Where to start with Marvel/Netflix’s IRON FIST. And it has nothing to do with “whitewashing.” First, there’s:
THE PRIVILEGED BAD BOYFRIEND
The love story is the most obnoxious part of IRON FIST by far. Jumping past the bit where Danny Rand meets Colleen Wing and starts speaking Mandarin at her like an ESL-class pickup artist, Danny quickly strikes up a rapport — or hey, maybe it’s a dependence — on Colleen. When he’s thrown into the mental facility, he calls her, instantly putting her in danger from his enemies. When she visits him, he’s very insistent that she should be figuring out a way to get him out, because…? Confronted by a ranting homeless man who imposes on her repeatedly, Colleen, a true hero, decides to help Danny, maybe because he says the magic words, “I”m gonna make this up to you, I promise.”
And he does, sort of. Upon release, Danny starts coming over to Colleen’s dojo and telling her about how she should teach Chinese forms as well as Japanese forms. When he gets his billionaire status back, Danny interrupts Colleen’s lesson with Claire to offer (but let’s face it, it’s a demand) a fancy takeout meal. There’s a truthful moment when Claire excuses herself from the meal early and checks in with Colleen with a casual, “You cool?” Acknowledging that, at this time, there is no reason to assume that Danny is not a rich obsessive serial killer, and gals have to watch out for each other in this time of Purple Men and Lokis.
Later, Colleen and Danny hook up, yadda yadda, and then there’s a turnaround where Colleen is revealed to be not exactly what Danny wanted her to be, which miiiiight be Danny’s willful ignorance of most things, but the telling bit is the petulant fury Danny reacts with when faced with a revelation about the woman he harasses into helping him. “She LIED!” “She’s a traitor!” But then later she gets back on his side so she’s okay, because Danny has a destiny.
TOXIC MASCULINITY & PATRIARCHY & FRAGILITY & STUFF
The overwhelming impression of Danny Rand is his childishness. I realize they’re going for a Harry Potter-ish outsider sorta thing, but maybe then they should’ve started the story when Danny was actually 15. I mean, the thing with the M&M candies? (Btw, as young rich kids, the Rands ate all but the brown M&Ms. They hated the brown ones.)
Within a week of landing in New York with nothing, Danny is handed a billionaire’s inheritance and convinces a really cool gal to love him and follow him whereever he goes. That’s not an outsider. That’s called being hooked up by the power structure.
But there is the daddy issue, and this is part of the issue that the Iron Fist creators maintain will take Danny more than one season to resolve, because his daddy issue is frankly more complex than your daddy issue. While it’s rather obvious to the viewer that the Rand and Meachum clans are full of rich Walmart people lying and manipulating each other, it is going to take Danny over 13 hours to figure any shit out.
Danny’s incredibly infantile attitude is evident in scene after scene. “I’m the Iron Fist. You don’t tell me what to do.” At a certain point, every time Danny shows up, you just KNOW he is going to do something douchey. That’s not what instills us with interest in a superhero series.
CULTURAL APPROPRIATION: ASIANS SUCK BUT ASIAN STUFF IS AWESOME
I do like that Danny listens to hip hop from 15 years ago, but the fact that RZA directed a movie called THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS does not count as due diligence towards the cultural aspects of Iron Fist’s story.
Danny’s Mandarin is, again, okay, but his erratic use of it perfectly captures every dude who’s travelled in an Asian country for a while and declared themselves fluent in the local tongue after picking up a few phrases. At one point he corrects Claire’s pronunciation of “An Zhou,” even though a) it doesn’t really matter at the moment and b) he’s also incorrect because Mandarin without tonality is not Mandarin. No comic book version of Iron Fist ever claimed that you should attempt to learn Chinese from him, but as far as the TV show goes, he’s an authority.
Do I need to mention that Danny, Colleen, and Claire beat up a thousand nameless Asian dudes in their righteous quest? Lewis Tan’s turn as the drunken-style fighter is a highlight, to be sure, and Madame Gao has her delicious villainous moments, but they’re still all incidental obstacles in Danny’s quest to find himself.
OMG COMIC BOOKS ARE DUMB
And then there are the parts of the show that are just silly, but not unprecedented in comic book silliness, e.g., they have a FILM of an old Iron Fist in costume, fighting Chinese soldiers in the 1940’s, in the distant mountains? This slightly trumps in implausibility the bit in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR where they conveniently have a video of the Winter Soldier secretly assassinating somebody.
I’ll confess, I have all the Facebook buttons towards Colleen Wing. I like her, love her, am made mad and sad by her, and am wow’ed. She is the first one in IRON FIST to wear the black hoodie which has been subtly emblematic of the Netflix Marvel heroes so far. Jessica Henwick is expressive and resourceful in every scene she gets to steal from wannabe-Leonardo-Dicaprio, and it’s almost puzzling how she gets to be such a well-drawn character in the midst of this Orientalist Nonsense which is primarily concerned with the Secret Lives of Douchebros.
Bottom line, I’m essentially a very envious person, and I’m seethingly jealous that in the thus-far excellent Marvel/Netflix series, women have JESSICA JONES, Black people have LUKE CAGE, blind people have DAREDEVIL, and I have this shit. It makes me mad sad that a show brimming with East Asian culture is so intent on erasing all East Asian people, save for the evil goons, the beautiful girlfriend-interest, and the ghostly monks from Timbuktu, in favor of, as Davos phrases it, The Worst. Iron Fist. Ever.