Marvel’s ‘Iron Fist’ packs problematic punch, features uninspiring storytelling

Myles Aronowitz / Netflix/Courtesy
"Iron Fist" | Netflix
Grade: C-

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Danny Rand was kung fu fighting, his punches were fast as lightning! Finn Jones stars as the titular superhero in series creator Scott Buck’s “Iron Fist,” the fourth Marvel Comics adaptation on Netflix that serves as a lead-in to Marvel’s eight-episode crossover miniseries, “The Defenders.”

Set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Iron Fist” is an unfortunate travesty fueled by whitewashing, inadequate storytelling and subpar acting from its lead actor. Portraying an orphaned Buddhist monk with unparalleled martial arts expertise, Jones disappoints as the mystical force-wielding protagonist with a performance so hollow that DC Comics would be proud. Beginning with his hard return to New York City, Danny Rand seeks to reclaim his family company, Rand Corporation, after being presumed dead for 15 years. As childhood flashbacks reveal, Danny was involved in a fatal plane crash in the Himalayas that presumably killed his parents.

After recovering his body from the tragic accident, Buddhist warrior-monks adopted and trained Danny in the magical city of K’un-Lun. There, he attained the powers of the “Iron Fist” by defeating a mythical dragon — a trope of heroism shown time and again in the superhero genre. As the “Iron Fist,” Danny can channel his energy through his indestructible fist to stop bullets, eviscerate walls and intensify all reflexes and senses. His supernatural powers are often put to the test as he wards off countless hitmen and members of the Hand, an evil organization of ruthless ninjas that first appeared in both seasons of “Daredevil.” For avid Marvel followers, “Iron Fist” features the return of “Daredevil” season one villain, Madame Gao — played by the talented Wai Ching Ho — who squares off against Danny and has a vested interest in taking over his family’s company. More fan favorites make brief entrances in the new Netflix series, including Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) who first appeared in season one of “Daredevil,” and Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) from “Jessica Jones.”

In an effort to reacquire Rand Corporation, Danny is met with stern opposition from two childhood acquaintances ­— Joy and Ward Meachum — and their malevolent father, Harold. Business and family drama aside, Danny finds love in martial arts expert Colleen Wing (scene-stealer Jessica Henwick). Bold and unapologetic, Wing captivates the screen as the owner of a small dojo who helps Danny pursue justice and societal readjustment.

Upstaged by nearly every other actor on “Iron Fist,” Jones’s performance as the Marvel hero is a farce rooted in cultural appropriation and the typical white savior narrative. Rather than casting an Asian American lead to play the role of a martial arts master, Marvel and Netflix dug themselves a controversial hole by casting a blue-eyed, white actor who practically mirrors the offensive casting choices of Matt Damon in “The Great Wall,” Tilda Swinton in “Doctor Strange” and, more recently, Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell.” Following the white savior trope to a tee, “Iron Fist” depicts Rand as a white outsider inhabiting a mystical Asian land, acclimating to native customs, becoming unrivaled in physical combat and epitomizing white salvation. In the Netflix series, Asian actors either serve as crutches for the support of its white lead or corrupt adversaries for the viewing pleasure of white audiences.

In addition to poor casting, “Iron Fist” suffers from meager pacing and mediocre action sequences that make it unworthy of the time investment. The series fails to deliver exciting subplots, while its momentum virtually amounts to waiting in a dreaded line at the DMV. Whether it’s taking four episodes for Danny to prove that he is a Rand to the Meachums or for Danny’s backstory to be fully developed and unveiled, “Iron Fist” struggles to maintain attention where it is needed the most. From lackluster physical combat to tasteless dialogue, the creative team behind “Iron Fist” has committed an unnecessary disservice to the Marvel fan community.

Easily outperformed by “Daredevil,” “Luke Cage” and “Jessica Jones,” Marvel’s new series fails to pack a solid punch. May redemption come for our superhero in “Marvel’s The Defenders.”

“Iron Fist” is currently streaming on Netflix.

Jordan Joyner covers TV. Contact him at [email protected].