K’un Lun is a notable void at the heart of Iron Fist, even before the closing moments of Dragon Plays With Fire.
There are any number of terrible mistakes that were made during the production of Iron Fist, fundamental flaws that could easily have been avoided by a more competent and committed creative team. The series was assigned a showrunner with a horrific track record. The production team cast a lead actor without any raw charisma and who was incapable of doing his own stunts, while refusing to put the character in a mask. The series focused more on board room antics than kung fu fun. The Hand were used as the primary antagonist.
You shall not pass.
However, one of the most grating disappointments is the simple fact that a lot of the really fun and interesting stuff about Danny Rand happens long before he stumbles back into New York in Snow Gives Way. There is a solid argument to be made that Danny Rand is a third- or fourth-tier comic book character, but there undeniable cool parts of the Iron Fist mythos. None of them take place in the offices of Rand Industries. Iron Fist is the story of a man who gained his power by punching a dragon in a heart. Whatever an adaptation of Iron Fist should be, it should never be boring.
And, yet, for whatever reason, the first season of Iron Fist makes a point to consciously shoot around the more impressive and distinctive parts of the Iron Fist mythos, reducing its title character to a cut-rate (and ironically trust-fund) Matt Murdock. Danny left K’un Lun behind, and it was a terrible mistake.
And so it becomes a little clearer what exactly Iron Fist is trying to do with the Hand.
Black Tiger Steals Heart reveals that Madame Gao is not the leader of the Hand, but instead one faction of the Hand. Presumably, Nobu was the leader of another faction of the Hand on Daredevil, although his interactions with Gao never seemed anywhere near as charged as they might otherwise be. Black Tiger Steals Heart properly introduces the character of Bakuto, a mysterious figure who has been lurking at the edge of the narrative since he was introduced as a friend of Colleen Wing in Felling Tree With Roots.
Bakuto is ultimately revealed to be a major player in the Hand, a character with ambiguous motivations and impressive influence. Black Tiger Steals Heart immediately sets Bakuto up as a cool idealist with progressive values and socialist leanings. He attracts young followers who seem genuinely devoted to them, arguing against capitalism as a philosophy and suggesting that the power of disaffected youth can be channeled in a more constructive manner. Contrasted with Gao’s capitalism or Rand Industries’ exploitation, Bakuto makes a lot of sense.
Bakuto is ultimately revealed as a sinister cult leader looking to exploit the young people placed in his care, turning them into weapons through which he might wage war upon the establishment. Bakuto’s reinvention of the Hand away from Nobu’s Asian mysticism or Gao’s magical capitalism continues the theme of the Hand as a stand-in for American anxieties about foreign belief systems. In this case, Iron Fist treats the Hand as a reactionary critique of left-leaning social movements like Black Lives Matter or Bernie Sanders supporters.
Enjoy this, because this is the only Asian Iron Fist that you’re going to get.
With host Andrew Quinn taking the week off, Darren Mooney is joined by special guest Grace Duffy for This Just In, a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.
Inevitably, being a street-level superhero show that owes a huge stylistic debt to Daredevil, Iron Fist inevitably wades into the whole “thou shalt not kill” side of superheroics.
Matt Murdock has spent the better part of two seasons wrestling with that same question. In the first season, he agonised over the question of whether he should kill Wilson Fisk, a criminal who was otherwise above the law. This angst informed episodes like Nelson v. Murdock and The Path of the Righteous. It was a reasonably solid plot line that worked as well as could be expect because it was rooted as much in Charlie Cox’s performance and Matt Murdock’s Catholicism as in any large moral or legal framework.
Knife to see you…
However, Matt Murdock revisited the question with less success during the second season. Confronted with Frank Castle’s lethal methods of crime fighting and an undead ninja cult, Matt found everything was up for debate. The series did not handle the dilemma with any real sense of grace. Frank Castle constructed a ridiculously elaborate moral dilemma in New York’s Finest, while Matt Murdock seemed to confess that the Punisher’s methods worked in .380. One of the most tone deaf sequences in the series had Frank Castle kill a bad guy so Matt would be spared.
