Iron Fist is Weak

by on April 1, 2017 at 8:32 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Television | Permalink

Iron Fist, the latest Marvel-Netflix, superhero show, is by far the weakest. [Mild spoilers] The show has been accused of cultural appropriation because it casts a white actor rather than an Asian as a kung-fu superhero (Iron Fist is also white in the comic book but those were unenlightened times). I could live with that if the white actor actually fit the role. Unfortunately, lead actor Finn Jones, whatever his other talents, doesn’t look imposing or powerful. Bruce Lee wasn’t a big guy but he was ripped and you could see at once that despite his charm you didn’t want to mess with this guy. In contrast, Danny Rand, as portrayed by Finn, is a sniveling, crying, whining child who can’t get over the death of his mommy. Despite having supposedly been subjected to beatings, deprivation, and fifteen years of intense martial-arts training, Rand shows none of the hardness that surviving, let alone thriving, in such an environment produces. His fist may be iron but nothing else is.

The fight scenes with Jones are, with one exception, lackluster. The exception is a fight between the Iron and Drunken fist. Drunken Fist (Zhou Cheng) portrayed by Lewis Tan steals the scene. Not only does he clearly give Iron Fist a beat down (despite the nominal outcome) he does so with humor, intelligence and charisma. Watching this scene you cannot help but think, heh, they should have made Lewis Tan the Iron Fist. In fact, Tan was considered for the role! Ironically, after meeting Danny Rand, many characters ask, “Why did this guy get chosen to be the Iron Fist?” It’s a very good question.

The politics of Iron Fist are also annoying. Danny Rand inherits a powerful firm and in one of his first acts as owner he forces it, over the objections of the board, to sell its new drug at cost. What a sweet guy. Blech! The show does give some pretty good arguments for why this is a bad idea–namely it will reduce R&D and because of subsidies from charities and governments the drug will in any case go to everyone who needs its–so you could give Iron Fist a Straussian reading but I don’t give the writers that much credit.

The most serious failing of Iron Fist is that it breaks the cardinal rule: superheroes need supervillains. Outstanding performances by Vincent D’Onofrio as Kingpin and David Tennant as Kilgrave made for riveting conflict in Daredevil and Jessica Jones respectively.  Luke Cage disappointed for its lack of a supervillain. Iron Fist is even worse as it jumps from villain to villain to villain, none of whom are especially super and some of whom are not even all that villainous.

The “hand” are supposed to be the supervillains but they come in (of course) right and left versions. The “left” hand are drug dealers and assassins. But the motives, actions, and consequences of the right hand are difficult to see. Although it’s not clear how the hand operates, their leader makes a case that their actions improve society. The Iron Fist almost joins the hand until he discovers that they have a bunch of computers and surveillance equipment. Then he and sidekick Colleen Wing go on an all out killing spree. What??? I’m no fan of the NSA but surveillance isn’t necessarily evil, Batman also had his sources of information. Iron Fist, however, has difficulty controlling his anger. He acts rashly and with little thought. He sees the world in childish ways. His actions often have unintended consequences and that is why in any battle between the Iron Fist and the invisible Hand, I will take the invisible Hand.

1 Adam April 1, 2017 at 8:47 am

People on this site keep using the word “Straussian”. Could someone define it for me. Googling tells me it’s just politically conservative, but that doesn’t appear to be how it’s used.

2 James Oswald April 1, 2017 at 9:18 am

It means having a hidden meaning. In this case, he means that the writers intended to portrait Danny Rand as a naive idiot who does more harm than good.

3 Troll Me April 1, 2017 at 10:06 am

There’s a story about a naive idiot who was a knight of sorts, and intended the best despite things often working out much for the worse. More suitable than Straussian perhaps?

4 Stormy Dragon April 1, 2017 at 11:43 am

Unlike ‘Quixotic’, ‘Straussian’ implies intentional deception. It’s based on the idea, going back to Plato, that as common people have no understanding of how the world actually works, it is necessary for the people who actually do understand such things to deceive the general public so as to get them to cooperating in doing the things that “should” be done, but which they’d never agree to if it was explained to them directly.

5 Thor April 1, 2017 at 11:48 am

Isn’t that the related concept of the noble lie?

6 Daniel Weber April 3, 2017 at 12:18 pm

It’s not really all that hidden. Danny screws up a lot of stuff with good intentions. They even make a point that he doesn’t have a plan before he goes off on something daring around the middle of the series.

When you realize this is Season One, a lot of that makes sense. It’s when The Hero is supposed to make foolish mistakes.

