‘Iron Fist’ – The Good, the Bad, and the…uh…Fist…I guess…

March 21, 2017

Iron Fist is boring! Iron Fist sucks! Iron Fist is the worst thing I’ve ever seen! Iron Fist ran over my dog and gave me cancer!”

It’s no secret that Iron Fist is getting slammed by critics all over the Internet. Currently it’s sitting at 19% on Rotten Tomatoes and 37 at Metacritic. The reviews from various sources seem like a contest on who can eviscerate the show in the cleverest way possible, because as we all know, the Internet is where we come together as a society and try to say horrible things wittily and congratulate ourselves for doing so. I’ve seen reviews ranging from the stereotypically hyperbolic “worst show in the history of shows” to the more plausible “Marvel’s first miss”, a designation I still have to disagree with.

So why should you waste your time with a show that’s nearly universally reviled by critics? With the massive amount of entertainment media readily available today, why spend it on what’s been referred to as “garbage”?

The simple answer is this: it’s not “garbage”. It’s not even bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. I’m here to tell you why everyone else is “wrong” about Iron Fist by addressing and refuting some common complaints.

First off, let me say that I’m a huge comics fan, so I’m predisposed to liking this show more than most mainstream viewers, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt because there might be some unconscious bias on my part. That being said, I’ll attempt to be objective as possible and not be blindly supportive of it, because that’s just the opposite end of the spectrum from the massive circle-jerk of hatred for the show. Now that I’ve got that disclaimer out of the way, let’s begin.

1 – Not enough action.

The show is about Danny Rand, the latest person to take up the mantle of the Iron Fist, a line of martial arts masters. So it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect to see a significant amount of sweet, sweet kung fu action in a story that’s supposedly about, well, kung fu.

The thing is that Iron Fist isn’t just about Danny Rand as the Iron Fist, punching and kicking his way through the story. The story also deals with Danny Rand as the heir to a multi-billion dollar corporation and his return after being assumed dead for the past 15 years. Say what you will about the cutthroat nature that is the boardroom of corporate America, but it usually doesn’t involve actual kicks to the face.

This is a decent portion of the story, and the show starts out focusing primarily on this aspect, so I completely understand why you’d be disappointed if you’re expecting to see someone get kicked in the face in the opening scene. Instead, you get a story where Danny is trying to convince the people around him that he is who he says he is, which I’d argue is a different kind of interesting, but admittedly, it’s not people getting kicked in the face.

Even if there’s no interest at all in the business side of things, as the series progresses, the focus becomes increasingly action oriented and the plot deals more heavily with “Danny Rand, the Iron Fist” instead of “Danny Rand, the majority shareholder of Rand Enterprises”. Rest assured, plenty of people will get kicked in the face before it’s over.

Spoiler: This isn’t in the first episode.


2 – The show is aimless/directionless.

Many of the points made above apply to this complaint, too. Complaining about the show being aimless because of the fact that it deals with business stuff and kung fu stuff would be like complaining that Daredevil is aimless because it deals with lawyer stuff and vigilante stuff, and I’ve never heard that complaint. Granted if you don’t like Daredevil, you probably wouldn’t like Iron Fist, but if that’s the case I don’t really understand why you’d be watching it in the first place.

As previously stated, the show splits time between corporate kung fu and actual kung fu, and while I can see that being off-putting if you like your plot to be about one thing and one thing only, like kids’ cartoons in the ‘80s, but sometimes you can have more than one layer to a story without catching brain hepatitis (Is that a thing? I don’t think that’s a thing. Side note: that’s not a knock on ‘80s cartoons either, because those were awesome).

The show also throws in themes of mental illness, addiction, PTSD, paranoia, with a little sprinkle of daddy issues, because why the hell not? With all of this going on, it seems like things would be stretched a little thin, but it never feels out of place or forced. It’s fluid and it makes sense for the story, and the interplay among all these issues serves to drive several plot points and character development as well. It’s the very opposite of aimless, as everything seems connected to everything else in a believable manner…well believable for a show about a guy who can pulverize walls with an indestructible yellow glowing hand.

