Finally the final defender has had their Netflix series released before the big unification party later this year and it took me less than a week to binge my way through all 13 episodes.
I don’t think I can recall seeing so much controversy surrounding a show and for the most part I think it is unfounded. As soon as the trailers were announced, a fuss was kicked off due to the nature of the film and the race of the protagonist; a white man playing a character demonstrating expertise in martial arts.
The label I have seen attached to this is cultural appropriation. The problem with protesting this is that no-one seems to know what that means or when it crosses the line; for example, should people be banned from getting tribal tattoos if they aren’t Polynesian?
I understand the sensitivity involved, you only need to go back to the 50/60s when white people would exploit the Jazz artists for their music styles and even songs because they simply were in no position to protest this at the time. It is something that has happened for centuries as a negative and selfish characteristic of human history and nature.
The recognised definition of cultural appropriation seems to be taking things from another culture for your own without showing an understanding for it or that you respect it; effectively a breach in copyright but for culture.
Many people gave negative reactions and reviews for the fourth Marvel Netflix installment because they saw the casting of a white man as a martial arts expert as precisely this; I can assure you they are wrong.
In the show [and the comics], the main protagonist is Danny Rand; an upper class Caucasian American raised in New York as the son of a Billionaire Wendell Rand. However, at the age of 10 his plane crashes on the way to China and the young heir presumably ends up somewhere in the Himalayan region. From what we are told, we learn that Danny Rand spends the next 15 years in K’un L’un living and learning from the monks dwelling there, mastering Kung-Fu and taking on the necessary steps to become the Iron Fist; the Defender of K’un L’un. Presumed dead, he arrives back in Manhattan looking for answers about his family and to get back into the company of his namesake. Unsurprisingly this stirs up all kinds of trouble and not before long, the Hand [those particularly nasty folks introduced in Daredevil], emerge to fight their sworn enemy for messing in their affairs.
The poor critic reviews received I think aren’t wholly undeserved but the reasons given are in my opinion erroneous. It isn’t wrong to cast a Caucasian actor to play a white American character and Danny Rand has never been of Oriental origin. Also, it is not as if he has mastered it and become an expert in the intense, complex and high disciplined martial arts alone; he trained for 15 years in Asia from the age of 10 and openly admits to still learning throughout; we can see he has yet to master it by his constant issues managing his chi. He shows great respect for the culture and actually exacts a harsh punishment upon students of his love interest Collen Wing for mocking it. Similarly, all other characters demonstrating expertise in fighting – with the exception of Bakuto – were cast to those of people with Asian heritage; I’d point out that they actually chose to cast the rising star Jessica Henwick in the role of Colleen Wing who in the comics was also Caucasian so it is more progressive than possibly credited for.
If the show had not credited the origins for the culture being depicted then I too could agree with the accusations levied at the show but I just don’t agree with them. In the way that Bollywood films use Indian stars to appeal to their demographic, this is simply a Western show casting those that fit the demographic in order to be successful. It is not a Caucasian playing Shaft or anything of that nature.
However, whilst I shot through the show (more of a reflection of my social life and the lack of strength in TV), it was one of the weaker Marvel series. For pure entertainment I think Daredevil season 2 had the best characters (Punisher had his own show commissioned as a result), best action scenes and most plot substance whilst Luke Cage felt the most authentic. Jessica Jones in my opinion was the most dull with the protagonist being a bit irritating but the flip-side is that it was important in awareness for mental health and domestic violence whilst also demonstrating the best villain not named Wilson Fisk. Iron Fist on the other hand doesn’t do anything for the imagination with irritating characters and villains recycled from Daredevil.
Finn Jones seems to have attended the Charlie Hunnam school of acting, hoping to have cringe worthy soliloquies, irritating habits and overall poor acting skills overlooked because they’re pretty. I could never truly believe his character and found myself incredibly irritated by him rather than rooting for him. What’s worse is that he seemed contagious; Colleen Wing started off as a strong likable warrior but regressed into a cheesy love interest. Similarly, Rosario Dawson [Claire Temple] who has made the role her own in series past also had her worst performance to date barely believing the own lines she was being made to read; I found myself missing the character from previous shows.
They added a few new characters but as previously mentioned, all the new additions were equally irritating and with the constant changing of the events none of them were particularly developed. Even Danny’s backstory of how he became the Iron Fist – including the conquest of the Dragon – was glossed over.
On the whole, it felt like a series where not a lot of thought was put into it. It came across as a show Marvel knew people would watch because of the branding and attached promotion so they churned it out ready for the Defenders later this year. There was so much potential for cross overs if they were so keen to make the focal point of the series the Hand who had been so prominent in Daredevil. It was certainly at times entertaining but as a superhero show, the main protagonist could barely use his power even 13 episodes in and with such strong links to martial arts it was embarrassing at times to watch Jones fight; it became more apparent as to why he had a limited role in Game of Thrones.
I do recommend it be watched if you have been following the others – or find a good spoiler site – just so that you become accustomed to the fourth character for when the frequently mentioned Defenders series is released in the same way you watched some of the weaker Avenger stand alone films. If you’re not an avid follower of Marvel though, this is not one to convert or entertain you so I’d probably suggest you give it a miss.