Iron Fist

I liked (not loved) Netflix's Iron Fist, and here's why


I’m not a critic. I’m not a professional. I’m not a connoisseur. And maybe I’m just biased because I’m an Iron Fist fan. That could probably explain why I actually liked Netflix’s interpretation of Marvel’s Iron Fist, contrary to what critics have (rather colorfully) said. I’m not going to say they were wrong, because I’m in no position to claim to know better (and, maybe they were right, like in BvS). Instead, I’ll just say what I liked and, ultimately, disliked about the 13-episode series.

What I liked

The fight scenes. One of the complaints against Iron Fist was that the fight scenes were, compared to, say, Daredevil, were boring. And I personally think that’s good. Iron Fist’s fights were more like choreographed dances, which pretty much suits the kung fu theme of the character. Sure, there are more brutal and forceful fighting styles, but if you watch the old Chinese kung fu films, you’ll notice a certain grace to their movement, whether explicitly in some stances/styles or overall.

In a sense, Netflix’s Iron Fist is a nod to that old style and even gives a few throwbacks to some old kung fu conventions or themes. Corridor fights (with hatchets!), Kill Bil split screen, animal-themed stances, Drunken Master technique, etc. There was even a throwback to Wuxia-style “flying” sword fights in one very short scene.

Some would claim that Kung Fu is much as an art as it is a fighting technique (or techniques), and that shows in Iron Fist.

Themes. I’m somewhat glad that there’s a mixture of in Iron Fist rather than single pervading one like in the comics. Though probably those myriad themes might have also distracted some (critics). The original comics start out immediately on the topic of vengeance, which was taken up again in the more recent “The Living Weapon” run by Kaare Andrews (which I didn’t completely like). Vengeance, however, doesn’t come up until much later in the series, though there has indeed been some inkling of it here and there.

It’s particularly interesting how the Netflix series portrayed Danny Rand as a less than psychologically stable kung fu non-master, something that hasn’t exactly been dwelled upon in the comics aside from Andrews’ treatment (probably the part I liked the most about it). A guy who watches his parents die at ten and then gets subjected to the psychological and physical horrors of training at a city that has no connection to the real world isn’t going to come out unscathed. He basically has PTSD, much like Jessica Jones. His constant use of nuggets of wisdom is a stark contrast to the storm that’s brewing within.

It does seem that, near the end of the series, that things will turn out to be more or less like the major themes and events of the comic book run. That is, if we get a season two.

Fan service. Of course, fans would be tickled pink at the references thrown in. Bride of Nine Spiders, Dog Brother, Steel Serpent, etc. Even the references here and there to other Defenders series, as well as the Hulk, is going to perk up the ears of Marvel fans. Some references, though, do sound wrong, but either they’re some sort of foreshadowing or Marvel just decided to insert them there with nary a thought about consequences.

What I didn’t like

That’s not to say I found Netflix’s run of Iron Fist to be perfect. There are definitely some things I wished were done better.

Danny is a (kung fu) wimp. I get that this is Netflix and not MCU. Superheroes don’t do much superhero feats. So it’s not surprising to not see the Iron Fist doing incredible aerobatics across building rooftops (strangely enough, Daredevil seems to be a bit better at that). But the Iron Fist we see in the series isn’t just holding back on the superhero antics. He’s just totally weak.

A large part of the series does revolve around people’s disappointment at his skills as the Iron Fist and that would probably make sense if he were a novice just freshly chosen to bear the name. At one point, he does imply he didn’t finish his training. Which is rather strange, because to even have the mark of the Iron Fist, you have to face Shou-Lao the Undying and survive. How do you defeat a dragon and get your ass handed to you almost all the tiime? Unless, Netflix has a trick up its sleeve to explain away the dragon part.

Love interest. Don’t get me wrong, Colleen Wing is great. Some even consider her to be the better protagonist than Danny Rand. And in some version of the timeline, the two do get up having some “moments”. But fans would probably have loved to see Danny’s real partner even foreshadowed. Maybe we get to see that in Season 2 or in the full Defenders series.

I would have really loved to see more kickass ass kicking, more parkour, and more glowy hands. But, then again, this is Netflix, not MCU.

Color problem

I am still undecided now as I was from the very beginning where I stand on the issue of race. As an Asian, I would definitely be pleased with an Asian Iron Fist (hint: all except the last two Iron Fists where Asian). And although I bet the original creators of the character in 70s didn’t think of it back then, Iron Fist was technically born out of a “cultural appropriation” trend. He was lardely inspired by TV shows and films of the era where white dudes became martial arts masters and even became better than their Asian peers. But I’m uncertain how changing Danny Rand’s race now would have actually made the Iron Fist story any better.

The “being out of place” theme could definitely apply to an Asian American today, who would experience just as much unfair treatment and bias, but Danny Rand’s problem is a bit more complicated than that. He “lives” in two world and in neither of which is he fully accepted. He has been considered an outsider in Kun Lun, even after he became the Iron Fist (actually that even got worse). He is a billionaire in the US who is/was on par with Tony Stark. And in neither place is he really taken seriously. In latter versions of the comics, he doesn’t even take himself seriously and has almost become a clown.

Critics point out the ridiculousness of one scene where Danny, an white guy, was lecturing Colleen, an Asian, about channeling chi and centering, and that’s precisely the point. It points out Danny Rand’s ridiculous position and role, where he’s doubted on all fronts. If it were an Asian giving a lecture on chi, it would feel totally natural. With Danny, you begin to ask “who the hell is this guy?”

The recent whitewashing issues in Hollywood (yes, I’m looking at you GitS) has almost everyone demanding to have leads of color in almost anything and everything. In many cases, I do think that should be done. But in this one small case, I’m not sure it could be done without drastically changing the story of the Iron Fist.


All in all, I personally think Iron Fist deserved more than what the critics gave it. Unfortunately, it’s the critics’ reviews that bring in the ratings and, in the long run, the money. So while I’m dying to see what happens next, I’m almost resigned to the fact there might be no Season 2. To add insult to injury, Punisher is going to get his own series (ugh!). Now why didn’t they change his character?

Iron Fist Sketch

Join the discussion

  1. andyson

    But in this one small case, I’m not sure it could be done without drastically changing the story of the Iron Fist.