Monday, May 1, 2017

Squawk Box: You Had One Job, Danny Rand

So, where to start with Iron Fist?

I think Marvel was sort of damned if they did, damned if they didn't in many ways and having seen Doctor Strange, I'm increasingly convinced of that fact. With these Netflix shows, they seem to have made the decision to go with the 'classic' version of any given character as a means of either introducing them to a wider, screen-based audience or just because they wanted to hew as close to the original source material as possible. And therein, I think lies the fundamental problem with this show.

As people were quick to point out, Danny Rand isn't the only Iron Fist. The character didn't have to be a rich white dude- and having seen the first season, there's a very good argument to be made that he shouldn't have been a rich white dude, but if you say, 'let's not have him be a rich white dude' then suddenly you have a potential problem with the source material- much of which dates from the 60s and well, is full of martial arts/wisdom of the east/horrible Asian stereotypes that would present a challenge to update in a palatable way for a modern audience. It's a challenge that Netflix and Marvel should have accepted- because (and admittedly I haven't seen it but now want too) shows like Into The Badlands are reportedly doing the martial arts thing better than Iron Fist was- hell, even better than other Marvel movies- this review from the Guardian rightly points out that Iron Fist, the alleged greatest martial artist of the Marvel Universe looks positively sluggish next to Black Widow, who puts a phone call on hold to kick the shit out of three Russians in a very convincing and slick manner. That's what Iron Fist should have been.

It was intellectual and creative laziness that seems to have driven them to the 'classic' take on Iron Fist and unfortunately, the source material they insisted on embracing turns out to have been an idiotic thing to do, because the character of Iron Fist is probably the least interesting character in the entire show.

I cared more about everyone else on this show. Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), who had floated around Daredevil with subtle menace came out of the shadows to become the most interesting and complete villain of any Marvel property thus far. Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), back for more after Luke Cage had a more interesting character arc than Danny Rand. Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) had a more interesting character arc than Danny Rand. The Meachums (Tom Pelphrey as Ward, Jessica Stroup as Joy and David Wenham as Harold) in and of themselves were sort of annoying at first, but by the end of the show, that miniature family drama had become- wait for it- more interesting than any of the alleged trials and tribulations of Danny Rand. (Finn Jones)

The intellectual and creative laziness which lead them to a parboiled take of the original Iron Fist story also kept them from showing us anything meaningful about his training in Kun'Lun- probably for fear of tip-toeing into a minefield about Asian/Martial arts stereotypes. We see the same three flashbacks every single episode and as a result, when he shouts at Colleen's dojo about their lack of respect for their sensei, he looks like a raging, rich, white asshole- and people are absolutely right to be offended by that. (Why is he shouting? Why do we care? We haven't seen his training, so we don't know that he's the 'Greatest Martial Artist EVER' or whatever.)

It's not all terrible. By the time the back half of the season rolls around, they're starting to hint and poke at the full extent of Danny's trauma. They're starting to show us just how messed up he is and question the motivations of what he was trained to do in Kun'Lun (namely, destroy The Hand- which seems simple in another astral plain, but infinitely more complicated in the real world.) They don't do it enough, but you start to realize that fundamentally, in many ways, Danny Rand never grew up, He's sort of frozen in that moment of his plane crash and if you view the character through that lens, he seems childlike, innocent, naive and impulsive- traits which might make perfect sense in the context of the show as written, but don't make for a very palatable or likable superhero.

This felt like filler. The last pieces of the puzzle before The Defenders, which was unfortunate, because the character is an interesting one, (I think they deserve another shot at this. I feel like they can do this better than they did here.) He's the Iron Fist. Guardian of Kun'Lun, protector of the way- only it turns out that the way was open the whole time and...  well, you had one job, Danny Rand. And it turns out you weren't very good at it.

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