The latest entry to Netflix’s Marvel universe is both unlike the other entries, yet similar as well. Starting with Daredevil and followed by Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, Netflix has been doing a great job. The bar has been set high. Though, if you look at critics or Rotten Tomatoes, you would be led to believe that Iron Fist is a complete failure.
I, however, beg to differ.
While it isn’t as good as Daredevil, Iron Fist definitely holds its own. The fighting is a little underwhelming, but the story is strong and the characters pull you in. The show is paced well (if, at times, a little slow) and it actually works with the story being told. If you are looking for non-stop action in every episode, this isn’t it. Instead, view the show as a kung-fu type drama that is peeling away layers of darkness to reveal light.
Danny Rand (Finn Jones) lost his parents at a young age when their plane crashed on their way to China. Danny was the lone survivor of the crash and was found by monks who took him and raised him in a mystical city called K’un-Lun. The path to K’un-Lun is hidden and only appears every fifteen years. Danny would go on to learn and train, and eventually he would take the challenge of fighting Shao-Lao the Undying (a mystical dragon like serpent). If you defeat Shao-Lao, you are granted with the honor of being the Iron Fist, and Immortal Weapon. The job of the Iron Fist is simple: protect K’un-Lun from the outside world and, more importantly, destroy their greatest enemy, The Hand. It is a lifelong commitment of standing at the gates on guard, however, Danny chose a different path. He leaves his post and, after 15 years believed dead, he returns to New York.
Danny’s transition in New York is rocky. It’s clearly not a world he’s prepared for. The show is a true journey for him. Not only does he come back, but he finds out that The Hand are in New York. This has been an ongoing theme throughout the Marvel TV series, especially in Daredevil. You see some familiar faces, but also a few new ones. What Netflix does so well in these series is their character development by not only investing the viewer in the hero, but the supporting cast as well. In fact, I think that this is Iron Fist‘s greatest strength. I’m not just interested in Danny’s journey, but also those around him. Each character in the series is dealing with different “inner demons” or questioning morality. Every character takes this journey where they have to question everything they’ve learned, been told, or become because Danny was a catalyst of change. One would think, in the midst of their chaos, that he was the worst thing that ever happened to them, but that wasn’t so. Their lives were muttered in darkness that they didn’t know existed, until a little light unveiled the truth and deceit that encompassed their lives. It’s a great parallel on how spiritually we are dead in our sin until the light of Christ reveals what we couldn’t see in the dark.
Now, one may wonder, why does the show receive so much hate from critics yet loved by fans? I have my theory, and it’s about expectations and also a false “whitewashing”. In the latter, the series was heavily criticized during casting when Finn Jones was named the title character. Many wanted an Asian actor and, personally, I would have been fine with that. Still, this isn’t a case where an Asian character in the comics was made white for TV. Danny Rand is a white character so it isn’t whitewashing. You can be disappointed that he wasn’t cast differently, but let’s not give a false narrative.
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The other and main reason critics tore the show apart is because they had false expectations that weren’t satisfied. With Kung-Fu, you expect a lot of action and Iron Fist doesn’t deliver that. However, we tend to forget the other aspects of martial arts, and the most important is the mental part of it. When you enroll yourself or your kids in martial arts, the point the sensei will make is that discipline and a strong mind are worth more than punches and kicks. The show does have similarities to Daredevil but, at the same time it cries out its influence from Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Danny is battling with himself in a world he barely knows. He’s juggling what he learned in K’un-Lun with who he really wants to be. In his interactions with The Hand, it is a psychological warfare, one that he was never prepared for. This is why the show can fall flat–because that expectation of action doesn’t get met.
The show is more mental than physical and, if you have that in mind, you will find out how good it really is.