By now, most Marvel fans have watched at least the first few episodes of the new Netflix series, Iron Fist. Or maybe you haven’t because the show's reviews have not been good. Over on Rotten Tomatoes, Iron Fist sits at around a 17% approval rating among critics. Among non-critics though, it’s at a perky 81%. That’s an astounding difference of opinion. Sure, one could argue that the series is not Marvel’s or Netflix’s strongest outing, or that it doesn’t hold up well against the MCU as a whole. But the critical consensus as a whole may be a bit off base.
Critics have been disproportionately rough on Iron Fist. Like, as rough as Harold Meachum is on people who enjoy vanilla ice cream. Sure, the show isn’t perfect—most shows aren’t. That said, there’s still plenty about it to enjoy. That’s why we thought we’d answer some of the most common critiques of Iron Fist, mention its strongest assets, and point out a few mitigating factors you may not have considered.
If you've been looking for a fresh perspective, you've come to the right place. Here are 15 Reasons Why Iron Fist Isn’t As Bad As Everyone Says.
-- Please note that there will be season one SPOILERS within this article. Obviously. --
15 Critique: Editing Style of the Fight Scenes
Much has been made about the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad fight scene that features fifty cuts in half a minute. Critics can’t stop complaining about how awful that, and most of Danny Rand’s fight scenes, were. Apparently, Finn Jones had only three weeks to physically prepare for the role--and mere minutes to learn the choreography for even the big fights. In response, we invite these complainers to settle in for a viewing of King Boxer (AKA Five Fingers of Death).
When you watch this Kung Fu classic, you’ll notice a few things. One: a lot of really fast editing. Two: the beginning of the trope with fighters jumping in the air and landing on a skinny tree branch. Three: many shots where you see a blow thrown or landing, but never one that features both. Four: there’s also an Iron Fist in that movie, and it’s pretty cool. After you see that the fight editing in Iron Fist is actually similar to the '70s movies that popularized the genre, we can remind you that an even more famous scene in movie history (Psycho’s shower scene) is made up of 78 bits of film—even more than these critics are complaining about.
14 Mitigating Factor: It’s only Season One
We’ve come to expect great things from Marvel television, the MCU, and Netflix in general (more on that later). It’s common for shows to be adjusted and retooled during the first season. When a network drops a whole season on us at once, that can’t happen. It used to be common to allow shows a full season (back when a prime-time season was 22-35 episodes) to find an audience. Not so these days. Because of the rapidly changing landscape of television, we’re less patient and our expectations are higher. People complained that Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD was “boring” until the big thing happened in episode 17. Season one of Iron Fist has only 13 episodes.
Watch a season one episode of Family Guy, The Simpsons, or Star Trek: The Next Generation. But before you do, you should get ready for disappointment. Note: it’s from TNG that we get the TV expression “growing the beard”. This homage to Commander Will Riker can refer to any show that starts out bad and gets awesome over time. Too bad Danny Rand already has a beard…but notice that he didn’t jump over any sharks while on water skis. That bodes well for the future.
13 Asset: Didn’t Belabor Harold’s Resurrection.
If there’s one thing comic books love to do, it’s bring people back from the dead. As far as we knew, the villainous Harold Meachum had already died once when he was stabbed to death by his slightly less villainous son Ward. As soon as we saw Harold get dumped in that boggy thing, everyone but Ward had to know that he’d be back...and he was!
It’s to the show’s credit that this wasn’t played out in a long drama that took a whole episode to reveal something everyone already knew. It’s not like that never happens. Critics are fond of comparing Iron Fist with The CW’s Arrow--don't worry, we'll tackle that debate in a bit--and that show brings people back all the time. We enjoyed how the resurrection of Harold Meachum was accomplished in a short amount of time—before the opening credits. Even more enjoyment was had when disoriented Harold wandered around his company with only the vaguest sense of what he was doing there and who he was.
12 Critique: The Score is Derivative.
It’s disappointing to hear critics say that the score for Iron Fist is “derivative.” They’re basically saying that they don’t like it because it reminds them of something else. Well, duh. Iron Fist is part of a series. We don’t just mean that they’re all part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which the cool kids call simply the MCU), though they are. The Defenders, which is an established comic team and upcoming Netflix miniseries, will be made up the titular stars of Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist. This really makes us wish Netflix had decided to go ahead and do a Silver Surfer show too. But let’s not get off topic here.
When one makes a statement that something is “derivative” as a negative, they’re denying the connection that these shows obviously share. Even if all the shows had the same composer (for the record, no two of them do), they’re meant to be variations of a similar theme. Critics who deny this make us want to say, "Your FACE is derivative." But that would be immature, so we won't do that.
11 Critique: Danny’s Tai Chi is Too High and Too Fast.
We’ll be upfront in saying that when Danny does Tai Chi, he does do it higher on the body and faster than one normally would. He also chooses music that is decidedly not relaxing. But then, those of us who know anything about Tai Chi probably learned it from watching videos, or attending a class at a place that also offers spin and various types of cardio. No, there’s nothing wrong with that per se. But it’s worth noting that monks in a heaven-adjacent netherworld might do things differently than they do at your local YMCA or Curves gym.
