Aside from hardcore fans and completionists, it would be fair to say that people think Netflix’s latest Marvel Cinematic Universe offering, Iron Fist, is boring, uninspired, and ultimately bland — i.e. everyone thinks it’s bad. Some would even go far as to say it’s the franchise’s first (well, maybe second) outright failure.
Fortunately, we have two Nicks (Nicholas Villeneuve and Nicklaus Neitling) who stuck through the series and are ready to provide possible solutions to retroactively fix Iron Fist.
1. Give an identity to Iron Fist
Each of Netflix’s MCU shows feature a definable identity for their heroes, both visually and narratively. Daredevil (represented in dark red) explores themes of vigilantism and Catholicism in Hell’s Kitchen, Jessica Jones (purple) confronts rape and PTSD, and Luke Cage (yellow) examines African-American racial politics in Harlem. For all of their flaws and imperfections, a clear identity is what’s kept the shows going and keeps viewers caring about each hero and their struggles. Iron Fist (black?), however, has no identity. At first, the show was about the marginalization of mentally ill people in psychiatric clinics, then it was about corporate immorality and corruption, then it was about the lead character’s identity problem of being billionaire CEO Danny Rand and Iron Fist, destroyer of the secret ninja cult the Hand. It’s ironic that the theme of identity crisis that the show ends on is a metaphor for Iron Fist’s own identity crisis.
2. No boardroom drama B-stories in your kung fu TV show
Let’s face it, nobody wanted a rip-off of Suits in their bingeable kung fu superhero show. I know I wanted kung fu in my kung fu superhero show. Kung fu and Iron Fist’s superpowered glowing fist are defining (if the only) traits that categorize Iron Fist as a Marvel Comics superhero. He was basically a white Bruce Lee stand-in while kung fu cinema became a trend in US popular culture in the 70s. If you haven’t already dismissed Iron Fist as a racist creation, then the last thing you want is people arguing about corporate leadership and a resurrecting evil businessman you could see coming from a mile away and doesn’t even make sense when everything is revealed.
3. More K’un Lun, Shau-Lao, and Iron Fist-ing
Who thought it was a good idea to not show more of the mystical city of K’un Lun amidst the Himalayas, the gargantuan dragon that Danny defeats, or the awesome powers of the Iron Fist? Imagine if Danny could focus his chi into every part of his body, giving him supernatural powers like enhanced durability in his chest, enhanced speed into his legs, or enhanced physical strength in his arms. Instead, all he can do is make his fist glow and become super tough, but not the rest of his body. I understand the impediments of budgetary concerns and deadlines, but if you gave me the choice between a meandering Faramir or the omnipotent dragon Shou-Lao the Undying… I think you know which I’d go with.
4. Make the audience fear the Hand
One of the coolest things about Daredevil (while also perhaps one of its detriments) was the mystery and supernatural evil built up around the ancient ninja clan known as the Hand. The ninjas are a legion, faceless, voiceless, and absolutely deadly. Their influence is far-reaching and unknowable. A force that even Daredevil barely survives. Then, Iron Fist decides that the Hand (a sub-sect of the cult, but nevertheless) should be a lame group that whines about corporations and capitalism. Not only is it severely underwhelming, it’s also stupid to think that the same clan that instills fear into the heart of K’un Lun also has a martial-arts orphanage and bitches about corporations taking over the world.
5. More Colleen Wing pls
She’s the sensei of her own dojo, knows karate and has katana skills, is super hot, and actress Jessica Henwick has already established her geek cred with roles in both Game of Thrones and Star Wars. Henwick’s character was one of the few good things about Iron Fist, and was someone I regularly looked forward to watching. Imagine if Colleen Wing was actually the woman fated to be the Iron Fist, defender of K’un Lun, destroyer of the Hand. It would show a great lack of confidence to drop Finn Jones as the Iron Fist after one and a half seasons, but I can’t imagine it would be any more embarrassing than the “kung-fu California hippie” shtick we endured with Jones as the star.
6. Integrate the TV shows with the broader MCU
While not necessarily an issue within Iron Fist, it’s an issue endemic with all of the TV shows across the MCU. The whole conceit behind a cinematic universe is #ItsAllConnected. A cinematic universe entails a universe of possibility, connecting and integrating superheroes, supervillains, organizations, and events together. The Netflix TV shows, despite wholly taking place within New York City, couldn’t bother to show the Avengers Tower on the New York skyline. It’s well known among MCU enthusiasts that Jeph Loeb (head of Marvel Television) and Kevin Feige (head of Marvel Studios) have different approaches to how superheroes should interact with each other. As a result, the movies never involve with the television shows and the shows make only passing remarks to the events or characters of the movies. If the MCU wants to proclaim itself as the first multimedia universe of its kind in popular culture, it needs to fix this issue before everything starts winding down.
7. Pick a villain and stick with it
Part of what made season one of both Daredevil and Jessica Jones excellent was the focus on a singular villain. The brutal strength/business badassery of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk and the super stalker schtick of David Tenant’s Kilgrave were both memorable and incredibly well developed. Iron Fist, however, cycles through antagonists every couple of episodes and never commits to any. Then at the end, it’s revealed the true villain is a supporting character in an unearned twist that was solved within less than an episode. Next season, pick Bakuto’s sect of the Hand, the Meachums or Madame Gao and have Danny beat the shit of one them rather than barely deal with all of them in one shitty season.
8. Find a tone that works
Iron Fist goes from light-hearted, poorly written banter to demonstrating to the audience what a hammer does to a face. Both situations exist within an episode and the contrast is jarring to say the least. The show can’t decide if it wants to be a light kung fu romp, hyper-tense and bloody like Daredevil, or just a B-grade Suits knock off. Next season, Iron Fist should pick any one of these tones and keep it consistent because this season didn’t have an episode with a coherent tone.
9. Shorten the seasons
If I had a critique of the MCU Netflix series’ as a whole, it’s that the seasons are about four episodes too long. The series can benefit from an incredibly tight eight episodes that would ditch the filler that have brought all the series down since Daredevil‘s inaugural season.
10. Stop talking about “the incident”
It only gets brought up a few times but fuck, I’m sick of hearing about it. I know the Avengers happened, I saw the movie. And I get it, it’s a cheap allusion to 9/11, but it’s also tired and has become more and more forced as the series goes on. Every mention reminds me of the passionately mediocre film MCU and that’s not why I watch the Netflix series.
11. Make it less “Marvel”
What makes the Marvel Netflix series’ so great is that they (mostly) ignore the money making tropes the MCU has crafted in the superhero genre. Iron Fist, aside from random shifts to extreme violence, is a closer fit to the family-friendly style of cable TV’s Agents of Shield rather than the more boundary-pushing Netflix efforts. Iron Fist lacks the polish of other series — many shots feel more like they take place on sets rather than in a real city. The characters, aside from saying “shit,” talk like they’re on primetime television and feel like the annoyingly pseudo-serious caricatures that have become a mainstay of the larger cinematic universe.
12. Remove showrunner Scott Buck
Remember the trainwreck that was Dexter season eight? Iron Fist struggles for the exact same reasons: poor writing, misguided direction, and thin characters. My pick to helm the series would be Gareth Evans (of the Raid films). Hell, even if a random production assistant took over as showrunner they would probably manage to do better job than Buck did over these 12 painful episodes.