Kicks might not easily be likened to lace curtains, the one doesn’t easily relate to the other. It’s a slightly confusing contrast. This contract could be used comedically to create a pithy one liner, such as: “Your kicks are like lace curtains, light weight and stylistic questionable.” – Oo burn! But something the comparison doesn’t do, at least without a strong qualifier, is offer any obvious insight into what exactly you are talking about. “You know that kick was good, but there was a slight hint of lace curtain about it.” The least hostile response would be, “I’m sorry, but what are you talking about?”
The lead protagonist of Netflix’s Marvel series Iron Fist makes such bizarre observations regularly and without challenge. The series follows Danny Rand; an heir to a multimillion-dollar corporation struggling to reclaim his fortunes and his identity, while battling a supernaturally enhanced gang of ninjas named the Hand. He also has some big relationship issues to deal with and a tangled family dynamic worthy of a daytime soap opera.
Netflix and Marvel have consistently set a high bar with their collaborations. Iron Fist didn’t quite hit those previous high notes, however, the production standards certainly weren’t much less impressive than your Daredevil or your Jessica Jones.
I’d awaited Iron Fist with anticipation. I had enjoyed Daredevil. This promised to take Daredevil’s already impressive action, and gritty urban reality, and take it to a heightened level. The Iron Fist comic had been Marvel’s reaction to the huge popularity of martial arts movies in the nineteen seventies. It followed in the wake of Bruce Lee and the choreographic spectacular of Hong Kong cinema. The Iron Fist is the greatest practitioner of kung fu in the Marvel universe, placing Daredevil at a distant number two spot.
Danny Rand was an orphan adopted and trained in the lethal arts of kung fu by warrior monks: not only did he learn from them, but he rose to be their greatest practitioner, the mighty Iron Fist, principal defender of the kingdom of K’un-Lun. Now all this, you might think, sounds a bit far-fetched and potentially ridiculous, and of course you would be right, but Marvel has consistently taken potentially stupid ideas and grounded them firmly in reality and compelling narrative.
The hope was that Iron Fist would contain that aspect of verisimilitude, which had set the previous Netflix seasons apart. Reservations first came with the casting, while Finn Jones is a good sell for the gap year generation scion of a corporate dynasty, he is not known for his understanding of Chinese cultural practices. I could be wrong on this, but nothing within the season suggested much meaningful engagement with his subject matter. The screenplay didn’t help, Mr Rand came over as entitled and naive. His engagement with Chinese culture seemed as skin-deep as a tie-dyed teen fresh from a backpacking holiday in Thailand.
It’s a big missed opportunity that Iron Fist failed to adequately engage with its subject matter; a good example of this being Danny’s signature move, the Iron Fist. Mr Rand has the almost unique ability to channel his energy, or chi, into his arm and produce a deviating punch. Not only is the punch devastating, but also causes his fist to glow golden. Impressive as this undoubtedly is, Danny proves consistently incapable of accomplishing this feat. When failing to channel his chi, Danny often describes his performance issues in terms similar to that of faulty starter motor – a surprisingly poorly handled act of cultural appropriation.
This could all have been salvaged by some impressively choreographed action sequences. The greatest kung fu fighter in the Marvel universe will surely display a pretty impressive grasp of the art? Daredevil contains some extraordinary action sequences, which feel visceral and real as well as delivering in spectacle. Iron Fist, however, chose to distinguish itself. It did this with oddly stylised split screen action shots straight out of John Woo’s 2003 Hulk movie playbook. It was disappointingly anticlimactic from a studio that had already demonstrated that it knew exactly how to deliver.
A project was created for Bruce Lee in the early nineteen seventies, contemporaneous with the first comic book appearance of Iron Fist. It was a television series called Kung Fu. While Bruce Lee had been instrumental in conceiving the show, it was decided that an American audience simply would not accept a Chinese lead actor. The role of Shaolin monk was to be played by a white American actor with no knowledge of kung fu whatsoever. The casting of Iron Fist seems dishearteningly in keeping with the climate at the comic’s initial inception. Much like a lace curtain, this leaves the show feeling some what old fashioned.