Welcome to I-Earn Fists, the review of Netflix’s Iron Fist, where I assess attributes of each episode based on how many fists they earn. Given the limitations of the human body, these assessments will be made on a scale of zero fists to two fists, where earning zero fists means “bad” and earning two fists means “great” and earning one fist means “okay.”
Scratch that, I haven’t reviewed a thing yet, so let’s change the rules. Fists will now be earned based on punishment that needs to be dealt. If you earn zero fists, you’re doing all right! But if you earn ten fists, you’ve earned yourself a beating!
I’ll tell you why I called this audible: I expect bad things from this show. It’s terribly reviewed, but garbage like Daredevil got pretty positive reviews. If something as bad as Daredevil gets good reviews and this thing gets piled on, it’s probably going to earn a lot of fists.
Before watching a second of this show, I will tell you that I love Iron Fist, the comic book character. I became a fan late during the Brubaker / Fraction run, and I despise his rendition in the recent Power Man and Iron Fist series, where he’s little more than comic relief.
NEW POWER MAN AND IRON FIST SERIES: “How many fists do I-Earn?”
JIM DOOM: “You earn 10 out of 10 fists!”
There, that’s how it’ll work. Spoilers and fists follow.
The Controversy Around the Casting
I’m going to get this out of the way right away and say I’m a white male, and if you want to read some perspectives on the controversy, the opportunities Marvel had to update their characters, the power of representation in pop culture and all those other discussions, there are no shortage of more informed POVs than mine that are an easy google search away. From here on out–unless something happens in the series where I can’t not bring it up–I won’t be addressing this topic, but I encourage you to take some time to read up on why this is an issue and a conversation worth having…especially if you find yourself thinking “What’s the big deal with casting white-blonde Danny Rand as a white blonde guy?”
PERSON WHO SAYS “DON’T PEOPLE HAVE SOMETHING MORE IMPORTANT TO DO THAN COMPLAIN ABOUT CASTING DECISIONS IN MOVIES AND TV?”: “How many fists do I-Earn?”
JIM DOOM: “You earn 10 out of 10 fists!”
Danny Rand returns to New York City after 15 years away, but nobody believes him because everyone thinks he’s dead! This is because he and his parents were in a plane that was presumed crashed in the Himalayas. The wreckage and their bodies were never found, and nobody ever showed up to suggest otherwise.
Danny’s childhood friends–the children of his parents’ business partners–are the main embodiment of this denial. I can’t remember anyone’s names. We learn from flashbacks that the girl was always nicer than the boy, who was a jerk like his dad. Danny–remembering this–focuses some of his persuasive energy on the girl. Both siblings treat him with hostility, but they have fair reason to.
Speaking of people who everyone thinks are dead, we learn that their dad–Danny’s dad’s old business partner–faked his death 10 years ago and now lives in a secret bunker. No explanation as to why.
With no friends and a childhood home that is now inhabited by the girl who doesn’t believe he’s alive, Danny tries to make it on the streets of New York. He befriends a poetic hunter-gatherer bum, and he also attempts to get a job at a local martial arts studio. Upon leaving the studio, he’s attacked by goons he recognizes from the Rand building. Some punches and kicks later, he discovers that the jerk boy sent them!
Danny continues to work the angle with the girl, remembering that she had a heart. He just wants them to believe it’s really him! Eventually she seems sympathetic…but oops! It was a trick. The evil siblings drug him and appear to get him committed as some kind of mental patient.
And that’s all that happens in episode 1! It’s an understandably expository greeting to the series, establishing the characters and the basic premise, giving us enough to know where we stand while leaving a lot of room for the season to unfold. We got to see Danny’s fighting skills, but they didn’t give too much away. I would consider this an unambitious but respectable opening episode from a storyline standpoint.
PLOT: “Hey, how many fists do I-Earn?”
JIM DOOM: “You could’ve tried a little harder, but I can’t be mad at you. Two fists!”
The Supporting Cast’s Actions That Propel the Drama
One of the things I despised most about Daredevil was in this category. Foggy and Karen were constantly doing stupid things, and their stupidity caused problems. The drama in the series was so frequently because Matt Murdock surrounded himself with morons. Foggy and Karen spent 95% of the show sulking, pouting and making rash decisions because of how mistreated they felt.
