Netflix’s Iron Fist 1.1: Oh, Marvel, No.

Behold, the weekend it feels like no one was waiting for (thanks to the advance negative buzz) has arrived, and now we have thirteen episodes of this to contend with on Netflix. The question remaining is why, from the casting decisions to the general failure to acknowledge the very shaky representational ground the whole premise is standing on, in 2017. For a moment, the next twelve eps unseen, I’m going to give the show the benefit of the doubt, and imagine it’s possible these glaring issues somehow get fixed along the way–pilots are not episodic television’s strongest form, even on streaming, intended-for bingeing series–but now is the time to talk about how things certainly didn’t get off on the best (bare) foot.

First, let’s address casting. There’s already been a lot of talk in anticipation of the series, that now would be a great time to do a race-bent casting of Danny Rand, and escape the white-guy-learns-kung-fu trope in which the print version of Iron Fist originated, embracing full 1970’s exploitation-film mode. It should go without saying there are some strong arguments to be made here, and the studio should have given this option its due respect and consideration. But, even if the traditionalist tack was inevitable in casting the series lead, due to a combination of fondness for the weird charms of Danny as he is in print (and they are many), and the commercial cowardice that always views a white lead as the “safer” option (so not defending that one), there were better white-guy options than Finn Jones.

Jones may have performative strengths of which I remain unaware, in other contexts, but in this pilot, he comes off as deadly dull, unable to hold the camera’s attention for even a moment as any sort of charismatic presence, and this is profoundly unfortunate, for at his best, print Danny Rand is charismatically weird.

Copyright Marvel Comics 1978, click through for information about the comic

When I heard that yes, Marvel/Netflix was still going the white-guy route, I tried to imagine a version of the series that could still work, one with a mostly Asian cast (in fully-realized, 3D roles), and a casting choice for the lead that at least attempted to justify the argument for sticking with print Danny’s appearance by also perfectly embodying the quirks and appeal of the character. The name that immediately came to mind for me was not Finn Jones, but the highly underappreciated Fran Kranz (Cabin In the Woods, Dollhouse). Between Kranz’s

Fran Kranz in The Cabin In the Woods

precision comic timing, and his startlingly muscular frame once stuff gets real and the shirts come off, he seemed to me like a shoe-in for a screen test, but no, we get fifty shades of bland cast in the part instead. Yay.

And so, by the end of Iron Fist 1.1, we are left with a white protagonist who is, so far, so boring, that I honestly thought for a moment when Danny passes out that he had drifted off from the tedium I was feeling too. Compound that with only one Asian character with a speaking part (Colleen Wing, played by Jessica Henwick), and we have a serious problem on our hands. Midway through, as we watch Danny shoving his way obliviously through a street celebration in Chinatown, going against the flow of traffic, I was left wondering, is this a metaphor for something? And if so, isn’t it a little pat?

I’ll keep watching, and let y’all know if it gets better. Henwick, as Wing, is definitely the most promising element thus far, and I suspect the show floats or sinks, ep by ep, on how much screen time she’s given. Here’s hoping it’s a lot.

What did you think of the Iron Fist pilot?

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