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Friday, February 10, 2017

Iron Fist Trailer 2 Breakdown

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One of the interesting things about Marvel’s lead up to Defenders is that each of the lead-up series has focused on a street level social issue that their hero is dealing with.  In Daredevil season 1 the story was about gentrification, Jessica Jones was all about rape culture, Luke Cage touched on race relations within the black community, and Daredevil season 2 was about…ninjas.  That last one, the one that breaks the chain and remains the weakest of Marvel’s Netflix offerings, despite Punisher’s excellent presence, seems to be the one most influential on the upcoming Iron Fist TV show.  

In a way that match up is pretty much perfect.  Daredevil Season 2 is a lot like Iron Man 2 in that it only happened because nobody expected Daredevil season 1 to be such a big hit, so the rush was on to get more of him out there as we pushed towards Defenders.  In that rush, the season ended up without much depth or passion outside Punisher because it was only really produced out of obligation, which is exactly the case with Iron Fist.  All the way from inception up to this latest trailer the message of Iron Fist has been “we’re making it, but don’t think we really care,” and this trailer shouts that loud and clear.

Before I dig into why this trailer sucks let’s get a lay of the land for what we’re dealing with.  For the uninformed, Iron Fist is, in reality, one Danny Rand, son of a wealthy industrialist and heir to Rand Industries, your standard issue comic book mega-corporation like Wayne Enterprises, Lex Corp, or Stark Industries.  As a child, Danny’s family jet went down in the Himalayas where he stumbled upon K’un-Lun, one of 7 hidden cities based around various martial arts disciplines. 

After decades of training Danny ascended to be the champion of the city and mastered their greatest fighting technique- the iron fist.  The iron fist move allows Danny to channel all of his chi, his life energy, into a single powerful punch.  It’s your standard issue of martial arts super power and if you’ve ever seen a junky ‘70s kung-fu flick you’ve basically seen this, which is mainly because “junky kung-fu flicks” are exactly what inspired the original Iron Fist comics. 

The show seems to be picking up after Danny has completed his training in the “mystic orient” (more on that in a bit,) and has returned to New York to reclaim his company from that guy who played Faramir in Lord of the Rings.   Obviously, in Danny’s absence, Rand Enterprise has gotten involved in some dark and shady dealings tied to Madame Gao, the super strong Chinese gang lord from Daredevil. 

Seeking out the help of Colleen Wing, a local martial artist on the street level, it’s up to Danny to untangle this web of corporate intrigue, mystical kung-fu legends, and China town gangland crime.  Also, Rosario Dawson is on hand as Claire Temple because she already saved the last 2 Marvel shows, might as well save this one as well. 

What’s so infuriating about that set-up is that it sounds infinitely more interesting than it’s looking.  Corporate evil is a ripe target for socially conscious heroes and tying it up with kung-fu ephemera is a great way to avoid some of the worst elements of the martial arts genre.  However, we aren’t getting the interesting version of this show, because they just didn’t care. 

Instead, Iron Fist looks like a series Frankenstein together from the most generic parts of other, more successful superhero properties.  The primary pitch of a hero taking back the company their father built as a legacy was kind of fresh when Batman Begins did it, worse under Iron Man, and by the time Green Hornet and Arrow were peddling that slop, it had gone completely rancid, so it’s disappointing seeing it pop up again here. 

That particular foursome is pretty clearly the inspiration behind Iron Fist.  His origin seems like another Iron Man rehash (trapped, masters discipline, returns enhanced) only now with the ninja army stuff from Batman Begins.  There’s also a lot of Arrow influence here with the street grime, the importance of fathers' and legacy, and just the basic look of our scruffy blonde idiot hero.  Speaking of, Finn Jones seems absolutely terrible as Iron Fist in this trailer. 

I was skeptical about his casting from day one, and nothing we’ve seen has soothed that concern.  We’ve never seen this guy tested in a lead role before, just a small supporting part in Game of Thrones where he wasn’t terribly impressive.  A lot of that seems to be a lack of clear characterization- simply put Danny Rand doesn’t seem to have an identity.  The best one I could ascribe to him is “hipster” or, more accurately, “wealthy guy who is uncomfortably into Asian culture.” 

Which brings us neatly to the other big problem with this extended Iron Fist trailer- it all seems distressingly racist.  I know people get themselves in a lather over throwing the R-word around, but I really can’t think of any other way to put it.  There’s a stark binary in the story being presented here between junky, ancient kung-fu magic and well dressed corporate intrigue and it’s a battle line drawn strictly along ethnic borders. 

All the Asian characters MUST be kung-fu masters using ninja magic while all the white villains are tough corporate crooks in suits.  This even plays into Danny’s true power in this world, the ability to move seamlessly between magic martial arts and CEO powers.  The whole thing can’t help but feel like a fetishization of this hodgepodge of perceived Asian culture, which is the textbook example of Orientalism.  That’s what I mean about Danny looking like he’s uncomfortably into Asian culture, the kind of guy who owns about a dozen cheap samurai swords he bought at the mall and insists Asian women are naturally submissive. 

Look, I’m not trying to put any noses out of joint here but given Marvel’s abysmal track record with Asian representation in their work I’m done giving them chances.  It’s not as if they haven’t been aware of uncomfortable elements in other source material they’ve worked with, like the lurid sexism of the original Jessica Jones comics or the dated racism of the original Luke Cage books. 

They were both works of their time by white male authors, things had to change, so believing that Marvel is this na├»ve little company that didn’t mean to come off racist with Iron Fist is a hard pill to swallow.  Either the people involved were too oblivious to these problems to say something, which is bad, or they didn’t care enough about being racist to actually do something, which is worse. 

See, stuff like this is why a lot of people, myself included, wanted Iron Fist to be Asian American rather than a white guy.  This kind of approach might’ve been fine in the 1970s but times change, and now it just feels uncomfortably outdated.  Granted, this is all drawn from the trailers and promotional material, so I could still end up wrong.  It could be that Iron Fist is a clever subversion of ALL of this and it’s actually a great critique of the white savior archetype and fetishization of Asian culture. 

I’ll certainly grant that Colleen Wing seems like yet another great supporting character in the vein of Punisher or Misty Knight who could easily elevate a lot of the show.  Also, Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu, is supposed to be somewhere in the series as well so maybe there’ll be more than we’re seeing.  But right now, right at this moment, Iron Fist looks like it could be Marvel’s first out and proud disaster of a project. 

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