The Immortal Iron Fist. He was a Marvel Comics hit when he first appeared in Marvel Premiere #15 in 1974 to audiences who were obsessed with Kung-Fu and Eastern culture. One year prior, Marvel had a hit on their hands with Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, riding the success of the TV show “Kung Fu.”
The big difference that caught a lot of renewed interest in the Kung Fu comics genre was the fact that the star of the series, Danny Rand, was white. Sure the star of “Kung Fu,” was a very white David Carradine, but he portrayed a shaolin monk (to the insult of Bruce Lee himself, who had a large role in conceptualizing the show). Before then, eastern martial arts were presented nearly exclusively as a secret of the people of Asian descent, but here was a white American outsider who joined the ranks of these mystic monks and achieved one of the greatest titles they could obtain.
Throughout pop culture, there are a ton of “white savior” heroes who show up and save a people by using their knowledge, skills and traditions. Nowadays it’s called “Cultural Appropriation.” It’s so abundant, that it has become both a character archetype and a cliché. The reason this doesn’t work very well is its lack of believability in most cases. Excepting a few gifted individuals, a person who is introduced to these skills at the age of ten is less likely to have a greater skill level than someone who was born into it after several generations. I could point out numerous examples of this in several different films, but I think this has been the reason for the decline of characters like Iron Fist, while native experts like Black Panther have risen in popularity.
That’s not to say Iron Fist isn’t a good or interesting character, but there’s just a general lack of interest in this kind of story these days. When he was first introduced, he was hugely successful, but now, pretty much anyone who goes back and reads his older stories will firmly agree that his partnership with Luke Cage has always shown the best of him. He is a very calm and thoughtful character with tons of philosophical wisdom within him and potential for major action. He honestly deserves better than his third tier character status, because he truly is amazing. I mean look at the level of badassery in his appearance alone:
Instead of that awesome costume and a physique that shows over a decade of training and perfecting one’s body, we got this:
How did this happen? Not saying Finn Jones is a terrible actor, but he wasn’t the best casting choice for this particular role. What’s strange is the fact that pretty much everyone who has been cast in these superhero roles has worked years off of their lives getting in shape for them. It’s not there in this casting. Not saying I’m against more diverse body types in comics and movies, but “I had to carry jugs the size of my torso up the mountain every morning,” doesn’t really work here when the character lacks any muscle definition whatsoever. It’s kind of appropriate that his main villain was a tiny old woman.
As far as his acting is concerned, I think he just needs a little more experience. I also think he needed a better script. One of the main things they said about him was that he was a living weapon and he spent fifteen years training his body (see previous paragraph), mind and emotions. The mind part is a maybe, but the emotions were certainly not under control. While Iron Fist is largely a zen and optimistic personality in every other portrayal, he was kind of just whiny and clueless here. The duality of who he was trained to be versus who he wanted to be was a fantastic direction to go in, but it was executed poorly because of how inconsistent the writing was here.
Additionally, there wasn’t enough action here. Too much business and not enough bang. The supporting cast had a few gems that made those corporate scenes watchable (David Wenham and Tom Pelphrey are standouts in this regard), but we needed some more superheroics. Not only that, but the fight scenes definitely underwhelmed, which was probably the biggest disappointment. The fighting scenes in Daredevil, especially the single shot hallway brawl in episode two, were extraordinary. Truly some of the best choreography I’ve ever seen. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage both did excellent jobs portraying powerful characters fighting in largely ordinary settings that set up fantastic scenes of them meeting their matches in later episodes. Unfortunately for the series that is specifically about high level Kung Fu, the fight scenes were just bland. The best fight of the series, Iron Fist versus Zhou Cheng, was plagued by way too much talking. Showing instead of telling just didn’t seem to be on the agenda here.
The inclusion of Claire Temple and Jeri Hogarth (played by Rosario Dawson and Carrie-Ann Moss respectively) were pleasant, as the show’s place in the MCU is it’s best feature. Even though you won’t feel very entertained, that is the thing that is most likely to keep you watching. While, I don’t think the series made any new Iron Fist fans, it definitely contributed to the hype for the Defenders series later this year. The show isn’t a complete dud, but it definitely could’ve used a bit more work in multiple areas. I still don’t think it’s as bad as most people have made it out to be.
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