Poor Marvel's Iron Fist. The first three shows that lead up to the upcoming Marvel's The Defenders, arriving on Friday, had a run of reviews were generally good. Then Iron Fist turned up, and was declared a dud on arrival. The issues were many, and though Netflix doesn't release their ratings, probably the least watched. So for all of you who skipped it, here goes: What happened to Iron Fist before The Defenders.
Now we should be clear, none of the previous shows were perfect. There were a gripes about pacing and length for all four series that preceded The Defenders. But this is gripe that actually pertains to Netflix series in general, where the tendency is to make 13 episode season. (That's a standard cable TV format for prestige TV shows, because 13 weeks covers a quarter of the year. Why Netflix insists on doing the same when they are free of such concerns is beyond me.)
But Iron Fist had an extra layer of problems. The comic itself was problematic, featuring a white dude in an kung fu fantasy during the 1970s craze for martial arts after Bruce Lee died. When complaints of cultural appropriation came up, the source material problems were laid bare, as the original comic book author responded with racist remarks.
But where Netflix could have maybe fixed the problem, they compounded it, from the casting of a white dude (Finn Jones), to Jones' acting in said role, to his fighting skills in said role. Thankfully you don't have to watch it ahead to enjoy The Defenders, but here are a few plot points to know.
Who Is Danny Rand?
Danny Rand is the son of billionaires. He get stranded in a foreign Asian land that doesn't exist in the real world when his parents are killed in an airplane accident. He is believed to have perished too, but instead grows up all Buddhist monk broski, eschewing things like, you know, shoes.
When Iron Fist starts, he's just come back to New York City to reclaim his inheritance and his parent's com, Rand Enterprises, as one does. As you might expect, those with business sense (and the ability to wear shoes) are displeased and do everything they can to undermine him in this quest. Of course, by the end of the season, they fail.
What's Up With The Fist?
"I harness my chi." That's a direct quote. It could be worse, he could harness his chai instead and that would make one hell of a Starbucks latte.
The fact is, the fist is cool, but it's not really much of a superpower. Danny's martial art skills are where it's really at, even if they're not well choreographed in his stand alone. (The Defenders will be directed by the Daredevil people, so we're hoping for an improvement.)
This is the country where Danny was raised. Located not on any map of Asia, it is a "mystical lost city" which just so happens to be located in a different dimension, which explains why Google Maps can't find it. Technically, Danny's job is life is to defend it's from evil, even though he spends most of his time in New York City.
It is also the home of Madam Gao, and The Hand would love to take it over.
The real star of Iron Fist, and someone who would have made a much better stand alone show, Colleen Wing is the owner of the dojo where Danny Rand goes to feel at home. She was taught martial arts by Bakuto, who we learn later is actually a deputy person in the Hand. By the end of Season 1 she and Danny are together, sort of. As together as she can be with anyone. Wing is a bit of a loner and not very good at getting close with people.
Oh and she introduces Danny to the concept of shoes. Thank heavens.
Claire Temple Again
Unlike her first three appearances in Netflix's MCU, where she easily slid into the story lines of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, Claire Temple's existence in Iron Fist felt wedged in. Rather than someone falling in her lap while she's in nurse mode, they have her just so coincidentally join Colleen's dojo. Not that we minded seeing Claire fight for once.
But then they had her go to China with Danny to fight the Hand and, what? No. Just no. Unnecessary.
Madam Gao & The Hand
We first meet Madam Gao in Daredevil Season 1, where she seems to be one of Wilson Fisk's contemporaries...until she turns up at his house one morning and reads him the riot act, showing who's really in charge at the hand and who isn't.
While Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are more interested in closer to home stories, keeping the Hand out of their purview, Iron Fist is really all about them as the big bads. (Whereas Matt Murdock basically found them by accident.) Gao is actually native to K'un Lun, and the Hand know all about Danny and his abilities before anyone in NYC even really know he's alive.
Because of this, the hand are the only thing that fit into the Iron Fist world seamlessly, and madam Gao, though underused, makes for one hell of a frightening villain. I look forward to seeing more of her and her other fingers in The Defenders.