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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Iron Fist Trailer Analysis

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Edited by Robert Beach 

So far, Marvel has produced three original series on Netflix (Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil); Iron Fist will be the studio’s fourth foray into this particular arena.  Scheduled to premiere in March 2017, Iron Fist will be the last original show before Defenders, which will feature a crossover between all four of the Marvel series along with, presumably, the Punisher. All of the Marvel shows have followed along a somewhat similar track: emphasizing brutal violence, a dark and gritty aesthetic, and a very street-level vision of New York. 

Iron Fist will be the first to break from this aesthetic as the titular Iron Fist, AKA Danny Rand, is both a wealthy CEO and a living weapon, master of the mystic kung-fu technique of the Iron Fist. The whole mythos is full of that kung-fu fantasy weirdness like secret hidden cities, other living weapons, and outright dragons, magic, and chi channeling. It’s a different aesthetic is my point. After months of controversy, campaigns, and disappointing casting announcements, we have a full trailer to give a voice to that tone and boy, is it ever mediocre. 

Returning us to Marvel’s vision of NY, the trailer quickly establishes some major things for us. Firstly, the New York setting is a pretty major revelation as Iron Fist’s origin ties to K’un-Lun, a magic, hidden city somewhere in the Himalayas. Given that, the question of the show’s setting was always looming over the show, especially given how visually unique and engaging K’un-Lun is in the comics. 

However, it seems Iron Fist will be adopting an approach more in line with that of Arrow, with the action set in present-day New York as Fist will sporadically flashback to his time in the hidden city.  I’m not totally sure this approach works, especially how often it requires retelling a character’s origin flat out, but I think it hurts Iron Fist more than it does Arrow. 

The big thing to understand about Iron Fist is that, until recently, he wasn’t all that an important part of the Marvel mythos. That’s relatively true for most Marvel properties now. Four years ago, who had even heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy? But Fist is somewhat unique.  

Unlike the Guardians or Iron Man, his star was launched by a comic rather than a film.  In 2006, Marvel revived the character after his partner, Luke Cage, had become a runaway favorite in the pages of Avengers. 

Rand got his book. Entitled Immortal Iron Fist, it more or less rebranded the character from his goofy and orientalist roots. Now Fist settles in the role of a knock-out hero with a sleek, slick mythos blending classical pulp and ‘70s new fitness kung-fu for a winning combination.  

That series, which is the biggest influence on the Iron Fist show, was set almost entirely in K’un-Lun and was all about the other living weapons of other hidden cities.  If any of that is being translated over to the Netflix show, I couldn’t make it out. 

The rest of the opening is mainly spent introducing us to other characters. We get a few glances of Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing, a street samurai and occasional ally of both Iron Fist and Luke Cage’s Misty Knight, who is confirmed to appear in one episode. 

We also got a quick glance at Joy Meachum, the woman who ran Danny’s company while he was in Tibet learning to be the living weapon.  Speaking of which, we also got a glimpse of what I’m pretty sure is the Rand Industries building. I’d expect that building to play a key role in the plot, to the point where I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the show is set in the immediate aftermath of Danny Rand’s return to New York. 

We also get a glance at Madam Gao, returning from her brief cameo in Daredevil season 2 to pay-off her super strength from Daredevil season 1. Something I really would like in one of these shows would be for them to fully map out what the criminal underworld of Marvel’s New York IS as it’s become so fluid from show-to-show it’s hard to keep track. 

It’s also worth wondering where in New York this show will be set given how important geography has become to the shows. Jessica Jones and Daredevil were all about Hell’s Kitchen while Luke Cage was firmly planted in Harlem. Will Danny post up in Manhattan? Or will the series see him through to China Town? The pulpy, urban orientalism of the show’s stylistic affect would certainly suggest something along those lines. 

We also get some sporadic visuals of the plane crash that landed the Rand Family in K’un-Lun, along with a brief glimpse of Danny in robes and the monks that trained him. I’m not sure if we’ll ever get a full look at K’un-Lun would be beyond the show’s budget, but I hope we get more than scraps in the show proper. 

There’s also a glimpse of Danny’s powers here, mostly in static poses rather than in action, yet it’s by far the most visually stimulating thing in the entire Marvel Netflix canon. The weird, inner glowing light combined with the freaky translucency of his skin gives the powers a creepy and unnatural look that I like; it fits the idea of them being more organic to a human being rather than outright magic. If you don’t know, Danny’s power is that he can channel his chi, his life energy, into his fists to enhance his blows. 

From there, the rest of the trailer is mostly fight scenes, which (of course) take place in hallways and stairwells because that’s where people battle in the Marvel Netflix land. I will say that Iron Fist’s ax gang hallway fight looks way better lit than anything we’ve seen previously. And yet, there are plenty of dim, gloomy scenes sprinkled throughout the rest of the trailer.  There is a fairly interesting-looking moment where Colleen Wing is fighting in a cage that I’d like to see followed up on; although, the fight scenes are all underwhelming fantasy kung-fu stuff. 

Which brings me neatly to Iron Fist’s biggest problem in this trailer: its curious soullessness. So far, all of the Netflix shows have been about something greater than just their respective heroes; it’s part of the contract they make with the audience. The shows have more or less drained all the color and fantastical elements out of these characters, but the exchange is stuff like Daredevil S1 addressing gentrification, Luke Cage’s commentary on race struggle, or Jessica Jones indictment of rape culture. 

Iron Fist, on the other hand, has the same level of desaturation and grit without any of the depth or meaning to back it up. Taken as is, this seems just to be a show about magic ninjas fighting an equally magic kung-fu dude; it’s thematically the emptiest entry in the entire Netflix line-up. 

Couple that with the very legitimate issues raised over plastering a white face over a story steeped in Asian culture and the whole enterprise feels very perfunctory and meaningless like Marvel’s going through the motions but with none of the passion they’ve had before.  

Maybe this is the result of the trailer, and the show takes some turns it can’t show. For now, judging on the best foot Marvel could put forward with this property, my expectations are far from stellar. 

Iron Fist premieres March 17, 2017

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