Iron Fist is outstanding. Let me get that out of the way.
Before it even dropped onto Netflix, the critics claws were out and determined Iron Fist was the first failure of the Netflix/Marvel partnership. Let’s look at the common criticisms.
Non-Asian lead. For some reason Batman gets a pass on this as well as Arrow. All of these characters were written by white folks and I’m sorry they didn’t want to write an Asian character as the lead, but that’s the way they were written. There are however some outstanding Asian characters in Iron Fist, Colleen Wing, Madam Gao, for some. You might also consider Davos or Bukido as strong Asian characters. The real solution here is to write an Asian lead from scratch and not borrow or change other established characters. It’s not a fair criticism for a show that does a tremendous job of honoring the origin story. Also I hope Rosario Dawson is making some major bank, because she is fantastic! She is the best thing ever for each story as she provides a much needed anchor to reality and some sense of normalcy. Her struggles, fear, her unwillingness to back down, make her the real standout, and it’s really unfair to everyone else.
Slow pacing. This one I don’t understand as I watch an elaborate shoot and punch scene. It’s not constant action, but neither are any of the other Marvel/Netflix shows. Maybe it’s that the producers didn’t decide to do the shaky cam fight perspective they used in the Bourne movies. There is great character development as the layers of deception are peeled back one by one and you think “how much more messed up can these people get?” Mysteries are not allowed to languish. Compared to Jessica Jones, Iron Fist is non-stop action.
Fighting sucks. Again, I’m not sure we watched the same show. My favorite fight scene for Danny is the hatchet-wielding Triad where he kicks and punches, but also does so in a way that uses his opponents’ energy against them. As the series develops his fighting style becomes more offensive as he struggles to control his anger and properly harness his Chi.
Danny Rand. Finn Jones is not Batman and is not the Green Arrow, but that is what we are expecting. Despite harsh training, he is ultimately a protector, and has the same emotional maturity of the kid left for dead in the snow. I see where the writers are trying to go here in not trying to write the same origin story as Batman or Green Arrow. He comes back to search for his lost childhood and is forced to slowly come to terms that he can’t really go back and reclaim it. The Rand character is an adolescent and again despite his training is prone to outbursts, emotional swings, and I think that is what the writers and actor are trying to convey. For me, it was not a distraction, but I see how for others it was what they picked up on to criticize.
The White Savior. I find it hard to believe that cultural appropriation wasn’t a consideration by the writers and producers. Luke Cage was intentionally an African-American Harlem story, culturally through and through. Iron Fist is an Asian American movie, that links Asians from the old world to the new world. The lead is white trained by Tibetan-style warrior monks, the music is intentionally hip-hop, but many of the supporting cast has some sort of Asian heritage. Maybe I give the writers too much credit, but I have to believe it’s a statement about Asian culture in America. When we think about minorities in the US, we typically think African American and Latino. Asians in the US are at least a standout minority in the US, but are incredibly diverse within that continental and cultural designation. Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Indonesian, Phillipines, Vietnam, and more countries make up the racial designation of Asian in America. And I don’t know if you noticed in the series, but the Fist is not a bad-ass on his own. He requires a LOT of help, and royally screws up just about every time he faces an opponent, partially because he can’t always reliably access his Chi.
I believe the ultimate statement in Iron Fist is that Asians in America are not a recognized minority because of their incredible diversity, so they are overshadowed by a white lead or another minority that has a strong identity.
Or I may give the writers way, way too much credit and it really is just a comic book story about Iron Fist as relayed in the comics. And if that’s the case, it is fun and interesting story to me, too.
Disclaimer: I’m a white privileged non-immigrant US citizen, so what the hell do I know?