It’s also worth contemplating what we’re actually seeing; first and foremost, we're getting solid visuals. Do we really want to watch Danny center his Chi for 10 whole minutes because it’s more realistic? Are we hoping to learn his martial arts secrets by studying his technique? Let’s hope not, because Iron Fist is not, nor was it ever meant to be, an instructional video.
10 Asset: Intro Segment is Badass.
Not everyone loves CGI. At this late date, computer generated imagery can make us think of anything from Terminator 2 to the Sharknado franchise—which is to say very good to so-bad-its-good, and everything in between. We can probably agree, though, that no matter how you feel about Netflix's Iron Fist as a whole, the introductory segment is super badass.
Similar to Daredevil’s opening, where it sort of looks like drippy paint assembles to become the lead character, it’s pretty visually stunning. The Iron Fist opening appears to capture the fighting prowess of our hero, Danny Rand. Now, if you don’t think he has fighting prowess (and many of you don’t), that might take its toll on your enjoyment of the intro. But you cannot deny that it makes a strong visual impact, and sets you up for what should be a fighting dynamo of a TV program. Whether or not you think the show delivered is another matter entirely.
9 Critique: White-Washing—why it doesn’t apply.
White-washing refers to the 100+ year trend of casting Caucasian actors to play roles originally written for (or were in history) people of color. Pale blond Emma Stone was cast as a Hawaiian woman, while Scarlett Johansen took some heat for her role in Ghost in the Shell. Tom Cruise was The Last Samurai, and one of the most Aryan-looking guys in film, Michael Fassbender, played Jewish concentration camp survivor Eric Lehnsherr, AKA Magneto, in a trio of X-Men movies. One could even argue that Hermione Granger was never defined as white in the books, so she might be an example of this as well. So yeah, it happens. We won’t deny it.
In the case of Danny Rand, though, white-washing doesn’t apply. Danny Rand is a white kid in the comics—and that makes perfect sense, since POC running giant American companies is still pretty rare even nowadays. That said, if you want to make the case that Marvel could have chosen any of the other Iron Fists who were not Danny Rand, and who were not white—that’s worthy of discussion.
8 Asset: Madame Gao
Netflix's Marvel shows do well in their efforts to create a universe in which everyone exists together. Danny Rand’s lawyer worked with Jessica Jones, the Night Nurse works with multiple enhanced people, and when Rand wanted to put a story out where people would see it, he called Karen Page, who had worked for the avocados at law themselves—Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson. So when we saw that Iron Fist was bringing in a big Daredevil villain, we were stoked.
We already knew that Madame Gao, ostensibly the leader of The Hand, was a badass fighter—we saw her knock Daredevil on his red-clad behind a while back. When she went face-to-face with Danny Rand, though, what Gao did to knock him back was far beyond what any sort of normal training could teach you. In fact, it looked like straight-up magic. What’s that about? Who does she answer to? Madame Gao is easily one of the most compelling elements of the season. Maybe the show should have been called Madame Gao. Also, do we buy this nonsense of a kinder, gentler Hand? Nope. They might as well ask us to be fooled by a more inclusive and loving KKK.
7 Critique: The Hippie Poseur You Know.
It’s difficult to tell whether this is intentional, but Danny Rand looks like someone who might need a smack in the head. That’s because he reminds us all of a hippie we know, someone who rambles on about toxins even though he drinks tons of cheap beer. The guy who can’t shut up about his Chi while consuming coffee and Gatorade as if they’re manna from heaven. The Buddhist with a house full of needless crap, and an opinion about how happy everyone would be if only they lived like him.
Yes, Danny Rand looks like that smug ass we all know, and the tattoo makes it even worse. But see, a pampered white kid who trained for 15 years has EARNED that knowledge, along with the right to talk about dragons, Chi, and centering himself. Despite looking kind of ridiculous, he really has come by all of that honestly. So maybe we can all stop judging books by their self-satisfied covers.
6 Asset: Davos Is Set To Be A Full-On Villain Next Season
If you don’t want to hear out speculation (obvious though it may be) about next season, kindly skip this entry. We’re feeling pretty confident that the carnage at K’un Lun was committed by the bitter Iron Fist washout known as Davos. Davos was, as we’re told, Danny’s wine-stealing buddy from his days at the monastery. Davos was angry and sad about not being chosen to face the big dragon and become the latest incarnation of the Iron Fist. But he was even angrier when Danny left his guard duties to flit off to his old company and date a chick who was in league with The Hand.
We think it’s fair to say that Danny gave Davos reason to be upset. When Davos tried to take Danny back to K’un Lun, Danny refused to go. Later, we realized that he merely refused to go…without his new girlfriend who had been in The Hand. At this point, it seems obvious that Davos will emerge as the big villain next season (or, at least one of them). There's always the chance that The Defenders could be wiping out The Hand in the very near future. Either way, we predict that we haven’t seen the last of Davos--not by a long shot.