7 Thor April 1, 2017 at 11:47 am

Adam, if that is the conclusion reached via googling then you are not well served by your googling or perhaps by Google. Straussian as it is used here has no necessary connection to any political ideology; it means readers (viewers) “reading between the lines” to acquire a message or moral that is covert, latent or embedded but not explicit. The argument is that in certain conditions/eras authors (thinkers) could get into trouble for stating some things explicitly so they learned to discuss forbidden ideas obliquely.

8 JWatts April 3, 2017 at 9:42 am

” The argument is that in certain conditions/eras authors (thinkers) could get into trouble for stating some things explicitly so they learned to discuss forbidden ideas obliquely.”

And, to point out the obvious, our current world would be one of those eras. There are plenty of ideas, that it would be foolish or career ending, for a person to publicly consider.

I’m unconvinced that there is a lot of Straussian writing out there, and would love to see some strong examples. So many of the examples I’ve seen were so weak that I suspect they were more likely just human minds attempting to turn random noise into a pattern that probably doesn’t actually exist.

9 Affe April 1, 2017 at 9:29 am

This is TC parodying an AT post for April Fools right ?

10 Alex FG April 1, 2017 at 9:42 am

Well, if the joke is all about complacency he got me. But then, this would be the fate of every comment here.

11 Ray Lopez April 1, 2017 at 7:27 pm

Wow, provocative theory Affe. I was just about to say this sounds very unlike AlexT: “The show does give some pretty good arguments for why this is a bad idea–namely it will reduce R&D and because of subsidies from charities and governments the drug will in any case go to everyone who needs its–so you could give Iron Fist a Straussian reading but I don’t give the writers that much credit.”

AlexT usually does not like patents or anything that makes the marginal revenue greater than the marginal cost. And indeed, the writing style reminds me more of TC than AlexT.

12 FXKLM April 1, 2017 at 9:30 am

The first sentence is a little ambiguous. It seems to suggest that Iron Fist was Asian in the comic books. Not so. Iron Fist was always white.

13 Alex Tabarrok April 1, 2017 at 10:10 am

Clarified.

14 CMOT April 2, 2017 at 9:10 am

“Iron Fist is also white in the comic book but those were unenlightened times”.

There’s nothing bad (“unenlightened”) about about white American kids fantasizing about becoming martial arts masters that isn’t also bad about yellow Chinese kids fantasizing about becoming cello masters. Yo Yo Ma is the Chinese Iron Fist, albeit much better written …

15 Alex FG April 1, 2017 at 9:36 am

Watching the Drunken Fist fight had me rooting and pitying him at the same time. It was clear from the inception that his on-stage presence would be limited to the following 5 minutes.

The fight had intelligence and humor, a good performance by the actor and an actual open ending. All the qualities of this scene in contrast highlight the shortcomings of the series itself, giving me the feeling that this little script was the tiny enclosure where quality was allowed to roam free. Which in result had me even more rooting Danny Rand beat down.

This, plus the general bias in favor of drunken-style kung-fu fighters of course.

16 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ April 1, 2017 at 7:22 pm

The clip above has too many long shots. Tight close ups and out of frame action would make it more believable.

17 Ray Lopez April 1, 2017 at 10:20 pm

You may be right ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, but I find action films too chaotic to follow. Like the last Transformer movie, too busy. Maybe I’m just an old fogey now, but at least in the old days you can follow a Western style gunfight.

18 JWatts April 3, 2017 at 9:48 am

Firmly agree. I’ve always been more comfortable with a strategic feel for those kind of fight/battle scenes. A tactical feel that jumps every 2-7 seconds to another angle or POV just ends up being a blur of imagery and special effects. A year later, I can barely remember if I watched the film.

19 Thiago Ribeiro April 1, 2017 at 10:05 am

Batman also had his sources of information.
Or he can build them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kr7AONv3FSg

20 Lord April 1, 2017 at 12:12 pm

People have multiple aspects so that seems more realistic. Selling at cost just led me to believe it would be covering the overhead of the entire company, including all R&D. We know how business works. Not strong, but not slow like Luke Cage.

21 Jim Clay April 2, 2017 at 4:09 pm

That doesn’t make sense, though, because no one knows what that price is.

22 Sam April 1, 2017 at 12:23 pm

Have you seen Legion yet? The season ended this past week and I would say it’s not only the best Marvel television series made yet, it’s also one of the boldest, trippiest, visually stunning, mind-bending pieces of media I’ve seen recently.

It’s on FX, created by Noah Hawley (of the Fargo series, which is also incredible).

23 Lord April 2, 2017 at 9:57 am

I second this. Not sure how far this can go though. Eventually everything will be sorted out.

24 Amigo April 1, 2017 at 1:31 pm

Don’t underestimate Marvel writers. The recent Logan movie is the best I’ve seen in long a while.

I have not seen Iron Fist or any of the Marvel TV shows though.

