The last of the long awaited DEFENDERS heroes, IRON FiST breaks on the Netflix shores this Weekend, and my opinion? Well After Loving the first season of DAREDEVIL with some minor hiccups in the later episodes, Really enjoying JESSICA JONES, being Lukewarm on the 2nd season of DAREDEVIL, and LOVING Hodari Coker’s LUKE CAGE: POWERMAN, I find the first episode of IRON FIST… underwhelming.
The trailers were the first hiccup as I found them tedious rather than exciting, and tedium is not what you expect from what should be a Martial Arts rich show. The action looked unimpressive, and the casting, especially of the protagonist gave me cause for concern. He looked unimpressive rather than what he should be… a living weapon.
But trailers can steer you wrong, and hoping to be proven wrong I watch the first episode of IRON FIST. What hits you is the opening sequence, one thing all the Marvel/Netflix collaborations have gotten right is an absolutely great opening/credit sequence. The IRON FIST opening sequence by comparison looks like an unfinished product, a bad joke. An unfocused concept that they simply ran out of time and ended up just throwing something together.
Getting beyond the disappointment of the Credit Sequence, I like the opening shot of the barefoot hero in New York, a shout out to the Master of Kung Fu Comic’s of the 70s.
Quirky but in reality do you know how impossibly disgusting it would be to walk around the streets of New York or any major city in your bare feet?! There are things I fear to step on, even with shoes on. But again it’s a harmless if ludicrous call back to the comics of yesteryear.
What immediately impresses me is how much better Finn Jones is as Danny Rand, than the trailers hinted at. He has a likable and commanding presence, that is at the heart of the character, and he is choreographed to move with an effortless balletic grace that speaks volumes of his character and journey.
Indeed, Jones as Danny Rand is pretty much, contrary to my thoughts on the trailer, rather than being the weakest thing about the show, in this episode he is the strongest thing. He is very affable, which above all is the saving grace of his character, and in many ways distances him from the other more brooding members of the Defenders.
With the exception of Luke Cage, who beneath his bullet proof skin has, like Danny Rand, the heart of an optimist and a poet. Unlike the bone breaking Daredevil or the oft alcoholic and fatalist Jessica Jones, Power Man and Iron Fist don’t want to hurt their fellow man, they want to help them, make them better; Even, if possible, their villains. It’s why those two work so well as a duo in the comics. Particularly the wonderful David Walker and Sanford Green POWERMAN AND IRONFIST comics that started in 2016.
Finn Jones gets the character of Danny Rand, The Iron Fist. Underneath the affable nature of Jones portrayal, there is something you see in his first closeup (when he is trying to get in to be seen) a core of steel, something unyielding that completely sells him in a way the trailer did not.
So the Danny Rand portion of the first episode works well, it is a lot of setup, and I don’t mind setup, if it is done well, and written well, and brought across well, I thought the first two epiosdes of LUKE CAGE, which some considered talky, I felt were two of the finest written hours of television of 2016.
ASIDE ON LUKE CAGE SERIES AND COLOR CODED TELEVISION
(I’m about to get deep into media bias, particularly as it relates to ethnicity, so feel free to skip the following aside, the ending of it is marked, and continue on with the Iron Fist review)
Coker’s LUKE CAGE said wonderful truths that you usually don’t get with ethnic characters, because mostly ethnic characters on television are nothing more than Black faces spouting and reaffirming White messages . Messages which whether BUFFY or SUPERGIRL Season 2 or DOCTOR WHO or NEXT GENERATION all tend to be some variation on the wish fulfillment of its writers or worse the unconscious coded messages that they unknowing have accepted as truths, namely White female initially falls for Ethnic Character than comes to her senses and dumps him for a White character.
If that plotline plays out in one show, that’s fine, that’s life, stuff happens. However, if that plot-line plays out in every single show where a white female is romantically tied to a man of color, then that is no longer sharp, inventive writing, or originality, it is programming, played over and over again until we stop seeing it, but keep believing it.
