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.