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Iron Fist – Lead Horse Back to Stable (Review)

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.

The watcher on the pass.

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Iron Fist – Black Tiger Steals Heart (Review)

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.

“Ay, Macarena!”

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.

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Iron Fist – The Mistress of All Agonies (Review)

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.

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Iron Fist – The Blessing of Many Fractures (Review)

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.

“Time for snooping.”

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Iron Fist – Felling Tree With Roots (Review)

Danny Rand is perhaps the biggest problem with Iron Fist.

In many ways, Danny is really just an extrapolation of the kind of live action comic book hero seen in Daredevil and Batman Begins, the angsty young man with father issues who struggles to get past his own dysfunction to become the hero that the city (if not the world) needs at this exact moment. Danny is full of emotional turmoil, with Iron Fist revelling in his insecurities and uncertainties. Even when he succeeds, the show makes a point to stress how incredibly difficult it is to be Danny Rand.

Sleeping beauty.

This feels ill-judged on several levels. Finn Jones lacks the sort of nuance and ability that is necessary to bring that sort of mopey self-centred sulking to life in an engaging manner. Jones is no Charlie Cox, and he’s certainly no Christian Bale. However, Iron Fist itself also struggles to properly capture the right tone. Immortal Emerges From Cave ends with Danny saving an innocent life, but he spends Felling Tree With Roots whining about it. The loss of K’un Lun in Dragon Plays With Fire is treated as something that affects Danny more than its residents.

Ironically, the Iron Fist himself seems to be the weakest aspect of Iron Fist.

Her Hand-iwork.

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Iron Fist – Immortal Emerges From Cave (Review)

Immortal Emerges From Cave might just be the best episode of the first season of Iron Fist.

Of course, Immortal Emerges From Cave is not a good episode of television. It is bedevilled by all the other issues with Iron Fist, from inconsistent characterisation to dead-end subplots to pacing issues. It even adds a few new problems of its own, especially with a ham-fisted and ill-judged attempt to bring the character of Bride of Nine Spiders into live action. Immortal Emerges From Cave is unlikely to make much of an impression, and it certainly doesn’t rank with the other best episodes of the Marvel Netflix series.

“Three men enter! One man (or two men) leave!”

At the same time, Immortal Emerges From Cave is the episode of Iron Fist that perhaps comes closest to fulfilling its own ambition. Immortal Emerges From Cave is a relatively self-contained narrative in the middle of the season, in which Danny finds himself forced to compete in a tournament against the Hand in order to save an innocent life. It is a hokey premise, but one that leads to a series of fairly middling set pieces in which Danny Rand works his way through various “levels” in pursuit of his goal.

Immortal Emerges From Cave feels very much like some forgotten z-list direct-to-video martial arts film from the nineties, a pulpy and absurd excuse to string together a collection of fight scenes. The result is not spectacular by any measure, but it is far more entertaining than the meandering story being told around it. Immortal Emerges From Cave might not succeed on general terms, or even on its own terms, but it at least has a strong sense of its own identity. That is enough to put it ahead of the rest of the season.

Glowing reviews.

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Iron Fist – Under Leaf Pluck Lotus (Review)

With Under Leaf Pluck Lotus, Iron Fist truly embraces its inner Batman Begins.

To be fair, there were shades of this in the earlier episodes. Snow Gives Way introduced Danny Rand as a long-lost (legally dead) billionaire who returned home from a trip to the orient. Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch embroiled Danny in battle to take control of his company and reclaim his father’s legacy. Indeed, it seemed fair to reflect that if Daredevil had gorged itself on many of the more interesting and compelling facets of Christopher Nolan’s superhero origin story, then Iron Fist had been left to gently pick over the remains of that particular corpse.

Ain’t gonna Gao…

Under Leaf Pluck Lotus finds Iron Fist borrowing even more from Batman Begins, lifting plot points and story beats that were already stolen by Daredevil. The bulk of Under Leaf Pluck Lotus focuses on Danny’s discovery that a cult of secret ninjas have been using his company to smuggle dangerous materials into the city, having made a dangerous alliance with “the chemist.” This leads to a dangerous confrontation on the docks, recalling one of the most memorable sequences in Batman Begins and Matt Murdock’s own dockland adventures in Into the Ring or Stick.

When Under Leaf Pluck Lotus isn’t borrowing heavily from Batman Begins, it is awkwardly emulating Daredevil. Once again, the Hand are using the docks to smuggle something dangerous into New York City. Once again, that dangerous object turns out to be a person rather than an object. All of this feels very familiar, almost suffocatingly so. There are any number of interesting stories to be told about the character of Danny Rand and using the Immortal Iron Fist. Why settle for a dull retread of a story that has already been told within this run of television series?

On the defensive.

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