Marvel Finally Misses with Iron Fist

Better late then never?

At one point in the later part of its 13-episode run, Davos, fellow K’un-Lun citizen and longtime friend of Danny Rand drops a line that is so on the nose, I’m surprise that it made the final cut.

“You’re the worst Iron Fist ever!”

Damn, dude. Words hurt! But sadly, so does the truth,  because depending on what you read/who you listen too, Iron Fist is not as good as it was hoped to be – for a wide range of reasons.

I say depending, because although the series dropped to some critical and fan lashing, highlighted by rotten tomatoes scores of 17 and 79% respectively, it actually fared very well when compared against other Netflix series  when analyzed with the network’s own metrics.

I’m going to ignore all the Who-Struck-John that dusted up when Loras Tyrell (aka Finn Jones) was cast to play Danny Rand – mostly by those who wanted an Asian in the role, even though Jones in the comics is Caucasian – because I think the series would have caught grief from people regardless of which way they went with their casting choice.

All of which would have gone away if it ended up that the casting decision was a good one. Unfortunately, although Jones seems to be a  fine actor, he was woefully behind the curve on this fight choreography skills when Iron Fist started filming – a fact that is sadly very apparent in the final production – apparently because he had little time to train before filming began.

With dazzling martial arts scenes popping up regularly on Into The Badlands, some flashy action sequences in shows like Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, and hard hitting, gritty fight scenes from Iron Fist’s sister show Daredevil, not having top notch fight scenes from your star in a series based on the “Living Weapon” is borderline criminal. Especially when you factor in that co-stars like Colleen Wing and Lewis Tan are more than bringing it.

But let me push all that to the side and list three areas where I thought Iron Fist really missed the boat.

THE BIG BAD

I’m going to say it now, I’ve never been a fan of The Hand, which is TOTALLY hypocritical of me, because I’m usually all for anything that fills my TV or movie screen with katana wielding ninjas.

But to be honest, I just haven’t warmed up to them, sorry. I know, long time readers of the comics will point out that the Hand are pretty big players in the Marvel world and longtime adversaries of Daredevil. Given.

But to me, the Hand have always been the under card with other villains and anti-heroes carrying the more interesting parts of the story forward. In the first season of Daredevil they had the unenviable task of trying to out shine Edgar the Bug’s (AKA Vincent D’Onofrio) King Pin and for that show’s second season, the plot line of the Hand I felt weighed down the second half of the series mostly because it diverted focus away from Shane Walsh’s (AKA Jon Bernthal) Punisher.

The would be main bad guy for Iron Fist I guess would be the whole Meachum family, siblings Joy and Ward, and their father Harold who is dead, except that he’s not. Together Joy and Ward spend a lot of time not believing that the returning Danny Rand is indeed Danny Rand because they believe he’s dead, except that he’s not.

Problem – there isn’t a shred of menace in these three together. Not one iota of the quiet rage, or singular focused aggression that made The King Pin or The Punisher so compelling, respectively.

Harold meanwhile spends a lot of time hiding in his penthouse because people believe he’s dead, except he’s not, abusing is assistant and hoping the Hand doesn’t drop by for a visit. In the real world, only his assistant and Ward know that he’s not dead (except that he is, but he’s not) which assists Harold as he attempts to figure out if Danny Rand is dead or not. Got it? Groovy.

Problem – there isn’t a shred of menace in these three together. Not one iota of the quiet rage, or singular focused aggression that made The King Pin or The Punisher so compelling, respectively. Nope, they just kind of wade through the plot, adding obstacles when Danny needs them, and opening doors for the same reasons. But as far as lifting the show up to another level as other villains have in the past? Never happens.

Now, I’ll balance that with this – the inclusion of the Hand has brought some cool boss level fighters for our heroes to overcome. There was Nobu Yoshioka in both seasons of Daredevil, and Iron Fist gave us the very interesting (and sadly underutilized) Zhou Cheng (The Drunken Master) and the Bride of Nine Spiders.

And who doesn’t love Madame Gao? I want her on my fireplace mantle to act as my own personal version of Google Home. “Gao, What’s the weather going to be today?”

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“Ok, so…partly cloudy, then?”

If Iron Fist showed me anything, it’s that if there isn’t a very complete and interesting big bad to help carry the story, then for me the story doesn’t work, and the Hand are unable to do it by themselves, and sadly, Iron Fist is woefully lacking in complete and interesting big bads.

NOT ENOUGH K’UN-LUN.

