DR #90: Reaction to the Netflix Original Iron Fist

Dear Reader,

At the time of this writing, it is 9:03 am, pacific time, on the day that Iron Fist has become available on Netflix. I have it open and ready to play in the next tab over.

Let’s go on this journey together.

What Am I Expecting?

I loved how Luke Cage modeled itself on Blaxploitation action classics—the aesthetics, the soundtrack, the fight choreography. And that was a deliberate nod to the character’s roots: Power Man was invented to try to cash in on that exact cultural trend.

Well, Iron Fist was invented around the same time for around the same reasons. 

At the same time theaters were getting the likes of Dolemite, they were also getting films like Death Promise and Iron Monkey and New Fist of Fury. And those were movies I loved as a kid. (I didn’t see Dolemite as a kid because Dolemite ought not to be shown to children.) Like, picture Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, except if they didn’t have any budget for sets or music or much in the way of a script. The movies that inspired the song “Kung Fu Fighting” also inspired Marvel comics to come up with a “Kung Fu mysticism” character, and that was Iron Fist. So ideally, what I’d like to see is some deliberate nods to Hong Kong cinema and Wuxia films.

Not What I Was Expecting

I’m a little taken aback.

See, I was expecting to do a quasi live-blogging thing, where I write down my reactions and speculations as I have them, like I did with the first episodes of Luke Cage and Legion.

But this is bad.

Like, not fun bad. Really weird and awkward to watch bad.

More Like Awkward Fist

Shouldn’t a Kung Fu mystic like Iron Fist not be so clumsy? Like, take the very first scene, where he’s walking through the crowded streets. The obvious move would be to use our very first time seeing the character to establish that “He is preternaturally good at martial arts” by, like, having him move effortlessly through the crowd by simply always standing where nobody was going to be. Instead he’s bumping into people, he’s awkward, he’s offering non-sequitur small talk to hot dog vendors and getting insulted.

The plot seems to want to be this: “He’s been presumed dead, so he has to pick up the pieces of his old life as a rich executive guy.” It spends so much time on Business Shenanigans. Ok, first, why? Why would you think that people tuning in to a show called Iron Fist want to see yet another “Rich Jerks Act Like Jerks, the Show” shows?

You can’t be easing us into the concept of superpowers, there have been 14 movies and three series in this shared universe. You can start with the superpowers.

It can’t be that you don’t want to put the Kung Fu on screen, because that’s the only good part! The martial arts sequences are actually really good. So good that it makes the rest of the show feel like a bait and switch. So good that I begin to suspect that Finn Jones was cast entirely for his fighting ability… Because acting-wise, he’s not working.

Or Creepy Fist Works Too

He’s weird, he’s off-putting, he’s creepy. If you had told me that the repeated “People assume that Iron Fist is a crazy hobo” moments weren’t planned, but were added in because that’s just the way that Finn Jones always comes off in every scene he’s in, I would believe you.

For example, let’s take a look at the very first scene where he interacts with who I’m praying are not going to be our series-long antagonists, the Meachums. He’s barged into their office, he’s demanding to see their dead father, and he’s freaking out that they don’t recognize him when he hasn’t seen them for decades and HE HASN’T TOLD THEM WHO HE CLAIMS TO BE. On top of which he keeps getting closer to them, looming towards them. I would want security to throw this guy out too!

Rule one of a comic book: Don’t make your villain the one in the room making the most sense to the audience.

I can’t blame Jones though. As creepy as his acting is, I don’t think the suavest actor alive could pull off this writing.

Do This Because The Plot Said So

There’s a thing you see a lot of in amateur writing. You have what needs to happen next in the plot, so naturally you have a character do that. Fine. But then the story just goes from there, and forgets to ask “Why does the character think they have to do this?” You’re left with a story of people doing things for no reason other than “That’s what someone has to do at this point in the story.”

So in Iron Fist, a guy walks up to Danny on the street, takes out a smartphone, tells him “You can find anything you want on the internet” and then they proceed to google what’s been going on while Danny has been missing and presumed dead. And then he just… leaves.

This is Twilight levels of bad writing.

And it’s not just the main character. When the Rich Jerks are talking about how very justifiably creeped out they are by the creepy homeless man stalking them and breaking into their house, one of them asks “Is there any chance it could actually be Danny?” The other dismisses it out of hand. “No, absolutely not. We’ve been through this.” But he doesn’t give any reason why it absolutely couldn’t, he just believes it utterly because Reasons, because the script has decided that that’s what he believes. Characters just do what the script needs them to without having any motivation.

It Seems To Resent The Action

When they happen, the action sequences are very good. Like I said.

Which makes it so bizarre how often it does moments where it builds tension, does the setup for an action scene, and then has everyone just walk away. How short the action is when it finally gets to it.

If you’re going to cast a lead primarily for his Kung Fu ability, then let him use it! If you’re going to do a pastiche on Kung Fu ‘Sploitation pulp movies, then you shouldn’t be going out of your way to avoid all the Kung Fu.

The kind of movies I was talking about above—Iron Monkey, 36th Chamber of Shao Lin—they use fight sequences for character introductions, meet-cutes, time filler, climax, denouement, and every other part of narrative that there is! This show seems to want to do the exact opposite and use all those other things instead of having Kung Fu scenes.

There are good parts. David Wenham is good as the puppet-master villain in the few scenes he gets. Rosario Dawson and Carrie Anne Moss are fine when they finally show up for their cameos. But you have to sit through so, so much to get to the good acting, to get to the action, and it’s such a chore.

What Does This Mean?

That’s not even mentioning the weird anti-mental illness stigmas the plot is using. Or the fact that Iron Fist flashes back to his parents dying on a truly Bruce Wayne-like scale.

Maybe the back half is better. I hope so. I’ll watch the rest, but… man, this is a letdown.

My immediate worry is for Defenders. Does this mean Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage are going to have to carry the series?

Well, if so, I think there’s a good chance they can. The writer and showrunner of Iron Fist isn’t the same guy writing and showrunning Defenders, so the bizarre production decisions I’m seeing in Iron Fist should be absent. Plus, this is Marvel. If there’s anything Marvel can pull off, it’s pulling a team up out of disparate solo outings. Even if some of those are weak.

I think I would have preferred they debut Iron Fist in Defenders, like Vision in Age of Ultron.

Disappointed Writer Watches Something Else,

-The Guy Who Wrote This.

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