I am not the first person, the last person, and I won’t be the best person to talk about how Iron Fist was mismanaged in terms of casting and production. It was. I watched it (so you might not have to) and I’ll confirm that reports of its use of racist tropes and uninspiring fight choreography and cinematography have not been exaggerated.
But like I said, I’m not the best person to talk at length about some of these issues. Let me direct you to the work of people who’ve expressed some of this better than I ever could here and here. If you want to do your own leg work, any semi-vague google search will lead you to tons of articles to parse through at your leisure.
What I can talk about with some degree of confidence is my experience watching it just as a Marvel fan, so that’s what I’m going to focus on.
The first season of Daredevil was critiqued pretty heavily for being slow-paced. While I didn’t necessarily feel that way about it, it seemed as if the Marvel team took that to heart and the subsequent Daredevil season as well as Jessica Jones and Luke Cage all started off with a bit more speed to the narrative. Iron Fist made the first few episodes of Daredevil season one look balls to the wall, NASCAR pit stop frantic.
It picked up, eventually, maybe around episode 8 or 9? (Of a 13 episode season!!) But it didn’t feel like a natural progression or like the pay off of a tense build up until that point (which season one Daredevil did). This felt like they were writing a different show.
I don’t know how some of the things I saw weren’t scrapped in like the first draft of the script (I am very curious to see the first drafts, though.) I mean this very literally — there are lines of dialogue that fit in with my first creative writing assignment from 7th grade on top of structural inconsitencies and bizarre characterization shifts that seem to change with whatever direction the wind blows. I’m sure part of this, in Danny’s case, anyway, was them trying to show the dichotomy of a man who was stunted in many ways as a ten year old while also being “wise” or whatever from his years of training to become the Iron Fist. But there was so little nuance and consistency in how this was dealt with it just felt more like they couldn’t make up their minds about if Danny was a wizened guru who preached “respect in the dojo” (not that he could be assed to show any himself) and “detachment as strength” and chi alignment (which he conveniently forgot towards the end…funny how that happens…) or if he was a naive boy in a (strong?) man’s body. (Question mark intended, because even though you have to suffer through Iron Fist‘s lackluster fight scenes, you don’t ever really see Danny “show out.” I don’t know how strong that Iron Fist of his is, in real people terms, because I don’t think their writing team ever came to a decision about that themselves. He can use it sometimes? Except when he can’t? It’s strong but not that strong? It changes every episode, sometimes several times throughout an episode.)
If we can detour slightly for a moment: the only character who had anything resembling a character arc or growth was Ward Meachum, and I can’t tell you how irritated I was to be even sort of rooting for his Patrick Bateman impersonating ass by the end of it (the very end of the last episode aside, but maybe not for the reason you’d guess). I am especially irritated but not surprised at how the fandom seems to be running with this at lightspeed and woobifying him to a degree that boggles even my jaded ass. (Going in the tumblr tag was a mistake.) The MCU seems to be very good at creating lanky haired semi-villians (it seems too generous to call some of them “anti-heroes”) for folks to latch onto, but somehow they can’t manage to avoid Claire Temple’s character assassination after building her up to be so amazing in 3 series so far.
Yes, that’s another thing to be mad about. Claire Temple stopped being a person of her own accord and started being some string along puppet conveiently there to fix dumbass-induced boo-boos. Actually, Iron Fist treated women badly generally. (Here’s a good article about “Slapping The Joker” with regards to Joy Meachum. It might be the only article of substance you see on Joy, considering she could have been very easily replaced by a reasonably attractive lamp in a wig and not made much difference to the plot.) Marvel and the MCU have been far from perfect in this regard, but the Netflix series they’ve produced have in many ways been better than, say, Joss Whedon’s Avengers films. 🙂 Iron Fist is a huge step backwards in this regard — Colleen is a cardboard approximation of a stiff-upper lip when first introduced, and falls into a strangely irrational puddle of goo with regards to Danny with no build up or explanation. She’s a hard-ass, then she’s a lovesick fool. That’s the pattern most of the characters follow.
The main problem, I think, is they are trying to arrange these characters around a (weak) plot instead of trying to engage these characters with the plot or even, dare I say, have their actions and decisions shape it in a decisive way. This among other things leaves you wholly uninvested in either the plot or characters because there’s a feeling that it doesn’t really matter either way.
This is to say nothing of the fact that some of these characters are just portrayed poorly. Like, the acting is noticeably bad, espeically with Finn Jones (our Danny Rand), and that’s not even something I usually notice. In fact, one of the only characters who was notably handled well was Ward; Tom Pelphrey is one of the few problems I don’t have with this show. But like I said before, that in and of itself pisses me off 🙂
I’m concerned doubly about all of this when I think of the upcoming Defenders series: I don’t know how what they’ve built in this series is gonna gel with the others. The Mary Sue pointed out, for example, that Danny’s whiny, white male entitlement is something Jessica Jones actively despises, and with good reason. This isn’t to say I wouldn’t enjoy seeing that dynamic played out and explored; it might be an opportunity to give Danny space in the narrative to gain some self-awareness — I just doubt it will get airtime. I’m concerned they’re going to sweep all of these shortcomings and inconsistencies and weaknesses under the rug instead of addressing them which has historically never worked out in the Cinematic Universe they’ve created.
I explained Iron Fist to my coworker like this: “everything you would think would happen in Iron Fist comes to pass in Iron Fist.” I think it might be the one series you could skip on before starting Defenders in August. Re-watch Luke Cage instead, listen to that bomb soundtrack, and forget that Marvel ever spent millions of dollars on this show.
In sum: I am disappointed, but not surprised.