Netflix’s Iron Fist Completely Misses the Point of Danny Rand

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Posted March 30, 2017 by John Clark in TV

It should go without saying that this article includes spoilers for Marvel’s Iron Fist show on Netflix. I tried to avoid anything particularly specific in the second half, but still, fair warning.

Though it is being savaged by critics, I actually like Iron Fist. I admit that it doesn’t take much to please me when it comes to a comic book show – just seeing the characters I’ve been following for years feels like more than I ever could have hoped for – but I still think that does a lot of things right, such as the development of Colleen Wing, the presence of the Hand [especially compared to Daredevil Season 2], and the gradual descent of Ward Meachum.

The problem, however, is that what it gets wrong, it gets very wrong: Danny Rand, the titular Iron Fist himself. A common complaint is that Danny comes off as extremely immature, spouting random zen philosophy at inopportune times and carrying himself like a general manchild. This, however, isn’t really my problem with Danny. In the comics, he’s actually pretty similar; he’s got more ego than good sense, is as naive as he is helpful, and generally assumes that as long as something is morally right, it’ll work out just fine.

The issue is that in the comics, the consequences of this are simple: Danny is, by and large, the worst Iron Fist ever. He’s a subversion of the ‘white savior’, the overused trope of the Caucasian foreigner coming to East Asia and mastering its ancient traditions before returning to kick ass. Danny is a great fighter who is otherwise almost always socially incompetent, and he brings many of his own problems upon himself. His naive approach to trying to solve everything in the simplest way usually backfires, forcing him to rely on friends or accept the reality of his situation to get out of it. The purpose this serves is to avoid the outdated and sometimes even uncomfortable implications of the fact he’s a white man taking on a traditionally ancient role, and usually, it works. It builds bonds with friends who knows his strengths and weaknesses, creates narrative drama, and gives Danny relatable flaws while still keeping him as a respectable badass.

The Netflix show forgets that entirely. Despite being just as naive and doe-eyed as he is in the comics, Danny almost always proves right in the end. Everyone comes around to his way of thinking, and idealizes him for it. One example in the early part of the show is his woeful attempt to seize back Rand Corporation. He assaults security, brings no proof of his identity, and even betrays to the Meachums who are running the company that he’s gotten a lawyer. Logically, this would lead to serious trouble with him retaining his company. Instead, what we get is a Deus Ex Machina in the form of the Meachums’ father, Harold, who wants to use Danny’s abilities as the Iron Fist and appeases him by ordering he’s let back into the company. This happens, of course, right before any meaningful consequences could occur due to Danny’s reckless attempts to force himself back into Rand Corporation.

Even though he’s ignorant and often even condescending towards Colleen, she comes to admire – and even desire – him. He shamelessly flaunts his abilities and purpose with even enemies present, but he’s not really ever successfully manipulated. Everything pretty much shakes out his way, with the only standing conflicts being those that can feed into the Defenders show in true MCU continuity fashion. The problem, ultimately, is that Danny is never slapped in the face by his bad decision-making. Even when the show sets it up like he’s going to be taken advantage of, such as his relationship with Harold, something happens to cleanly resolve it without it troubling Danny.

I don’t think the show is hopeless, nor do I think that Finn Jones is a bad actor for Danny; but in order to really catch the character, and avoid deepening the rather unfortunate turn into deep cliche that the first season went into, the team behind Iron Fist needs to recognize that Danny Rand is one of the most habitually unlucky and reckless characters in Marvel – and it needs to have consequences.


About the Author

John Clark