5 Critique: It’s a Rip-Off of Arrow
Nope. Let’s start with the obvious: Danny Rand doesn’t shoot arrows. Danny Rand lost his parent/s at a young age, just like Oliver Queen…and Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker, Matt Murdock, Harry Potter, Oliver Twist, we could go on and on. Rand and Queen also trained with martial arts masters or in a monastery despite being pampered white people. So did Batman, Daredevil, Kitty Pryde, and Doctor Strange, among others. Both Rand and Queen do own big corporations—as do Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark, Ozymandius, Charles Xavier, and a ton of villains. Ollie did also come back after being declared dead—just like Captain America, Superman, and just about every other comic book character ever. Queen returned to (most of) a loving family and friends who missed him. Danny returned after three times as long, and was involuntarily committed by the only people he knew and trusted. We imagine if you asked them both, they’d agree that their situations are quite different.
So why aren’t people asking why Iron Fist is so much like Batman or Iron Man? They have almost as much in common as Danny Rand and Oliver Queen. It’s just that Arrow is a popular CW show in its 5th season, so it’s on the forefront of our minds.
4 Asset: The Night Nurse Develops Melee Skills
Comic book fans already know that Claire Temple is one of several Night Nurses in the Marvel Universe comics. There’s African-American Georgia Jenkins, who went around doling out free medical care in poor neighborhoods. Then there’s Christine Palmer, who was drawn much more sex-kittenish, and Linda Carter, who is named after exactly who you think. It’s worth noting that both of these incarnations of the Night Nurse got their own comics and storylines, though they didn’t start fixing supers until 2004.
With that in mind, it stands to reason that Netflix’s Night Nurse, Claire Temple, has developed some seriously impressive fighting skills of her own. The mere fact that she lands any blows at all against members of The Hand is amazing. But Ms. Temple gets better with each new appearance—and it’s great to see her developing this way. Now that she’s training with Colleen, we suspect that she’ll be able to kick Kingpin’s butt around the block by Daredevil season 3.
3 Critique: Danny Makes Dumb Decisions and is Naïve
When Danny Rand returned to take his rightful place at his father’s company, it didn’t occur to him to snag himself a pair of shoes. When he was trying to convince Joy Meachum to trust him, he broke into her apartment. When he was trying to communicate with Colleen Wing, he refused to leave after being repeatedly asked to do so, and later barged in on her work day with takeout food. When he became the most important guardian at K’un Lun, he skipped out on guard duty to visit the life he'd left behind. That's all aside from his appallingly bad business decisions, of course. Yeah, a lot of that is pretty dumb for a grown man.
But for many intents and purposes, Danny Rand isn’t a grown man, not emotionally at least. He stopped interacting with society when he was a child of ten. So his tween years, puberty, high school (come on, how selfish and emotionally immature were you in high school?), and even his college years, where most people grow up--all gone. So when you wonder why Danny Rand acts like a petulant child, it’s because he was never taught not to be.
2 Mitigating Factor: High Bar
Fans love Netflix’s Marvel shows. Each season of Daredevil earned a wave of new subscribers. The lead-up to Jessica Jones and Luke Cage both brought in a healthy share of new viewers as well. Reviews for all of these shows were consistently high, and praise was heaped on lead supers and villains alike. David Tennant was a surprisingly effective villain (well, not surprising to anyone who has seen The Secret Smile, anyway), and Vincent D'Onofrio's Wilson Fisk may have been the best baddie in the entire MCU. Given all of that, expectations were high for Iron Fist.
First, it’s important to keep in mind that Iron Fist had a much shorter shooting schedule, different fight coordinators, and a greener production crew than the other shows. Next, we should consider that if Iron Fist were on The CW, or even CBS, we’d think it was awesome. When the Marvel Netflix shows started, we only knew the actors from smaller roles in other shows. Finn Jones, though, was a major player on Game of Thrones, so we might have expected too much from him. After all, we never saw Ser Loras Tyrell fight 30 guys at once.
The bar for this series was set insanely high, to say the least.
1 Asset: The Women: Colleen, Joy, Claire, Jeri
A young woman trained her whole life to work for an enormous and vital organization full of big egos, divisiveness, and difficult people. When she begins to doubt the higher-ups, she’s thrown out like garbage for having her own opinions. Are we talking about Joy Meachum or Colleen Wing? You don’t know—because they have essentially the same storyline. But we don’t care, because both women seem so different that their similarities don’t occur to us right away. They’re strong, determined, but smart enough to doubt what seems like the easiest answer.
The women of this show are exceptional, and definitely the series' strongest assets. We covered the Night Nurse, but there’s also Jeri Hogarth, who remains professional and dignified despite overwhelming dickishness from the people around her. We could argue that the writing is inconsistent (Wing abandons her remaining students to run off with Danny?), but no one can argue how awesome the women of Iron Fist really are. We're all on the same page on this point at least, right?
Did we leave out your favorite thing about Marvel’s Iron Fist? Where do you land in the debate? We invite you to tell us in the comments, and respectfully ask that you play nice.