One of the glaring omissions in my mind is the almost painful lack of back story into what makes Danny Rand tick. He just fancy walks into the building that bares his family name after a 15 year absence and starts to bring confusion to everyone who now works there.

But why? Why did he train all his life to  face and defeat the dragon, Shou-Lao the Undying, securing his role as the immortal Iron Fist, only to skip out and go walk about the first chance he got?

The show doesn’t investigate this part of Danny’s life very deeply, only showing an occasional glimpse of K’un-Lun, (where he apparently spent much of his time being whipped with a cane, because, plot!) and none of his show down with Shou-Lao.

Having that back story could have greatly fleshed out Danny’s motives, and maybe even have been used to explain why he doesn’t yet have the fighting skill level, or indeed the basic knowledge of other powers, one would associate with the Immortal Iron Fist.

Did Danny decide to face Shou-Lao even though his masters thought he wasn’t worthy or indeed, ready too? Did he beat the dragon using some Kobayashi Maru type cheat? Was his goal simply to be come the Iron Fist because he knew that would be the only way he could leave K’un-Lun, which was a long time plan of his?

So much backstory and motivations for Danny could have been filled in by focusing on this part of his story, and since it didn’t we don’t have it, and Danny just seems to do things because he does.

LONILINESS

No, I’m not talking about Danny’s alienation when he returns to New York or his love life (I’ll never feel sorry for a guy who winds up at the end of the day with Colleen Wing), I’m talking about the fact that Danny Rand is the only Defender to show up in Iron Fist.

From a production point, it takes some of the “he met, she met” that needs to happen out of The Defenders

I can understand why, the producers probably wanted the show to fully explore and flesh out the Danny Rand character, and probably felt that the inclusion of another Defender would somehow take away from that goal. My question back – did including Luke Cage diminish Jessica Jones in any way? No.It.Did.Not.

Adding another Defender would have helped jump start the formation of the titular group as well as allowed the show to have a path with which to move into The Defenders. From a production point, it takes some of the “he met, she met” that needs to happen out of The Defenders thus allowing that show to have more time to devote to story (consider The Defenders appears to only be 8 episodes), plus puts a very interesting aspect into Iron Fist allowing them to remove some of the slower moments of that show.

Who would not have wanted to see Madam Gao once again irritated by the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, or even a nick-in-time save by Jessica Jones. And don’t tell me fans wouldn’t have fist pumped or left their seats the first time they saw Luke and Danny, the team that in the comics becomes known as “Heroes for Hire”, standing next to each other ready to demolish a Handful (get it) of ninjas in a classic battle.

No…whoever made the choice to make Iron Fist only about Danny Rand…I feel they made the wrong one.

And that’s it. That’s the three bullet points I took away after watching Iron Fist. The show is OK at best, but sadly flawed, and really hurts when compared against the shows that have come before it.

Bring on The Defenders.

The Defenders drops on Netflix on August 18th, 2017.

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New MST3K Captures Campy Charm of the Original Cult Classic

– We’ve Got Movie Sign!!!!!

Sometimes a concept is so brilliantly simplistic that you’re not sure why nobody ever ran with it before.

Take this simple premise – you and your friends are sitting on a couch watching bad movies and making fun of them as you do so. Sound like fun? You’ve probably done it.

Well Joel Hodgson ran with it when he introduced Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1988. Collectively, over 10 seasons and three networks, Hodgson and the MST3K team managed to make fun of almost 200 movies.

Fans of the cult show rejoiced when in 2015 Hodgson announced the return of the show and started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to fund (initially) the first three episodes. The campaign raised a total of almost 6 million dollars, and it was announced that the series would be developed for Netflix’s “drop all episodes at once” streaming format.

Much to his credit, Hodgson didn’t bog down the simple concept of his show with a lot of extraneous narrative, and thankfully, the new show keeps the same format with all of the most recognizable antics as before, allowing old fans to hop right back on as if they’d never left, and new fans to quickly catch on.

If you’re not familiar with the show, the premise is two paragraph simple (or if you like, one minute and a half introductory theme song simple – see below); two mad scientists ( now played by Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt) kidnap one poor guy (now played by Jonah Rey) and force him to watch horrible movies to see how long it takes to break his sanity.

“So are all these mountains hallow, or are we going to have to guess which one?” – Crow

In the original series our poor guy (initially portrayed by Hodgson himself) retaliates by using parts of the ship he’s trapped in (ironically the parts that he could have used to stop the movie) to build several robot friends who watch the movies as well, helping him keep his sanity by making fun of (riffing on) all the stupid things that happen during the movies.

