Monday, March 27, 2017

Iron Fist REVIEW Part 1: Danny Rand (SPOILERS)

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Rather than review each episode individually for Iron Fist, something that fizzled out about halfway through on Luke Cage, I’m instead going to break my review up into a number of articles reviewing specific aspects of the season.  Obviously, all of these articles will contain SPOILERS for Iron Fist season 1, so consider this your SPOILER WARNING for every Iron Fist related article for the next month or so.

This week we will start off by talking about Danny Rand himself, considering that he’s the main character, after all.

There was a lot riding on Marvel’s decision to cast Finn Jones as Danny Rand for Iron Fist.  Considering that Iron Fist was one of the original characters selected by Marvel Studios/Marvel TV for The Defenders, it was important to get the character right the first time since he will make multiple appearances in both his own show and the crossover, as well as possible appearances in the other shows.  Additionally, Iron Fist was the series that Marvel seemed to have the most difficulty with in the pre-production process, which led to multiple calls by critics for Marvel to do something completely different with the series.

The biggest call from critics was for Marvel to cast an Asian-American actor as Danny Rand in order to increase diversity among the heroes.  Did Marvel make the right call in casting Finn Jones in the lead role?

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Yes, they did.

Or at least it wasnt a wrong call.

While an Asian-American actor playing Danny Rand (like Lewis Tan (Zhou Chang), who originally read for the part of Danny) would have added an interesting element to the character, Finn Jones is just fine in the lead role.  Whatever problems the series has are not his fault.  He portrays all aspects of Danny’s character well.  When necessary, he is the broken and scared kid who is looking for friendship and family after coming home to find everything different.  When necessary, he is the strong and fearless Iron Fist, Defender of K’un-Lun.  There are certainly places where the acting is suspect, but every TV show has those moments.

One moment that stood out to me for all the wrong reasons came in episode 7, “Felling Tree with Roots,” when Danny and Colleen have sex.  The scene was not drawn out and it was not explicit, both things that I appreciated (considering my dislike of sexual content in general and explicit sexual content specifically).  However, watching their faces while they have “sex” was not the most convincing portrayal of sex I’ve ever seen—even from the Marvel Netflix shows.  That bugged me quite a bit a first, but then I thought some more and came to a realization:  Danny was probably a virgin, considering that he went away to K’un-Lun when he wasn’t much older than 10, and he lived with a community of monks for the next 15 years.  Unless he found “company” on the way back to America from China, he was a virgin when he slept with Colleen.  And suddenly that sex scene makes a whole lot more sense.

Danny’s character is all over the place throughout the season, but that’s not in itself a bad thing.  Everyone is “all over the place” at times in their lives—to write people otherwise is to turn them into caricatures.  The question isn’t whether Danny is acting out the same Zen hipster bro persona he puts on in the first episode throughout the season—something like that would grow stale very quickly and could not be carried on through a full 13-episode season.  Rather, the question is how Danny’s character—shaped as it has been by his tragic past—will react to and develop based on the various situations in which he finds himself.  When Danny returns home, he is excited and hopeful for a reunion with the childhood friends he left behind; their coldness and doubt of his identity pushes him into returning to what is familiar:  first his old home, and then Colleen’s dojo.  Stress forces him deeper into the Buddhist philosophies he learned in the monastery.  When he is sent to Birch Psychiatric Hospital, that finally breaks him of the Zen hipster persona, at least temporarily—it’s the end of the second episode, when he uses the Fist to escape, that he first looks like the Iron Fist.  Every interaction between Danny and Harold—up until the final episode—Danny becomes the same scared kid he was when he left New York because Harold represents a connection to his parents.

To make a long story short, Danny’s character is dynamic because his story is dynamic.

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Having said all of that, there is still a major weakness to the season with Danny’s character.  The major question throughout the season is “why did Danny leave K’un-Lun?”  This series takes away revenge as a primary factor because Danny does not have anyone to direct his revenge at—though they still try that with Gao in episode 8, “The Blessing of Many Fractures.”  However, the idea of Danny seeking revenge for his parents’ murder falls flat since he didn’t know they had been murdered until that episode.  When he finally convinces the Meachums that he really is Danny Rand and the offer him a settlement, he refuses it because it requires him to change his name.  This, along with his fight to be recognized as Danny Rand and be reinstated at Rand Enterprises, brings in the concept of legacy:  his father created this company, and he believes that it is his birthright to be a part of it.  There is also an interesting crisis of identity presented:  is he Danny Rand, or is he the Iron Fist?  However, this never really gets carried through satisfactorily in the series.  In the end he is somewhat confirmed as both Danny Rand and Iron Fist, only to discover that he very much failed his duty as Iron Fist by losing his heavenly city!

Really, the best summary of the issue is in episode 6, “Immortal Emerges from Cave,” when the two Russian fighters say that Danny “doesn’t know why he’s here.  He’s just a little boy chasing girls.”

That is certainly an issue, but it’s not a problem with the character himself.  Danny carries the series quite well.  I am very excited to see how he interacts with the other Defenders, especially Daredevil.  Following The Defenders, I would like to see the continuation of Danny’s story, particularly the mystery of what happened to K’un-Lun as well as Davos’ and Joy’s attempt to kill Danny in revenge.  However, if possible I would prefer seeing that happen in the context of a Heroes for Hire series/season in which Danny and Luke team up to solve problems.

What did you think of Danny’s character in Iron Fist?  How would you like to see him return after The Defenders?  Let me know in the comments!

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