25 Bob April 1, 2017 at 7:04 pm

The executive producer and writer of Iron Fist also gave us the second half of Dexter, so would be surprised if many people underestimated him.

26 Chris April 3, 2017 at 7:11 pm

Logan (and all of the X-Men movies and their spin offs) are not done by Disney/Marvel Studios. They are done by 20th Century Fox because they got the license at a time when Marvel Comics was desperate for cinematic success. In the early 2000s, Marvel gave away many of their properties to various studios – anything to get them to make movies (which is why Fox got X-Men, Columbia got Spider-Man, and New Line Cinema got Blade). When Marvel Studios was set up to produce their own movies, it was a quality control move to make sure their properties were handled properly (as some movies performed poorly) and after confidance in their viability had been proven. Some properties have reverted back to Marvel (such as Daredevil). Even Columbia admitted defeat and while keeping Spider-Man is now working with Disney/Marvel to include that as part of their cinematic universe. But the X-Men franchise remains controlled by Fox who doesn’t look like they are letting go.

27 polyglot April 1, 2017 at 1:40 pm

Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones &c are embedded in their communities. They take to vigiliantism because there are problems in their neighbourhood which the cops can’t deal with.
By contrast, Iron Thumb is not embedded in the community at all. He ought to be guarding his monastery. Instead he decides to punch a bunch of random dudes because that’s how you deal with the drug menace. The problem is that guns are actually more lethal than Iron thumb up his butt.

28 Anondson April 1, 2017 at 2:00 pm

This entire season should have been wrapped up in five episodes, leaving the other eight for some supervillain discovery and dueling, and quite possibly emotional growth into a kung fu master who “cannot lose”.

I don’t fault the actor, he pulled off an emotionally stunted billionaire heir, the writers and directors didn’t have the character do anything else but be a whiner.

29 DJF April 1, 2017 at 2:11 pm

“””””The show has been accused of cultural appropriation because it casts a white actor rather than an Asian as a kung-fu superhero (Iron Fist is also white in the comic book but those were unenlightened times)””””

So in unenlightened times people thought that anyone could become a kung-fu superhero, but in the present enlightened times only Asians can be or even more specific only Chinese since kung-fu was invented by the Chinese.

But since TV, Movies or Comic books were invented by whites doesn’t that mean that only whites could star in them since we would not want Asians or Blacks to cultural appropriate white culture

30 censored opinions April 1, 2017 at 3:07 pm

if Alex knew what he was talking about, he’d say that the CRITIC reviews of Iron Fist were weak. Not surprising, since critics are no longer in the business of informing the customer but to huff their own farts of smugness. If critics did their job, their reviews would loosely fit the audience scores. Let’s roll that beautiful bean footage! https://www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/arrow/s04 https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/ghostbusters_2016 https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/amy_schumer_the_leather_special_2017 and MOST IMPORTANTLY https://www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/marvel_s_iron_fist/s01. The same thing happens in games, as well – Mass Effect Andromeda looks like a clusterbomb of fail, and gets glowing reviews for being sooooooooo progressive, which is really the only thing that matters. People still take critics seriously, enough to hurt providing Iron Fist a much-deserved audience, but their respect is rapidly waning.

31 Alain April 1, 2017 at 4:41 pm

Good point about critics, and indeed since they have become entirely about virtue signaling instead of their purported raison d’etre many like myself have turned them off completely,

32 Ethan April 1, 2017 at 4:58 pm

andromeda did not get glowing reviews…it got panned

33 Anon7 April 1, 2017 at 6:33 pm

A critic who merely reflects audience tastes isn’t being much a critic. And no, this stuff doesn’t “deserve” an audience.

34 Censored Opinions April 1, 2017 at 6:47 pm

A critic who advertises movies I hate and pans movies I like would be a better critic, then? Is the sky green in your world?

The Mona Lisa and Phantom of the Opera don’t ‘deserve’ audiences either. Except for the fact that they’re great works of art, and the world would be poorer if they weren’t shared. Thank you for being deliberately obtuse.

35 Stormy Dragon April 1, 2017 at 10:56 pm

McDonald’s is the world’s most popular restaurant. It’s clearly not the world’s best restaurant.

36 jc April 1, 2017 at 4:24 pm

Question somewhat related to @Troll Me’s naive idiot knight take. I know nothing about the comics. Is Danny Rand childlike and naive in the comics? Watching the show, I got the impression that he was supposed to be an atypical hero, i.e., NOT the stoic or charismatic, square-jawed picture of masculine thought, temperament, and body. You’re supposed to like him because he’s a little kid at heart, i.e., not super or intimidating but, well, nice and full of silly wonder…a good kid.