And we’re off. That simple. The show never wastes time over analyzing the motivations of the Mads, or why Joel, who could build all these cool robots doesn’t try to do something more useful like figuring out a way to escape, or as the introductory theme song intones, how he eats and breaths.

box of scraps

Although the new series is much of the same the first episode does take a few minutes of exposition to bridge from the older series and give enough background to bring newer viewers quickly up to speed.

There’s a small introductory skit that features Wil Wheaton and Erin Gray, but much like Wheaton says about being Sheldon Cooper’s mortal enemy on Big Bang Theory, it doesn’t really take up much of your time.

The prologue sets up Jonah as the new host, including a run down of several upgrades he’s made to the Bots, including Gypsy’s voice and the fact that Tom Servo can now hover.

“Little know fact: most scientific problems are solved right here at the dish rack.” – Tom Servo

The theme song has gotten an upgrade thanks to the musical help of Har Mar Superstar and kicks in every episode when the cold opening in interrupted by a tube that comes down and sucks Jonah into the title sequence, to the point where one of the Bots even asks him during one episode, “why does she make you do that every time?” Robot Roll Call is shot in silhouette on a green screen allowing it to be presented over scenes from the episode’s movie, and the countdown hallway has been given a fantastic makeover.

While classic bits like the invention exchange, conversations with “the Mads” and guest appearances are all still here, the show seems to have given them less time, which never gives them a chance to get stale or repetitive – a good thing considering the show is now bingable. Is that a word? Yeah, that’s a word.

The classic Bots are back, with Hampton Yount doing a pretty solid Crow voice, Baron Vaughn giving a new inflection to Servo’s voice, and Rebecca Hanson adding a really nice touch taking Gypsy’s voice into a more mature, feminine tone.

Once inside the theater, where the horrible movies are played, it’s business as usual with a few cool upgrades. The classic silhouette in the corner technique is still used to depict Jonah and the Bots as they watch, but now the threesome seem to do more, including leaving the theater and coming back or switching seats. Servo will on occasion hover up to the screen to point out something, and in what I think is a really nice addition, Gypsy now drops in on the left side every now and then to help our team out with a quick comment of her own. Although I have no idea what she’s bringing in and out of the theater when she does.

But as the cliche goes, the real stars in the series are the movies. Joel Hodgson kept the screening list for the new series under very tight wraps and every fan I talked to had specific wishes for the types of movies that would be represented.

And I don’t think Hodgson disappointed. The series contains a nice mixture of the black and white horror movies that were the show’s bread and butter when it first began (Reptillicus, The Beast from Hallow Mountain), horribly bad space dramas (Starcrash), sword and sorcery (The Loves of Hercules, Wizards of the Lost Kingdom I/II), and even a movie about a magical Bigfoot and the boy he tries to help (Cry Wilderness).

I was especially happy to see Reptillicus and Beast on the list as I remember watching these movies in my youth on the old Doctor Shock horror movie TV shows (any old Philly area UHF TV watchers out there?). Those old black and white horror movies are what drew me to MST3K in the first place, as I’d seen so many in my youth and grew up loving them.

(Said about a blank foggy screen) “This is what every Star Wars movie looks like before the CGI is put in.” – Jonah

As does Hodgson, at the heart of the show is the fact that he’s is not making fun of these moves so much as having fun with them. So with that in mind he insisted with this new incarnation that the riffing not go over the dialog of the movies so that the audience would not only be able to enjoy the comedy, but also enjoy the movie for what it was intended to be. I was afraid this would slow down the comedic pace of the show, but in truth it really doesn’t affect it all and if I hadn’t been aware of it in advance I probably wouldn’t have even noticed.

And even though the show was shot for Netflix, the show still appeared to me to be blocked for commercial broadcast (a fact that I was able to verify while writing this review), which I found odd, but not overly distracting.

The new series of MST3K not only updates the old format enough to put a little bit of a new shine on the show, but also successfully recaptures the fun camp that made the show so great to begin with.

Jonah Rey is a solid choice as the new host, bringing a quiet “play along” reserve that typified previous hosts Hodgson and Mike Nelson, while Day and Oswalt appear to be having a lot of fun playing the Mads.

Old fans will be happy with the new 13 episode offering and new viewers will have no problem discovering why so many of us enjoyed the show initially.

MST3K season 11 is current available for streaming on Netflix along with a selection of shows from previous seasons, and remember – Turn Down Your Lights (Where Applicable).