3 – It’s slow. The pacing is terrible.

The only thing I can see being considered slow is the first few episodes. At the beginning, Iron Fist introduces and establishes characters, setting, and a few plot points, which is somewhat similar to EVERY OTHER SINGLE WORK OF FICTION EVER.

Still, to be fair, the start of the show is somewhat slower than the rest, but after all the necessary pieces are in place, stuff starts happening. Then more stuff. You know what happens after that? Even more stuff happens. In fact, stuff keeps happening throughout the rest of the episodes. There’s a ton of stuff that happens! Yeah that’s vague because spoilers. You’re welcome.

4 – Iron Fist makes use of the insulting “white savior” trope.

Whoo boy, this is going to be a tough one, and so is the next one. Full disclosure: I’m pretty much the whitest dude on the planet, so if I’m missing something obvious because of that, or I’m just flat out wrong, don’t hesitate to call me out on it because I’m always down for being informed and educated on issues. Here goes nothing…

Danny Rand is a white guy who was orphaned at 10 years old in a plane crash, taken in by monks, and taught martial arts. Over the next 15 years he became one of the best martial artists and was chosen to take on the mantle of the Iron Fist, the protector of the realm. It does sound an awfully lot like the white savior trope, and in some respects it is.

However, the white savior trope is usually more along the lines of a white guy shows up in a foreign society, quickly learns their ways, and rapidly becomes better at their culture than any of the natives thereby rescuing the people from some threat they couldn’t possible defeat without the almighty white man coming to their aid. There are a few reasons I believe that this trope doesn’t completely apply to this situation.

The fact that he started training when he was 10 and trained for 15 years means that he spent the majority of his life, even starting at an early age, learning kung fu and all aspects of the monks’ culture, so he’s essentially more “kung fu monk” than “rich white guy”. To put things in perspective, let’s say instead of Danny Rand being taken in, it was a child of the same race as the monks just from a different region of the country. Would the same trope still apply?

The only thing against Danny being an excellent martial artist is the fact that his skin tone happens to be white. Remember though, that he trained for 15 years. 15 years! Think about that for a minute. I haven’t trained for anything for 15 years, but rest assured, if I did, I’d like to think I’d be pretty damn good at it. Ahhh who am I kidding, I’d still suck at it, but most people would be pretty awesome at something they had 15 years of training in.

It’s not like he just fell from the sky and…actually, scratch that. The point is that he didn’t just show up, become the greatest martial artist the monks have ever seen, sleep with all their women, and beat up all the bad guys. He trained, and he was ONE OF the best fighters, but not necessarily THE best, and the monks decided that he should undergo the trials to become the Iron Fist.

See? He’s totally a monk.

5 – Danny Rand isn’t Asian.

Now the fact that the Iron Fist character isn’t Asian shouldn’t be news to anyone who is familiar with the Iron Fist comics. He’s white, and he’s always been white, and that hasn’t changed. Now, an argument could be made that just because something was done one way in the past, there could be room for improvement and especially with things that were made decades ago when casual racism was more mainstream, and that would be an excellent argument. I have no counter to this particular argument because there’s always room for being progressive when it comes to creating, adapting, or updating things for a modern audience.

The creative team behind Iron Fist decided not to change Danny Rand to an Asian character, which seemed to upset many people. However, for the story they wanted to tell, it makes sense. Throughout Iron Fist, one of the central themes is the internal conflict of Danny as he attempts to reconcile his status as part of the elite white 1%, his family name, the death of his parents, and his responsibilities as the Iron Fist.

Ok, so he’s a rich white guy…AND a monk.

If you’ve read this far, wow, you must be some sort of masochist, but thanks!  Don’t worry, I’m almost done.

The short version is that Iron Fist is a fun and interesting show that’s getting slammed for a lot of reasons, many of them grossly exaggerated.  If you liked the other Marvel series so far, you’ll no doubt like this one too.

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