Speaking of stereotypes (@DJF), yeah, it’s always struck me as interesting, the fine line that reflexive critics of cultural appropriation sometimes walk, i.e., while I know the counterarguments, they do sometimes seem to go out of their way to reinforce racial stereotypes. Only Asian dudes know kung fu, right? White dudes know, what, privilege? WOC wear hoops, etc.

And media critics (@censored opinions), well, Rotten Tomatoes is great…much like non-fake Amazon reviews or Netflix’s own internal metrics (Iron Fist is supposedly the most binged show so far this year) have sort of democratized things, right? Seems like average Americans thought it was entertaining and prioritize that over the latest “outrage” aimed at a video game, movie, or show. Forget about the editorial pages…read any tech, game, or media feed and you won’t be able to miss attacks on Trump or sinners who reject or fail to appropriately operationalize PC rules (e.g., gay scenes but not enough inter-species gay scenes…so you’re horrible, 2 out of 5 stars).

Interestingly enough, while people do talk about Ghost in the Machine, the emotion behind the outrage and the conflation of outrage and technical judgments of quality seems to be attenuated…not sure why.

37 Daniel Weber April 3, 2017 at 2:29 pm

He is most well-known for the Power-Man and Iron Fist series, by which time he had been around for a while. This is really Iron Fist: Year One.

I haven’t finished it yet. I hope it doesn’t drop off like DD season 2 or Luke Cage did.

38 jc April 1, 2017 at 4:30 pm

One other quick take, about the lack of a “bad guy”.

I got the impression, right or wrong, that the writers (either originally or in the show) wanted to break away from the stereotype here too. In other words, didn’t just want to have a goofy, good-hearted kid as the hero (instead of the uber-masculine man). They also wanted to do something different w/ the bad guy.

Yeah, there was that Hand lady. And the cheesy Hand mentor guy. More interesting, though, was the family Danny grew up with. The interplay among the three family members, and b/w them and Danny. Instead of black and white, it’s all fluid and conflated, more like real life. Lots of folks say the brother is one of their favorite characters of all time. I think that goes too far, but it is all a bit more interesting than a simple white hat / black hat approach. Sort of like Professor X and Magneto, but w/ family and childhood dynamics thrown into the mix.

(And, yeah, Legion is definitely worth watching. Again, whether it’s your cup of tea or not, it’s not the stuff of stereotypes.)

39 Alain April 1, 2017 at 4:44 pm

Got to admit that Alex does have a point, the kingpin and especially killgrave were excellent villains in the previous marvel outings. Heck, They were likely the main reasons to watch daredevil and Jessica jones.

40 Daniel Weber April 3, 2017 at 2:21 pm

Alex also though that the second half of Luke Cage was better, when it traded an in-depth complicated villain for a Joker knock-off who somehow gets a magic supersuit.

41 Paul April 1, 2017 at 5:38 pm

The fight seems underwhelming to me, sorry. I think the problem is partly how it was cut.

42 Roy LC April 1, 2017 at 9:25 pm

Finn Jones is no Stephen Amell, or even Robbie Amell, and probably not even Falk Hentschel.

43 TWS April 2, 2017 at 5:46 pm

Terrible fight scene. It was slow, sloppy, and poorly choreographed considering the leads weaknesses. Renegade used to do better with a lot less. Breaker, Breaker did better forty years ago. Danny Rand should come off as highly skilled killer not Skippy peanut butter commercial dancer.

44 Randall April 2, 2017 at 9:58 pm

Karate kid is worse because Karate kid is white and let’s forget martial arts styles are not the same in japan as China so how is Iron fist bad when Danny rand is white in the comic books

45 Chris April 3, 2017 at 7:20 pm

I am in the midst of watching the series now. While it’s enjoyable, it is not outstanding. I agree that the actor is underwhelming. He looks like a hipster douche and not the Danny Rand of the comics. He certainly does not have the bearing of a “living weapon”. Much of this is due to the script which consistently makes him perform poorly in fights (relative to what he should do). I think the actor is a good actor, but just miscast.

The lack of a good villain is not surprising (for both Iron Fist and Luke Cage). Both characters lacked really good rogues galleries either as heroes or as partners. They do have some interesting villains, but neither has had great iconic storylines like many Marvel characters have had. And typically the best movies and shows pillage those memorable storylines. Master Khan would be a good villain, but he isn’t a street level villain that the show is going for, plus there are enough mastermind villains already. They can’t use Sabretooth either as he is controlled by Fox, and the Constrictor (Sabretooth’s partner in the old comics) isn’t an A list villain by himself. For both Cage and Iron Fist, the writers are on their own, and it shows.

Furthermore, it is obvious all the TV shows about street level heroes are building towards one conclusion – some showdown with the Hand. This neccessitates that changes are made to the stories to tie them in together. In the comics, I don’t remember any connection of Iron Fist to the Hand.

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