Okay, I’ll preface this by saying as a White Dude, I am not qualified to speak on the broader race controversy with the casting. I will say that Lewis Tan was definitely a lot better at kickpunching than Finn Jones, and for that reason alone would have been better.
Obligatory yet important disclaimer that this is going to be spoilery, although I’m going to be more general than specific. It’s also going to be very sweary.
1) Danny is a fucking child and not in a good way.
My number one biggest complaint about this show is with the characterizations, and most particularly with Our Ostensible Hero. Danny Rand is an idiot. He has the emotional maturity of a ten year old. He explictly gained his abilities by the Required Secondary Power of Super-Appropriation (a term I don’t use lightly).
All of this is bad enough, but they then go on to play into the “angsty, broody, stupid, and mentally unstable blond billionaire” trope that Arrow, for all its sins, has already done far better and for several seasons. We didn’t need another one of these. The tone – while fairly in line with the other Netflix shows – just fucking sucked, okay.
Others have mentioned too that he comes across like that one dudebro who went backpacking across Chinatown and came home to open a dojo to pick up chicks, pretending to be all zen and actually being all ‘splainy. Those things are also true and have been expressed fully and well elsewhere. I’m not going to retread any of that.
How it could’ve been better: He should’ve been cheerfully, charmingly cocky (yet really respectful of others and of the sanctity of life, like, I don’t know, actual monks are?), all the way through. Oh, let him be determined, let him be worried and scared when a friend’s life is in danger. It would be weird otherwise. But The Best Kung-Fu Dude Evar™ who has been doing this shit under intense conditions for a decade and a half should be having a fucking ball effortlessly beating the living shit out of all of these other assholes who cannot possibly have been trained remotely as well. And then you know shit gets real when finally he is forced to start taking it seriously. Near the end. Like in the last half-hour of the last episode.
2) The boardroom bullshit was boardroom bullshit
This is not an original complaint but everyone is correct to complain about it. It is boring, it is annoying, and just fuck this whole thing. My one caveat is Ward suddenly unraveling was kind of fascinating to watch – or it would’ve been if I gave a single Hershey squirt about any of the fucking Meachums. I don’t.
Then, to make the Boss Fight be a fight against fucking Harold who is a (relatively) normal human with no discernible martial arts skills? WHO THE FUCK SIGNED OFF ON THAT?
The one credit I’ll give on this is Megan the Administrative Assistant was wonderful and I liked her a lot. I complained that it took too long for a character with such rad hair game to get a name, but she eventually did get a name. Small blessings.
How it could’ve been better: Corporate crap needed to be cut down by about 75%. The main focus absolutely should’ve been the Hand. The Boss Fight should’ve been someone else. Not Gao, as they’re pretty clearly saving her for Defenders, but surely the Hand has someone else with some kind of superpowers? (Honestly do not know, but this is comics and I’d be flabbergasted if this had never been done.)
3) OMFG THE HAND WHAT THE HELL MARVEL
Let me put it this way. When an early ‘90s live-action comic book movie does a better job depicting a ninja death cult and they are explicitly parodying YOU, yes, even back then because the TMNT Foot Clan was absolutely a parody of the fucking Hand... *stops to breathe and count to ten*
It was lazy, stupid, and reductive to make Colleen a member of what she believes is the “good” Hand. And they knew it because Claire called her and them out for it being bullshit. Writers, sometimes hanging a lampshade is not fucking enough okay. I get what they were trying to do. It didn’t work.
Also lazy, stupid, and reductive: They all wear Hand colors, but as baseball caps and crew-neck t-shirts, because apparently the budget for this show all went to making Danny’s hand look cool. Did you think we wouldn’t notice, show? This is another example of how Teenage Fucking Ninja Turtles: The Movie did a better job. Jesus Jacking Christ.
How it could’ve been better: How hard or expensive is it to have decent ninjas for the love of fuck?
4) They fucked the dog on the action
Setting aside the fact that a show about The Best Kung-Fu Dude Evar™ is far, far too lacking in actual kung-fu scenes – it was noticeable even to my untrained eye that Jones did not have years of training under his nonexistent belt.
Also, “I have so much to learn about being an Iron Fist” – fuck you, show. Just fuck you. We don’t need any more of that trite “finding my way” shit. Give us a fully formed badass who knows what he’s fucking doing, because it’s a lot more impressive when a fully formed badass has to get help (as will be the case in Daredevil).
How it could’ve been better: If they’d had him be a full-on Iron Fist, they could’ve had him in costume from the get. This means a mask, and that means they could bring in someone who knows their way around a kickpunch to do those scenes (which I understand is what they did on Daredevil, and gee, big surprise, that was fucking great).
Or they could just have cast that person who knows martial arts as Danny Rand. But I said I wouldn’t get into that.
4) The Killing Blow: Source Material
I’ll not pretend that I’m an Iron Fist expert. But I can say with some certainty that the better shows were based on very solid and rightfully iconic source material – Frank Miller’s DD run and Bendis’ Alias, respectively. Luke Cage took a bit of a different tack and it did suffer somewhat for it – but they made Harlem a character, they made the culture a vital, vibrant part of it, they brought in African-Americans behind and before the camera – and they had Something to Say, and that more than made up for it. All of the shows had Something to Say, actually.
Iron Fist did not have Something to Say. Iron Fist was not, as far as I know, based on any kind of amazing must-read comics (probably because I’m pretty sure that character doesn’t have any amazing, must-read comics). This left the show to do all the heavy lifting, and they done fucked it up.
How they could’ve done better: This is the hardest, because it’s the most general complaint. Since there is no amazing source material, I guess the only thing I can think of is they should’ve brought in actual, proven comic book writers who understand the characters to write at least the outline of the story. I don’t think they did that (correct me if I’m wrong).
5) The Good Things
The show wasn’t without some positives!
• I think all of the actors did well with the fucking dogshit material they were given. Jessica Henwick had more of that ineffable screen presence than Jones had. I absolutely want to see her in better roles. And I am definitely on board with the idea of a Daughters of the Dragon show next.
(Tangent: I actually would be happy for all of the current shows to just wrap up and move on. Give JJ a second season, maybe Cage too if they have a story for him. Then fold everyone into The Defenders as one ensemble and fill out the rest of the slate with stuff like The Punisher and DotD. This will allow them to deliver new stuff without shooting their current properties in the foot.)
• Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple continues to be a goddamned delight, and I want her to be in all the things forever. Just with better writing.
• Davos was also a strong presence and a believable future antagonist. (Hey, I said there’d be spoilers!)
• The Iron Fist effects are actually pretty damn sweet. There is a scene late in the season where a grainy, black and white silhouette Iron Fist is seen on old film double-Iron-Fisting and giving us some very nice-looking moves. More like that please except not black and white and grainy silhouettes.
• I know I bitched about lampshade hanging, but I’ll admit it was kind of refreshing that bullshit was called frequently. Except it is sort of a problem that bullshit needed that much calling. Davos calling him the worst Iron Fist ever met with emphatic nods over here on my side of the screen.
So yeah. I wish I had liked this better. I’m a little worried about what this means for The Defenders, because they’ll be drawing on botched Hand shit (unless they don’t).
I’ll be watching, either way.