The Defenders are now assembled. Iron Fist has a lot of issues and the reviews are focusing on pacing problems, flat acting, and poor story telling none of them seem to pin-point why. There's also a lot of criticism coming in about the racial insensitivity present in the writing and main character's actions but others have already addressed those issues better than I could. We're gonna running through the core themes of the successful predecessors and then put Iron Fist beside them.
Daredevil explores the struggle between determinism and redemption. Matt's motivations are tied to a drive to bring justice to those the legal system fails and while determinism tells him to kill he clings to his faith as a way to overcome this pressure. The Kingpin is trying to redeem Hell's Kitchen while understanding his methods are criminal and problematic but viewing them as necessary. The Punisher is driven by vengeance but is shown to have a lack of agency to overcome his determination.
Jessica Jones navigates the wedge between who you are and what's happened to you. Jessica walls herself off from the pain of her traumas yet is forced to confront them and turn her post-traumatic stress into post-traumatic growth and stop her rapist/abuser. Trish strives to be more than a product of her mother's emotional abuse and exploitation. Killgrave believes he's been betrayed and abandoned by those he's abused and identifies himself as the victim instead of taking any responsibility for the harms he instigates.
Luke Cage delves into the complications and responsibilities of molding legacies. Luke is running from his past life of Carl Lucas and is trying to enforce the legacy Pops left behind. Cottonmouth came up with Pops but finds his legacy is in trying to rebuild the criminal empire he grew up in. Mariah has the same legacy as Cottonmouth but sees the future of that legacy within the more legitimate crimes of the political structure. Diamondback sees his legacy as being robbed from him by Carl when they were children and seeks to steal Luke's legacy in return.
These are all shows exploring complex themes on the loose bones of hero stories. These are flawed characters and bleary narratives where neither the villains nor heroes know which side they're on for sure. Iron Fist has a lot of lack in keeping to this trend. Danny Rand's struggles are less sympathetic. He was upended as a child and seems to be trying to reconnect with the life he left behind. He also is trying to cope with his anger over losing his parents. He's also coping with guilt of abandoned his sworn duty as the Iron Fist. He's also regretting his decision to become a living weapon without understanding his motivations. He's trying to reconnect with his childhood "friends" even though flashbacks make that label questionable. Then he's trying to become part of the company he's now majority share-holder of. There are just too many core-conflicts to keep track of or care about.
It doesn't help that the other characters don't seem to share any core motivational themes with him. The only thing they all seem to touch on is the idea that they're adults and have to make their own choices. The show is full of people condescendingly calling the other characters children. There are a lot of moments of the characters angrily declaring they are not children. A lot of reflection as to what they thought they would grow up to be when they were children. More than a few scenes of people calling each other immature or telling each other to grow up. Watching a bunch of millionaire white people being upset that they aren't being treated like adults just isn't a strong enough thread to hang a show on.
A good villain might have helped and in each other show it's a complex person that we both hate and sympathize with. We know they're wrong but understand the flowed path that got them there. The villain in Iron Fist ends up just being someone who sold themselves for a longer life, is very selfish, and has no moral compass who literally feels like he doesn't matter. The entire show seems to have no human core to it. It all just seems like sloppy story telling to better establish that The Hand is a thing before the Defenders series comes out.
While the acting could've helped, it's also been getting poor reception. The show brings back Jeri Hogarth, played by Carrie-Anne Moss, and Claire Temple, played by Rosario Dawson. In the preceding series these actresses delivered amazing characters with depth and complexity. Then in Iron Fist Jeri barely has any presence on screen. All of her steel and alpha has been dialed down by leaps. Claire who normally asserts and is more likely to respond to stupidity and bravado with a stern word and a walk-out suddenly begins acquiescing to Danny's tantrums. When two great actresses who've played the same characters exceptionally well revisit them under new show-runners and deliver less impressive performances, it's pretty good odds the actors aren't the problem with the acting.
The way they've set it all up I just cannot see how Danny will fit in with the other Defenders. Matt would never tolerate his recklessly violent outbursts and flip-flopping. Luke would shake his head at the tantrums, and disrespect he throws around. Jessica would hate him for being so cavalier and scattered with his wealth and privilege. Though... I'd absolutely watch that.
Griffin is an illustrator by profession, a psychology nerd by education, and an entertainer by nature. He's also in charge of all goings on at ShadedAreas.com
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