“I have been met with nothing but anger and resistance” – Danny Rand
After binging the first half of Iron Fist, I came to the realization that no one wants Danny Rand, played by Finn Jones. In the series, we learn 15 years have passed between Danny’s presumed death and his untimely return. It might have been a welcomed return had 15 days passed or maybe 15 months. But 15 years? Well, that’s just too much time to pick up where anyone left off. The same is true for Iron Fist; no one appears to appreciate this show. At least not the critics, who have blessed Danny’s return with an 18% on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s almost 70% lower than the fans’ 83% rating. The fans and critics usually agree, but this time the critics have it wrong. Here’s why…
The Iron Fist is good, yet flawed, and fits perfectly in the universe the other Defenders series have established. It’s dark, edgy, and includes the complex backstory of Jessica Jones, the secrets of Luke Cage, and the fights (although not as intense) of Daredevil. Iron Fist is not the “worst” of the Defenders series, but it is the most unique. Although Iron Fist contains elements of the aforementioned shows, it most resembles ABC’s Revenge in its plot and character development.
Both Revenge and Iron Fist are melodramas that use lies, deception, and manipulation to move the story forward, while using action sequences as side dishes rather than the main course. In Revenge, the protagonist is Emily Thorne, played by Emily VanCamp, who was placed in foster care after her father was incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. Emily spends her youth and adolescence growing up in a vastly different way than she would have had her father not been framed (and later murdered). Once she learns her father was the victim of a sinister scheme, she lays out a plan for, you guessed it, revenge. While scheming, she receives martial arts training by an Asian sensei. Sound familiar? Danny Rand spends 15 years separated from the pampered life he would have enjoyed had his millionaire parents not met their premature deaths. Like Emily, Danny gets trained by Asian mentors, yet in another dimension, who ultimately train Danny to become the Iron Fist. However, Danny yearns for his former life, and when he returns, finds that there are no red carpets or open arms awaiting.
Both Emily and Danny realize that their enemies are rich, powerful, and have far reaching connections, so merely beating their opponents physically will not aid in accomplishing their goals. Revenge features a maniacal matriarch, Victoria Grayson (played by Madeleine Stowe), who is bent on manipulating or destroying anyone who threatens her family’s empire. Likewise, Iron Fist features a power hungry patriarch, Harold Meachum (played by David Wenham), who is willing to broker any deal necessary, including for his own soul, to maintain the corporate empire he built from scratch. As a result, both antagonists have fractured relationships with their children who are trying to balance their own independence and loyalty to the family brand. But as much as the Grayson and Meachum progeny attempt to be better than their parents, they ultimately fall victim to using less than honorable tactics to overcome any obstacle. Revenge was a success on ABC, and I’m willing to bet Iron Fist is targeting an audience different than the Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage fans who are already committed to the series.
Still, Iron Fist is as good as the other Defenders series and manages to avoid the trap of recycling Daredevil. Using Manhattan as the backdrop, Iron Fist provides us with elements of what Daredevil was lacking–office drama. Iron Fist focuses directly on the resurrection of its driven, yet torn, hero who wants to return “home” as well as have what was stolen from him restored. Like Revenge, Iron Fist is strongly linked to the white-collar, corporate world resulting in many scenes taking place in high rise offices. And since many of the characters have reputations to maintain, they battle with threats and back-stabs rather than punching their way out of conflicts. Some may find Iron First slow as a result. If you lack a palate for love interests, corporate spins, or drained bank accounts, Iron Fist may not hold your interest each and every episode. Unlike Daredevil, Iron Fist is more Bruce Wayne than Batman.
This is most evident in episodes 8, “The Blessings of Many Fractures,” and 9, “The Mistress of All Agonies,” in which we are given a healthy dose of shareholder uprisings, privately chartered international flights, and use-in-case-of-emergency blackmail video evidence. Yet the best of these two episodes comes via Madame Gao, played by Wai Ching Ho, who demonstrates just how formidable a villain she is by playing masterful mind games with Danny and his allies, which will have lasting results. These episodes will be critical to the future of the Defenders’ universe because they reveal how driven Danny can be when it comes to reaching a desired end. Danny drags a few friends across the globe on a private jet to apprehend Madame Gao after she flees to China. Additionally, this illustrates that Danny has the financial means to back any operation, as does Tony Stark for the Avengers, which will provide the Defenders the ability to handle both local and global threats. However, Iron Fist does not focus on setting up the Defenders, but actually develops its own characters, plot, and conflicts.
Do not make the mistake of avoiding Danny Rand, like many do early in this show. Start, and finish, this journey with Danny as he attempts to reintegrate into society. Watch as Danny struggles with the emotional fallout of his decision to leave K’un-Lun, and navigates the sting of rejection when he is not welcomed home. These mental demons may not be as visually appealing as physical ones, but if you liked Revenge or plots that deal with inner struggles and personal trials, then trust the fans and welcome Danny into your living room along with the white-collar world of lawsuits, private jets, blackmail, full windsor knots, and pencil skirts.