A few days ago, Marvel's newest series, Iron Fist, premiered on Netflix, and the critical reception was pull-your-dick-out-at-a-funeral bad. Coming off the heels of the acclaimed Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage, it was not only a letdown as a show, but also a disappointment in the grand scheme of Marvel TV series. Those other shows had made straight A's, while Iron Fist was skipping class to go smoke pot behind the gym.
In an attempt to counter the wave of bad press, lead actor Finn Jones stated that it might have something to do with the fact that Donald Trump is in office. You see, Danny Rand, the protagonist of Iron Fist, is a wealthy, powerful white dude. And Donald Trump has sullied the good name that particular genre of person once had. Thus, according to Jones, people just can't get behind Danny because Donald Trump exists. Trump, by representing all the harm that you can do when you have a lot of money and like yelling over people, had doomed a superhero from ever possibly reaching his full critical potential.
If your eyeballs literally rolled out of the back of your skull while reading that, you're not alone. First of all, if Trump has irrevocably doomed rich, powerful, white characters to a lifetime of two thumbs down, someone needs to alert Marvel and DC fast, because Batman and most of the Avengers are in serious shit. If someone doesn't hold Trump's picture up to the head of Warner Bros. and say "THIS MAN BAD. REAL BAD," then Batman: Dawn Of More Justice is going to be crushed by critics, who apparently attend movies for the sole purpose of becoming angry if every character isn't played by Viola Davis.
The rich and powerful white character is not in trouble, as long as he's done with some amount of competency. We keep coming back to see Tony Stark because he's flawed and charismatic. We come back to Bruce Wayne because he's tortured and driven. We religiously watch what feels like a thousand TV shows a year about the problems of white guys who have more than six figures in their bank accounts. And we do this because they have the potential to be fucking interesting when some care is taken with them.
Danny Rand, and Iron Fist as a whole, is not fucking interesting.
For those who haven't seen Iron Fist, Danny Rand is Steven Seagal-lite. Constantly spouting martial arts psalms and never once uttering anything close to a joke, he emanates an almost dangerous lack of self-awareness. Sure, it's weird that we're supposed to buy the character of "special karate white man" in 2017, but the pill would go down a little easier if there was some hint of lightheartedness to him -- something that allowed audiences to laugh at him a little bit, as well as get behind his journey. Instead, Danny doesn't just become a rich, powerful, white guy, but the lamest kind of rich, powerful, white guy.
Danny is meant to be a savior or something, as he rallies against un-kicked heads and big business alike. But his quest as the chosen one never feels like anything more than your college roommate's two-week quest to try Tai Chi each morning, especially when he's paired with Colleen Wing, the owner of a martial arts dojo with actual experience. He shows up in New York, shoeless with an "I traveled abroad this summer and it CHANGED MY LIFE" outfit, and immediately remarks about how he used to skateboard in a skyscraper. You're so fucking cool, Danny. And did you immediately go to the one dojo in New York City and school the expert female owner in both martial arts techniques and "finding your inner strength"?
Of course you did, because if something exists, whether it's morality lessons or punching, Danny Rand has got to be the best at it. He's the ultimate wish fulfillment fantasy for everyone who's ever talked for an hour to a stranger about finding their zen and then gotten angry when that stranger refused to sign up for Tae Kwon Do lessons. He's lacks any character traits, but if you have a character trait, Danny Rand could still probably one-up you on it. He's the guy who tries to fuck a girl after her massage session and claims that it was all about "healing."
You'd think there might be some kind of engaging universe to fall back on, but outside of Colleen, who is the only character in this show who feels ready to be an onscreen anything, it's desperately lacking. There is no sense of pacing or world-building. Eighty percent of it is watching one person walk into another person's room to talk with them. As a documentary about doors opening and closing, Iron Fist is thrilling stuff.
It would be hard to surpass Vincent D'Onofrio's idiosyncratic, art-loving, brutish Kingpin, or David Tennant's creepy as hell Kilgrave, or Mahershala Ali's infinitely captivating Cottonmouth, but the villains of Iron Fist are bland business dudes who get caught up in some mystical stuff that they're not quite prepared to face, in the grand tradition of "stuff that we've seen a bunch before." "We made you an offer, Danny Rand, and you didn't want it!" is their M.O. for an entire season of television.
Finn Jones has also said that Iron Fist wasn't made for the critics, but "for the fans." I bet you feel stupid now, critics. You walked in there with your tweed jackets, mustaches, and copies of Pauline Kael's I Lost It At The Movies, and you thought that you were watching something that you had any right to have an opinion on. But Jones pulled the carpet out from under you again. You brought a brain to a fan fight, critics. And now you have to pay the consequences of being dumb AND wrong.
Danny Rand: The Story Of A Silicon Valley Billy Jack And His Valiant Effort To Get His Trust Fund Back was not made for fans. Fans of Iron Fist and superheroes in general deserve way better than this. They deserve to watch stories that are poignant and relevant, and watch fight scenes that aren't choreographed by a high school drama club. Hell, it's not made for anyone, really. The drive behind its creation seems to be to simply get it out of the way so that The Defenders can finally happen.
Maybe that's why Danny Rand is such a joyless hacky sack of a character. Had more than two seconds been applied to the creation of this incarnation, someone would've realized "Hey, maybe we should do something with him that isn't basically putting a bunch of four-decade-old stereotypes into a blender."
No one hates Iron Fist because Donald Trump exists, thus declaring open season on all white protagonists. They hate it because it leaves them no other choice.
Daniel has a blog.
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