Enough time has passed that if you were going to watch Iron Fist and care about spoilers, you have probably done that…but, you know, if you do care, maybe read this later.
Does Iron Fist really deserve the panning it’s getting? Ehhhhhh, maybe, maybe not. But with the bar set so high from the other Marvel Netflix series, Iron First comes off as a master class of missed opportunities and poor choices. Much has already been written about Danny Rand’s casting. Yes, Iron First is white in the comics. Could that have been changed? Absolutely. Would the show have been better served by having an actual martial artist as the title character? Heck yes, but that’s not the missed opportunity that I’ll be talking about. Rather, Marvel had a chance to turn the tables on a privileged white male protagonist, and they let that opportunity wane.
When we are first introduced to Danny Rand we very quickly realize that Danny didn’t re-enter polite society to become a hero, or follow a higher calling. After a tragic plane crash robs him of his parents, Danny is adopted by mystical monks of K’un L’un who train him in martial arts using uh, martial methods. When the opportunity arises for Danny to leave K’un L’un (and this only comes every 10 years) he decides to do that, and his quest is to become Danny Rand, boy billionaire, and get his father’s company back. Yawn. Watching a privileged white dude fight to get his white privilege back is not the start of a compelling story. We also find out that Danny is The Iron Fist, so along with running a multi-national company, his other job is to protect the passage to the mystical land of K’un L’un from the bad ninjas of The Hand. These jobs aren’t exactly 2 great tastes that go great together and it becomes clear pretty quickly that Danny does not have the knowledge, skills, or abilities for either role. So in a way, Iron Fist is a story about a white man who got two high-powered jobs without being the most qualified for either. Fun!
A big part of why the other Marvel Netflix shows worked well is because they had people fighting for/through something; disability (I know Daredevil’s disability is debatable, but go with me on this for a sec), gender, race, or abuse. As Danny is a white male with inherent privilege there was an opportunity to turn the tables and have him experience some of the marginalization his soon to be teammates have experienced. He could have been given a chance to learn more about the current state of society. The maddening thing is that she show shows an awareness of this opportunity through small moments peppered throughout the show. Sadly rather than developing it any further, these moments were instead left to languish.
When Danny first meets Colleen Wing, he asks her for a job, assuming she would let him teach at her dojo. Instead, after taking in his homeless appearance, she tells him she already has someone to clean up. This assumption gets a shocked chuckle out of Danny as he continues to push his agenda, because if Danny has anything, I suppose it’s self-confidence. Danny again experiences judgement on his appearance when Hogarth demands he clean up, and get some shoes. She tells him that looks matter, and coming from a polished and high-powered female attorney you get the sense that this is a lesson she learned for herself, numerous times. Even when extreme measures are taken to try to convince Danny he is not who he says he is, it’s hard to see him as much more than a trust fund baby yelling “Don’t you know who my father is?” The writers seems to forego character development here and pass up a chance to both explore the effects of gaslighting and use these interactions as teaching and growth moments for Danny. Instead he seems to ollie over these obstacles as easily as he would on his skateboard (ugh!) and we see very little character growth from those experiences. When he begins to (white)mansplain martial arts to Colleen Wing because even though we have seen her win numerous cage fights against bigger and more numerous opponents, um, actually, she’s doing it wrong, we see that Danny ultimately had no problem taking his privilege back.
While this character is very much of its time, I think Danny works better in the animated Marvel stuff because he plays more as a hippy/yogi and less as an appropriation of Asian culture. Netflix Danny has no chill, and for someone who is supposed to be mankind’s savior he spends an awful lot of time pushing his own narrative and less time trying to understand the world around him. He also has no personality. Despite this Coleen seems to fall into bed with him pretty easily. We don’t like Danny yet, so why does Colleen? She started off as such a strong character, but once their relationship is established she’s defering to him. She gets softer, less sure of herself, and it takes away so much from her character. Can you fridge someone and still have them be alive?
I’m not mad Marvel, I’m just disappointed.