Has ‘The Defenders’ Managed to Fix Marvel’s Iron Fist Problem?

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: Marvel)

By now, thanks to the wonders of Netflix’s binge-watching distribution model, Marvel fans around the world have had the opportunity to enjoy the entirety of The Defenders in all its bloody, grimy glory.

We’ve not all had the chance to blast through the full series of eight episodes just yet, so we’ll avoid full spoilers for the moment, but one question that does need to be answered is: just how well has The Defenders handled Danny Rand, better known as The Immortal Iron Fist (as he very regularly reminds everyone during the show)?

After all, the first season of Iron Fist is widely considered to be the biggest blunder that Marvel Studio has ever made (although we’re all somewhat expecting that crown to pass to Inhumans very soon). The show is plodding, poorly acted, and has absolutely abysmal fight scenes, supposedly the result of a rushed and tumultuous filming schedule that really should have been better planned.

With so many hits under their belt, there’s no excuse for Marvel failing to make Iron Fist a cool, engaging character, and trailers for The Defenders seemed to play up the fact that Danny Rand is a bit of a joke.

So how has the show managed to handle this, the most challenging of characters in Marvel’s current live-action pantheon?

Well, not everyone has been convinced, to say the least. Reactions from viewers is mixed, with most people still feeling like Iron Fist is the weak link of the group.

So, nope. Looks like people haven’t exactly warmed to Iron Fist.

That said, there’s a wider hierarchy at play in the show. Unlike The Avengers, where all the characters feel balanced and enjoyable in their own way, some teammates among the Defenders prove more popular than others.

Team-ups are hard. Marvel’s managed to do the impossible and make these movies work more often than not – Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the original Avengers all manage to be balanced enough to allow every major character time to shine.

Were The Defenders a movie, it would be excusable that Iron Fist isn’t given enough of a focus to allow him to win over fans. The fact that this is an eight episode series, though, doesn’t make things look good for Danny Rand.

We’re at the point now, having seen audience’s negative reactions to Finn Jones’ character in two different shows, that Marvel might have to face the facts; hiring an actor with no martial arts expertise and attempting to frame him as a skilled unarmed fighter probably wasn’t wise.

Even lampshading Finn Jones’ unpopularity in The Defenders hasn’t been enough to redeem Danny Rand. This might not be a hole that Marvel can dig out of with this version of the character, no matter how good the planned Iron Fist series two looks on paper.

So what should be Marvel’s next plan? They always have the option of recasting – it worked for The Hulk, and it wasn’t a complete disaster with War Machine. We’ve never seen an actor in the Marvel universe be replaced because his character is so hated, though, and there’s no guarantee that a new actor taking on the role of Danny Rand will be any more popular than the last one.

The best plan, then, might be to take advantage of the fact that Iron Fist is a title, rather than the persona of a single hero. There have been dozens of Iron Fists in the comics, and while they all exist in different eras of history, there’s nothing to stop Marvel from plucking a different Iron Fist out of the bunch and updating them as the replacement for Danny Rand.

This would also help address the complaints that have arisen surrounding the character’s ethnicity. Iron Fist’s identity as a which man who’s essentially stolen an ancient Chinese heroic mantle and powerset can be fixed if a Chinese-American actor is given the role instead, in the form of a different Iron Fist.

Wu Ao Shi the Immortal Iron Fist
Source: Marvel

There are plenty of Iron Fists to choose from in the comics, but perhaps the coolest alternate version of this character is Wu Ao-Shi, better known as the Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay. Let’s have a season of Iron Fist where she comes to New York and challenges Danny Rand for his title – it’d be far more enjoyable than watching Finn Jones fight wave after wave of Hand ninjas in poorly choreographed fight scenes.

(If Danny Rand has to die in order to Wu Ao-Shi to become the reigning Iron Fist, then no harm done.)

Perhaps the most frustrating this about the way that Marvel has dropped the ball with Iron Fist is that he is actually a really fantastic character, when done right. Sadly, it seems that with the current incarnation of Danny Rand in the Marvel Netflix canon, we won’t be getting a good version of Iron Fist any time soon.

Oh well. At least the music is great in Iron Fist.

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