Episode 1 of Iron Fist was remarkably refreshing and I sure hope it stays that way. Most of the time was spent on the business siblings. On one hand, we know they have sinister incentive to doubt Danny; he’s the sole heir of the majority owner of the company. But the show also establishes they have real reason to suspect him; the company is about to make a major move into China, and this supposed appearance of the co-owner’s son after 15 years away seems coincidentally timed to disrupt the move. In fairness to the business siblings, how many people who survive Himalayan plane crashes wait 15 years to show up?
SUPPORTING CAST: “How many fists do We-Earn?”
JIM DOOM: “None! I kind of loved you.”
Like the plot, this was another area where I felt like Iron Fist was unambitious, but it knew what it was going for and hit its target, as easy as that may have been.
Daredevil is what I would consider to be fake-mature; it has stupid plots, stupid dialogue and stupid characters, but they swear a lot and there’s gore, so it must be mature! Sort of like DC’s cartoon movies.
Iron Fist has occasional swearing, but it doesn’t feel nearly as contrived as Daredevil, and so it ends up actually feeling more mature. Watch Daredevil and notice how they wedge some degree of profanity into virtually every sentence, no matter how awkward the fit. Actual mature writers don’t write that way. It all felt natural in Iron Fist, and I hope that’s an indication of Marvel’s Netflix team finding their voice and their groove.
Overall, this felt lighter–almost like a CW series–which was refreshing. Danny Rand is portrayed as a much more naive and rainbowy soul than some of his other Netflix counterparts, and something as dark as those would’ve likely made a mess. This balances the lightness of Danny’s scenes with the darkness of mean New York and uses the contrast effectively.
THE TONE: “How many fists do I-Earn?”
JIM DOOM: “Only a couple. You did a good job but it was kind of like tee ball.”
This leads me to the characterization of Danny Rand himself, which I thought was one of the most questionable decisions. Beyond being a white guy, Danny always contrasted the humorless rigidity of martial arts stereotypes by being a little more reckless and unconventional, but when the situation called for it, he could pull it together with the best of them and play by the rules he likes to break.
This version of Danny is contrasted with the humorless stereotype of martial arts by basically being a trust-fund hippie. He’s every frat guy you knew in college who listened to Dave Matthews and Jack Johnson and wore a coral-shell necklace. He slips in and out of his martial arts not by focusing and hardening like comic-book Danny Rand, but by flowing and letting his body sweep along with what feels to almost be an external fluidity.
I don’t want to overstate the issue, because while the difference between presentations of Danny is notable, it’s a difference that they appear to be thoughtful about. That different presentation is paired with an appropriate manifestation of his fighting style, so there’s at least consistency to that characterization. Two un-clenched thumbs up to that.
What fell flat for me was that Danny was also presented as someone who was struggling with some kind of PTSD, often seeming unable to hold it together when faced with flashbacks of the plane crash. That is understandable, except for the fact that we are seeing Danny after his time in K’un Lun–after he supposedly became the heir to the Iron Fist. So he really should have it together! Right now I can’t tell if they were just adding that drama to work in flashbacks to tell his backstory, or if there’s a reason that the champion of K’un Lun seems pretty weak and unstable when back in New York.
DANNY RAND: “Excuse me, how many fists did I-Earn?”
JIM DOOM: “You were a little annoying, even if you did give me reason to feel sorry for you. FIVE FISTS!”
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised given all the venom spewed at this show. As I mentioned to Doom DeLuise upon finishing episode 1, I don’t know if I’d necessarily say it’s good, but I enjoyed it. It aimed low but hit its mark, and it felt much more comfortable in its own skin than some of its Netflix predecessors.
Questions I have following this first episode:
1. Why did business-partner dad fake his death?
2. What’s up with that bum’s bird tattoo?
3. Did the bum overdose, or did someone overdose him to make it look like an accident?
4. We already saw that the evil business twins were not above sending would-be assassins after Danny, so why didn’t they just kill him when he fell victim to their poison?