocks it out of the park) happens to find herself in Iron Fist's life. She knows he's going against The Hand. She knows Daredevil is also fighting The Hand. She does.... nothing with this knowledge. Even though she proclaims "You can't go against them on your own!" to both characters.
Jeri Hogarth (played by Carrie-Anne Moss who nails the role) ALSO KNOWS ALL OF THESE SUPERHEROS. You couldn't see it, but my arms were flaying about in exasperated motions as I wrote that. Clearly Claire will put The Defenders in touch with each other, and Jeri will provide some logistics. But after four seasons of dancing around it, after Luke Cage essentially inherits a venue for them, after Danny Rand appears with all the money needed... there is no reason to prevent this group from coming together the moment it's obvious The Hand are still in New York.
|Pictured: Harvey Dent aka Two Race. I'll see myself out.|
(Edit: Since this was written I have spoken to some Asian friends of mine to hear their concern. Their complaint, rightly, is that there are not many Asian heroes shown in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some pop up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Colleen Wing are about all they have going for them. It's not much better in the comics, and they view Danny Rand as a hold over from a particularly racist time in Marvel's history.)
Anyway, Iron Fist asks the audience for a lot, and it does not reward them for it. It makes me wish they combined Iron Fist with The Defenders, a lot of my problems would have been resolved by making him a narrative supporting character and an action sequence heavy.
Fun fact, The Incredible Hulk was an original Defender. He gets namechecked a lot in the Netflix shows. Sure would be cool if they were given license to use him for the Netflix shows since it seems unlikely that he'll get another solo movie. Oooh, and Hogarth could hire on Jennifer Walters (She-Hulk) to handle vigilante related cases! I would LOVE to watch a She-Hulk courtroom drama. Season 2 of Daredevil already proved that is compelling television.