Danny Rand is dead. After a plane crash that killed his parents, 10 year-old Danny – heir to a business empire – is presumed deceased and the world spins on. 15 years later, Danny (Finn Jones) returns, and he is met by a world of greed, scepticism, and very little respect for a shoeless, unkempt nobody, who claims to be a resurrected billionaire – which may not surprise anyone all that much.
Outside of Netflix’s final solo entry before The Defenders can take flight, Iron Fist’s leading man, Finn Jones, has been waging another battle. As Iron Fist’s source material was created to cash-in on the kung-fu craze in the mid-70s, many fans felt that casting an Asian lead in the show would show support to diversity, as well as negate the White Saviour narrative that remains at the core of much on-screen entertainment today – while Iron Fist was white in the comics, Marvel seem happy recasting minority characters (Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One in Doctor Strange) as white, but less comfortable doing the opposite. In casting Jones, Marvel have made him a target for a host of Twitter-based abuse and questioning. So can Marvel’s newest series absolve itself of these accusations?
Well, probably not. The main issue, which arises even without an argument about diversity, is that Danny Rand is an especially naïve, entitled white guy. Having been raised by inter-dimensional monks, Rand arrives back in the MCU expecting his name to be enough to get by. Rarely bothering to explain his story beyond “I’ve been away”, and assuming respect at every turn, he remains a thoroughly two-dimensional character for the series’ opening two hours. While this sort of naivety could be expected from someone with little-to-no experience of the adult world, it’s very easy to see Marvel’s hero as dull, affronted, and, quite frankly, a bit thick.
Now, this is not the fault of Finn Jones. Simplistic writing, tedious characterisation, and flawed source material have created a lead role in which proving Rand’s identity and embracing the more well-publicised elements of Chinese martial arts are paramount. As a result, Marvel’s new lead rarely does anything of any interest at all. Almost helpfully to Jones, it is clear that it is not just his character that suffers; this entire part of Marvel’s world is somewhat disappointing and simplistic.
Rand’s childhood friends, Joy and Ward Meachum, get the same treatment. Joy (Jessica Stroup) and her brother (Tom Pelphrey), who now run the Rand empire, remain transparent and unevolved, with both taking two episodes to realise what the audience know from the first minute. Joy’s soft spot for Danny and Ward’s childish spite dominate their screen time, almost negating their characters entirely. The only person to show any thought so far is Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing – a labouring martial arts expert and the only minority role introduced thus far.
Iron Fist’s obscurity and martial arts influence have given Marvel an enviable scope for a show that is guaranteed viewers, thanks to Netflix’s previous efforts, as well as its upcoming crossover show, but they seem to have taken a light-hearted, formulaic approach more aligned with that of their films than their TV shows, which are known for their complexity and grit. Having established the basics across the opening two chapters, it remains to be seen whether Iron Fist can craft something more original out of what comes next.
All episodes of Iron Fist are available exclusively on Netflix UK from Friday 17th March.