In Hodari Coker’s LUKE CAGE you got writing that was shorn of that very racist programming that makes up 90% of the shows we see on TV, and the output of even our best writers. By no measure do I think Joss Whedon is racist, however he reuses the above pattern of racial politics when it comes to the romantic lives of the men of color he scripts from FIREFLY to BUFFY to AGENTS OF SHIELD to AGENT CARTER. At some point any romantic light he casts the men of color he scripts, any momentum to a healthy heterosexual relationship, particularly with a female of another ethnicity has to be derailed. Their identification as a sexual alpha, derailed. Mac on AGENTS OF SHIELD becomes comedy relief, rather than what he should be on that show… the Mac.
And like I said you would be hard pressed to not see this very strange repetition of sexual marginalization and symbolic castration (fit to be comedy relief or the non-threatening buddy or father figure but not the romantic interest) occur over and over to men of color in just about every dramatic show you can name, particularly the action oriented ones. Whether BUFFY, AGENT CARTER, AGENTS OF SHIELD, NEXT GENERATION, ER, ROSEWOOD, SUPERGIRL, FIREFLY. Such bias extends even to our news and ‘reality programming’, the fact that over 20 years later the media is still lynching OJ Simpson (A famous Black man accused of murdering a white woman) while in the intervening years there has been no shortage of murdered spouses. However this particular case accomplishes familiar goals of America, the tearing down of idols, the vilification of the other, and a platform to use an individual act, to try to send a message to a whole mass of people. It’s a lynching, writ large, 20th and 21st century style.
And by contrasts it has been envogue for the last 20 years to pair White Males successfully with women of color, pair being perhaps too equal a term, more like have the woman of color fling herself at the White Male, whether that’s FLASH, JAMES BOND, WALKING DEAD, TAKEN, EMERALD CITY, and again a couple of times it is just original storytelling, but for this pattern to be a constant over the last 20 years, then that is something else, that is programming.
So I’m always drawn to the shows that eschew these programming ploys, these repeated coded messages. So that is why I hold shows like LUKE CAGE in such high regard. A show where a man of color, a Black man, can be a hero and get the girl, full stop. It’s a rare concept in a mass media that is so racist it is not aware of how rare they have by design, made that concept.
Name me ten Dramatic shows (not comedies) on TV right now where a lead character of color, is in a successful healthy relationship with a female, particularly of another ethnic group. You’d be hard pressed to name 2. But you can name dozens upon dozens of shows that are cast and written the other way. Even though statistics tell us there are far more Black Male/White female relationships than White Male/Black Female relationships.
So why would the fiction of mass media be so contrary and completely out of sync with the realities of the populations watching those fictions? Because invariably the writers, who mostly are white males, propagate their limited definitions of diversity while also crafting their wish fulfillment, which usually breaks down to our White Hero is ‘so enlightened’ because he deigns to have a Black girlfriend, and the Black Girlfriend who has to throw herself at him.
Like I said, once or twice, it is original, however all the time, the same way, it is programming and it is insulting.
END OF ASIDE
Hodari Coker’s LUKE CAGE : POWER MAN brilliantly gave us something more than the programming we have been used to, showed us Netflix as a channel where more original and more truly DIVERSE stories could be told.
It left big foot prints for the next show, IRON FIST, to follow in.
And without expecting IRON FIST to be ground breaking, or anti- stereotype and ANTI programming, I did expect it to be good.
Unfortunately the first episode of IRON FIST suffers because its lack of action is not compensated for by rich and compelling characters, or evocative acting. Case in point… Ward and his father.
There is nothing more derailing to a narrative, than a weak antagonist, and unfortunately in Ward and his Father you have two very boring and uninteresting and cookie cutter antagonists. Ward came off as just a petulant child, a whiner, and whiners do not make for great TV.
The scene with Ward and his Dad discussing Danny Rand, rather than riveting is the definition of tedious. I had to look at the clock, to see how much time was left before I could watch something else.
That is never what you want to be doing when watching a show, looking at your clock.
So, between the pacing issues, and the casting issues, and the uninteresting bad guys, I’m solidly unexcited to move on to the next episode. And that’s not an issue I have had with the previous shows.
I hope to work my way through the series and all the way to the end, and I hope I can report it gets great, but for the first episode all I can give it is a …