Iron Fist puts it own spin on the age-old debate of vigilante morality. In keeping with the general tone of the series, the debate is lazy and clumsy, ultimately resolved through the same sort of tidy deus ex machina that got Danny proof of identity in Rolling Cannon Thunder Punch and control of his company in Eight Diagram Dragon Palm. It is not satisfying storytelling.
Supervillains understandably have fewer moral qualms about killing.
As “The Last Defender”, Iron Fist bears the burden of tying most heavily into The Defenders.
This is not a surprise. This has been a large part of the Marvel Studios model, with productions teasing concepts and characters that will not arrive for quite some time. By the time that Thanos moves against Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in Avengers: Infinity War, it will have been more than half a decade since the stinger at the end of The Avengers teased his looming threat. Even since Samuel L. Jackson appeared at the end of Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr. dropped by the stinger in The Incredible Hulk, these teases have been a way of doing business.
Glowing yellow peril.
As such, it makes sense that the company would put a lot of groundwork into setting up the summer’s big-ticket crossover between the four different Marvel Netflix shows. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage had largely been their own thing, while Daredevil had devoted a considerable amount of time and effort to introducing concepts and ideas that would pay off down the line. However, as the last of the shows to be released before the big summer event series, Iron Fist carries a heavier burden than any of its predecessors.
Unfortunately, Marvel and Netflix seem to have wholeheartedly committed to the idea of the Hand as the enemy of choice for this eight-part crossover miniseries. And so Iron Fist gets burdened with the Hand.
CHiPs is what happens when you adapt a successful-yet-forgettable eighties action series in the style of a poorly-aged nineties sitcom.
There are a whole host of problems with CHiPs, but tone is the biggest concern. Writer and director Dax Shepard never seems entirely sure what he’s pitching, which leads to a bizarre mishmash of a juvenile gay panic comedy with retro nostalgia trappings strapped on to a lazy police thriller. None of these elements work particularly well on their own, but mashing them all together leads to even bigger problems. CHiPs tries to be several different things, and succeeds at none of them.
When he catches these corrupt cops, he’ll send them to the Peña-tentiary.
Who is the target market for CHiPs? The film pitches itself as a raunchy parodic reimagining of a show that was beloved at the time, but has faded into history. There’s obvious precedent here, and CHiPs can be reasonably placed as part of the movement that includes 21 Jump Street and Baywatch. However, CHiPs does not aim for nostalgia enough to appeal to fans of the show, and is not clever enough to attract the same audience as 21 Jump Street. The result is a reboot of an eighties motorcycle cop show aimed at fourteen-year-old boys.
Ironically, CHiPs feels retro for all the wrong reasons. CHiPs is largely defined by the idea that bodily functions (and male sexual organs) are hilarious, and that there is nothing funnier than two dudes touching each other’s erogenous zones, particularly when there’s at least one dude pointing out how hilarious it is. CHiPs is defensive nineties gay panic wrapped in eighties nostalgia. It is a strange cocktail.
The works of Willy Russell have endured remarkably well.
Educating Rita holds up as perfectly today as it did when it was first written over a quarter of a century ago. For this latest production by Lyric Theatre, Russell has updated and tweaked the original text slightly. He translates the drama from Liverpool to Belfast, with director Emma Jordan reinforcing the shift in setting by punctuating the acts with snippets of radio coverage recalling the darkest days of the Troubles. The setting adds resonance to the themes of play and its characters, but the truth is that it’s hardly necessary.
Russell’s Educating Rita is a beautiful expression of that yearning to escape, of the desire to be “free”, whether from one’s economic conditions, the dreary drag the day-to-day life, or even one’s own destructive habits. It is a loving ode to those who find the courage to pursue that freedom, and a tragic paean for those who lack the strength. Jordan’s stage adaptation of Russell’s play captures that sense of desperation and passion beautifully, anchored in a powerhouse central performance by Kerri Quinn as the eponymous hairdresser.
Lyric Theatre’s adaptation of Educating Rita is a joy.