The verdict is in: Marvel’s Iron Fist is not exactly the cream of the crop of the superhero television shows. This is the case for many reasons — its pacing, its presentation of its mythology, and its clumsy delivery of Asian mysticism from a white dude. The most glaring reason being the airless protagonist, Danny Rand, who has less charisma than the drug rug he struts around in for the initial few episodes. But if you consider the story from side character Colleen Wing’s perspective and pretend she’s the protagonist, Iron Fist is actually a kickass show.
Iron Fist’s basic story revolves around Finn Jones’s Danny Rand, a trust-fund kid who gets in a plane crash and subsequently takes a twelve-year detour to a mystical Asian city, where he learns magical martial arts. Skill acquired, the show opens when he’s returned to New York City, ostensibly to reclaim his deceased parents’ business empire but mostly just to piss everyone off. “Everyone” includes his family friends — a brother and sister pair who currently manage that business empire — and a no-nonsense martial artist named Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), who he crosses paths with.
As a superhero story, Danny Rand’s is most similar to Bruce Wayne’s, but the milquetoast Danny has none of his darkness or sense of inner conflict to make him intriguing or relatable. His mission and goals are far more vague than his superhero brethren.
That’s where Colleen Wing comes in. Colleen is a side character steeped in goals, a mission, and a fascinating inner conflict. She’s a principled and hard working martial arts teacher who acts as a mentor to her struggling high school students. Meanwhile, she struggles herself to continue paying for her home and studio without feeling like she’s betraying the integrity of her craft.
From her perspective, Danny is a random homeless man she gives money to. He subsequently makes a nuisance of himself by showing up at her studio, whitesplaining martial arts to her, and teaching her students. If that wasn’t enough, thanks to Colleen’s brief and unasked for association with Danny, she’s on the radar of thugs and smarmy businessmen alike.
While Colleen is dealing with all this shit Danny brought into her life, she’s also moonlighting as a badass cage fighter in underground fight clubs. Why was this not the focus of the show?
Danny spends many of his scenes in tedious board meetings; meanwhile Colleen is kicking the shit out of men twice her size.
If Iron Fist revolved around Colleen’s story instead of making it shoehorned in subplot, it would be every bit as engaging as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. Colleen struggles with reconciling her principles and her sense of ethnic identity into this ever-changing world, as she doesn’t believe in using her skills for profit. When her students find a video of her underground cage fight, they exclaim how cool she is. Colleen, meanwhile, is ashamed for dishonoring her heritage. That has all the makings of a fantastic superhero show. Colleen has her cake and eats it too by engaging in kickass activities that are grounded in human conflict. The best superhero shows thrive on this material.
Buried inside the mediocre Iron Fist is Iron Fist: The Colleen Wing Story. While the former is tepid and forgettable, the latter is a great show.
Iron Fist is currently streaming on Netflix.