Your Complete Guide to Binge Watching 'Marvel's Iron Fist'
By John Boone
The Defenders roster is now complete. With the premiere of Marvel's Iron Fist -- all 13 episodes are available to stream at midnight -- the final spot in Netflix's assemblage of small screen Avengers has been filled by Danny Rand. Before you binge, here is a comprehensive guide of everything you need to know about Danny and his glowing fist of kung fu glory.
"The show is very gritty and very dark in certain aspects," Finn Jones explains to ET. "We tackle serious issues, like the heroin problem in New York and corporate cataclysm and corruption behind the scenes. There's definitely dark elements, but I think how Danny is different from the other superheroes is Danny has this naivety to him, which actually gets him in a lot of trouble."
Who is Danny Rand? He's a comic book character who has been kicking around -- literally -- since the '70s, first appearing in Roy Thomas and Gil Kane's Marvel Premiere #15. Perhaps the least well known of The Defenders, Danny is essentially Batman -- a tragically orphaned child of a billionaire-turned-masked vigilante -- meets Bruce Lee. Game of Thrones star Finn Jones plays him here, part man-child, part Buddha-spouting hippie, with a sprinkle of trust fund bro-iness for good measure.
Who is Iron Fist? Or maybe it's, what is Iron Fist? Both work. Iron Fist is ostensibly both a title and an ability. As Danny himself explains on the show, Iron Fist is a "living weapon" and "sworn enemy of The Hand." It's also a power manifested by focusing your chi into your fist so you can punch things real hard. In comic lore, Danny must defeat Shou-Lao the Undying -- who, FYI, isa dragon -- to attain the power of the Iron Fist.
Why is this one so damn controversial? Isn't it just another superhero show? See, Danny Rand may be white in the comics, but many have argued that is the byproduct of the bygone era when his story was created, when people weren't as woke about cultural appropriation. Ahead of Jones' casting, there were petitions for Marvel to cast an Asian-American actor in the part -- it's hard to make another "white savior" narrative if you don't cast a white savior!
For his part, Jones has done a...not great job of making a case against the backlash -- Trump is probably not to blame for this one -- and the series itself doesn't lean either way on the subject, neither creating a truly fantastical K'un-Lun (the mythical and Asiatic realm where Danny was raised) that shakes some of its Orientalist clichés nor acknowledging, hey, yeah, Danny's a white boy and a lot of the time it sounds like he's reading a fortune cookie.
So, what's the basic story here? Fifteen years after being presumed dead in a plane crash, Danny returns to NYC the rightful heir to Rand Enterprises, the monolithic family business. There, he reunites with childhood friend Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup) and his frenemy-or-maybe-straight up enemy, Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey), as well as the Meachum's dead-but not dead father, Harold (David Wenham). It's no spoiler to say Danny does not receive a warm welcome.
"It's a bit of a surprise for all of these characters, considering the fact that they thought this guy was dead 15 years ago," Wenham explains. "It obviously rocks there world, because he could be a potential threat, he could be potentially useful for them, considering here's a kid who is probably a rightful heir to half this billion-dollar corporation."
Do I need to remember anyone from the other shows?
1. Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), who was last seen in the Luke Cage finale checking out a flyer for self-defense classes. As eagle-eyed Easter egg-loving fans noted at the time, that dojo is owned by Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), effectively providing an entry point into Iron Fist for Claire, the sort of Nick Fury of the NetflixMCU.
2. Jerri "J-Money" Hogarth, whose gender-bent comic book counterpart actually started as an Iron Fist supporting player. She's back--now with a fun nickname!--having been a Rand intern long before the events of Jessica Jones.
3. Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), the mysterious heroin dealer from Daredevil season one, and The Hand, that mysterious pack of ninjas from Daredevil season two, also play crucial roles. Brush up on them, especially since Finn teased that the latter, at least, will continue on into The Defenders.
"Danny kind of understands the bigger threat, because he's been dealing it all throughout his life and all throughout season one of Iron Fist," Jones teases of the upcoming series. "So, when he meets The Defenders, he is the one who really drives the group to understand the bigger picture."
I thought Iron Fist had something to do with Luke Cage? Why isn't he on this show? You're not wrong. While Danny and Luke have both had their own solo comic book runs, arguably their most popular was when they joined forces in Power Man and Iron Fist and opened Heroes for Hire. I, for one, am not opposed to Netflix forgoing the typical season two and instead doing 13 episodes of Luke Cage & Iron Fist: Heroes for Hire. Back to your question: Mike Colter, who plays Luke, already performed his crossover duties in Jessica Jones. He can't appear in all the shows! That's what we have Rosario Dawson for.
OK, be honest, is it as bad as everyone is saying? It's hard to watch anything objectively amid an onslaught of takedowns and hot takes and think pieces, but is Iron Fist the worst thing that's ever been broadcast on television* (*a streaming service) and an indefensible stain on Marvel's good name? Nah. The first and second episodes are a bit of a chore to get through, I'll admit, but considering the six episodes made available, the show begins to hit its stride -- or a stride -- around episode four, and five really starts to get into the actual Iron Fist of it all. (By rule, every Marvel-Netflix series could be three episodes shorter, or each episode could be trimmed, at the very least, 10 minutes.) And that's not to discount some of the criticism -- it's valid! -- but after six episodes, I was willing to tune into the seventh. All in, it's just a bit of a disappointment, when you think of what it could have been. I mean, give us K'un-Lun! Give us spandex supersuits! Give us that mother effing dragon!
More importantly, how's the kung fu? That might be the most disappointing part of it all. You get plenty of fight sequences -- within the first few minutes of the show, even -- but they are generally...underwhelming, something not often said about KUNG FU. The fight scenes are made to appear effortless -- Danny's the best martial artist evahhh -- but which has the inadvertent side effect of making them appear lackadaisical.
A perfect example of how Iron Fist wastes its own potential is a fight sequence at the end of episode two, which -- without giving away too much -- finds Danny in a straightjacket. It's the set-up for something unique and perhaps unlike any fight scene on any show before. (Or, at least, no Marvel-Netflix show.) Instead, it's more of the same, highly choreographed, punchy-punchy mush. And it could be so cool! Pulpy and stylized and exciting! That kung fu movie aesthetic might not gel with the grounded, gritty, street level superhero world established thus far, but it'd certainly be more interesting to watch. Ultimately, Iron Fist tries too hard to be the Kung Fu Daredevil, instead of the best Iron Fist it could be.
Anyway, what's the spinoff I'm going to want after watching this? While Heroes for Hire is certainly enticing, I'd trade that and the Punisher spinoff for Daughters of the Dragon, the team comprised of Colleen Wing, badass sensei and sometimes sidekick to Danny, and Luke Cage's Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick). They're set to cross paths in The Defenders, maybe just go from there?