Iron Fist Packs a Punch

It’s not as bad or as boring as critics have said. And, indeed, I think it’s quite good.

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Putting aside its problematic, if complicated, identity politics–a mighty demand, you have to admit–I’m honestly surprised at how negative the reviews have been for Iron Fist.

Coming into its sixth episode now, I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit. Despite its (surprisingly pleasant) meandering, its pacing has been far and away better than either of Daredevil’s seasons were, for instance, and if you pay attention to what it’s trying to be about–the question of what “purpose” or fate, if any, we might have in this life–it has as strong and important a central motif as Jessica Jones’s concern with agency…and lack thereof.

The side questions the series offers–can capitalism ever be used for good, what are the obligations between father and son, to what extent are business relationships personal relationships, and what is the proper role of violence in fighting evil–are also interesting. The acting, without fail, is strong. And the motivations that drive the characters, while on first glance superficial, are often contradictory, conflicted, and intensely fascinating.

And while comparisons to Iron Man, Batman, and Green Arrow are impossible to avoid–especially when Danny Rand looks so similar to Oliver Queen–this is a different story in its own right. We have a character who does not use his wealth to fight evil, but instead relies on his own perseverance and physical determination. While we can’t ignore the archetype of White Savior that he plays out in this way, having “earned” his skills through intense training in the “Far East”, there is a kind of justified justice to his prowess that other billionaire superheroes really do lack in comparison.

The show isn’t perfect. It doesn’t really create the same kind of house styles that Daredevil, Jessica Jones, or Luke Cage succeeded at. And, ultimately, the relationships between the characters aren’t as deep, as insightful, or as riveting. But even being the weakest of the Netflix Marvel series, which I’m not totally convinced it is, would warrant it more attention and respect than it has garnered.

Now, I haven’t yet seen any of work toward justifying its dangerous rephrasing of the Orientalism of the original comics. I suspect that will come in the second half of the season, as so far his backstory has been left mysterious. And I am concerned about that silence. However, the real sin here is that the entire Netflix slate of heroes has been working against the background of an Asian underworld. Thus the main problem I have with Iron Fist is the problem I’ve had with Daredevil again and again–the strange villain role hoisted on Asian culture. To level that crime against Iron Fist alone seems strange to me.

Regardless, I would recommend watching Iron Fist. It’s not as bad or as boring (what!?) as critics have said. And, indeed, I think it’s quite good.

 

(It does need to be said that Iron Fist’s inherent premise–a white man being better at martial arts than anyone else–disallows an opportunity for an Asian superhero. I don’t know what the solution for that would have been, given that it likely would have been even more problematic to suggest–by making Danny Rand Asian already–that only Asians can be good at martial arts. (I’m thinking, for instance, of DC’s Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, El Dorado, and Samurai, all of whom were created explicitly for the TV show Super Friends and were all summarily more racist than not representing their different races at all.) I have never seen a good solution to that conundrum, and I likely would have avoided the property as the fourth Netflix series and chosen another hero. But with the damage done, so to speak, I’m not exactly sure whether the series succeeds or fails in justifying his skill. I’m hoping the second half of the season will offer guidance, or at least evidence, for how to engage with this question.)

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