Back in the day, they made a movie about an intergalactic gang of misfits that included a cyborg raccoon, a green alien woman and a living tree that only said, “I am Groot.” And they turned that trash into treasure.
IRON FIST is one of the first mistakes Marvel has made, which is crazy considering the number of movies and TV shows they’ve produced.
Now that THE DEFENDERS has all four of these characters teaming up, and Season 2 of IRON FIST has a new showrunner, there is hope that the show will improve.
Having watched every episode of the other three Netflix originals—DAREDEVIL, JESSICA JONES and LUKE CAGE—it’s pretty easy to see where those shows went very right and Danny Rand, the homeless billionaire, went very wrong.
Fix Number 1: A new intro
The intros for the other three shows are interesting and set the mood, while this intro simply annoys you with bad CGI and makes skipping ahead the default choice.
DAREDEVIL has an intro that reminds me an awfully lot of WESTWORLD, so much so that I wondered if the same people did it.
LUKE CAGE starts off every episode with images of Harlem and history broadcast on his unbreakable skin, and I don’t skip it despite having seen it a zillion times.
JESSICA JONES puts you in a noir mood with her intro, and though it’s not quite as good as the blind ninja’s or Luke’s, it doesn’t completely annoy you.
IRON FIST just has a bad intro. Here, watch this for ten seconds and you’ll get annoyed. Is the main character some kind of shapeshifting oil beast?
Give us an intro that’s interesting and different. WESTWORLD has such a beautiful and genius intro that I’ve rewatched again and again.
Fix Number 2: Make us want to be the Iron Fist
Regardless of your age or gender, part of the joy of reading a novel or watching a movie is living vicariously through the eyes of the great protagonist. You admire them, and wonder what it would be like to be them.
With the other three Netflix shows, it’s clear that Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are interesting and special people. It’d would be fun to walk in their shoes for a day, and it’s a pleasure to be there, watching, even when they go through the worst possible troubles.
All three of those characters are good in very different ways.
Daredevil is intelligent and driven.
Jessica Jones is sarcastic and tough.
Luke Cage is calm, strong and determined.
I don’t think anyone wants to be Danny Rand / Iron Fist, and that’s really a function of the writing, not the acting.
Fix Number 3: Stop making Danny Rand act like a fool
In episode after episode, Danny makes stupid decisions that hurt other people. And yes, that’s despite the best of intentions.
The first season is more of a tragedy than anything else, with Danny’s hubris leading to terrible things. In just about every critical situation, the great Iron Fist makes choices that any other superhero would avoid.
Telling everyone—from homeless men on the street to villains—his secret identity. He may as well wear a sign. Every other superhero with a brain works incredibly hard to protect this vital secret, because failing to do so always, always leads to trouble and death. Danny has no clue.
Being a taker instead of a helper. There’s a good reason why most superheroes default to tackling problems by themselves. They don’t want to get civilians involved and hurt, and it’s safer when friends and loved ones don’t know their secret identity. Danny constantly, constantly asks for help, often from strangers or villains. He’s not self-reliant at all, which is one of the primary traits of heroes.
Creepy stalker behavior. Early in the series, he breaks into Joy’s house and refuses to go away when Colleen Wing clearly and repeatedly tells him to scoot. And this is a pattern. While other heroes break into places to collect clues and skedaddle, Danny does it like he’s dropping by to visit and is shocked when people treat him like a burglar.
No discipline. There’s an episode where Danny says he’s spent a lifetime learning to control his emotions, which made me guffaw, because every episode, he shows zero control over his emotions.
Can’t plan for the future. Danny simply bumbles through problems. He never has a plan aside from, “Let’s break into a place and either ask for help or beat people up.” Then he’s confused and angry when that non-plan goes south.
Falling into every trap. Danny Rand believes every word that anyone says to him, whether it’s from the mouths of a random stranger or a villain who just tried to kill him ten minutes ago. Even when a villain invites him to an obvious trap, he goes straight into it.
All of this makes Danny seem more like a goofy, tragic side character than a hero. You could see him as a troubled sidekick for a smart hero who figures out ways to control and harness the human wrecking ball.
This problem is made exponentially worse when actual side characters like Colleen, Claire, Harold, Joy and even Ward—Ward!—make clever decisions that seem more heroic and interesting.
At one point, Danny says, “I’m sorry” and Ward replies, “Danny, you’re a cancer.” And I cheered, because it was the truth.
In every tough situation, audiences instinctively think, “What would an average person like me do?” They compare the choice the hero makes to what other heroes or villains would do. The best stories surprise us with choices we haven’t even considered.
Every time Danny faces a tough situation, I groan and compare his choice (always bad) to what Batman, Daredevil, James Bond and a hundred other heroes would do. We all have that repository of stories and characters. Even the villains we know and love, like Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader, would make different and more interesting choices than Danny Rand.
Because what Danny chooses is never a surprise. As a character, he’s an overgrown child, which people keep telling him. Which is a shame. The actors are fine, the cinematography works and the tie-ins to the other shoes are nice.
For the audience, there’s no surprise. We know what Danny will do, and we know the outcome will be bad. The only question is, “What side character or villain will save Danny from the mess he creates this time?”
Here’s to hoping Season 2 fixes these three flaws and gives the world an IRON FIST who doesn’t keep bumbling his way through New York City and, instead, starts acting like a hero instead of a cross between Homer Simpson and The Greatest American Hero.
As a huge fan of action movies, hear me now and believe me later in the week: the Era of Epic Explosions is over.
Stick a fork it in.
It’s kaput. Done. Dead and buried.
X-MEN: OSCAR ISAAC WEARING 30 POUNDS OF MAKEUP is only the latest nail in the cinematic coffin, though it’s a nail that cost more than the domestic product of Paraguay.
Now, I liked the movie more than I expected after all those bad reviews. HOWEVER: the big action set pieces where the villain started destroying the world?
Big shrug. Didn’t care.
Here’s why explosions were once movie magic and now make people sneakily check Twitter on their magical phones.
1) In the old days, big explosions meant big budgets and big stars
Way back, only the biggest productions could afford to blow things up.
Those same movies also had the best directors, best actors and biggest budgets.
Meanwhile, B movies had incredibly cheesy explosions and effects that looked like Ed, president of the AV club, cooked them up on his Macintosh during a long weekend fueled by two-liter bottles of Orange Crush and two over-sized bags of Cheeto’s, which should be spelled Cheetoh’s but isn’t. Not sure why.
This is why the following compilation of great movie explosions skews toward old action movies. Because they actually blew things up, using real explosives, instead of spending millions of dollars on fake pixels.
2) Explosions were rare and therefore precious
In the Golden Age of Things Going Boom in the Movies, directors and producers had much smaller budgets, which meant you couldn’t have things explode on screen every two minutes.
You had to (a) find an abandoned building that fit your script, (b) file permits with the city for permission to blow it up and (c) hire professional people to blow them up on time and on schedule, while cameras rolled.
If the things went wrong, you were out millions of dollars and needed to find a new abandoned building.
Therefore, action movies of yore couldn’t go overboard with fire, smoke and debris. They had to use explosions when it mattered most.
This was a good thing, for movie budgets and for people sitting in dark rooms while they munched on overpriced kernels of exploded corn.
3) Today, everybody can afford special effects and explosions
It was epic when Bruce Willis sent the office chair down the elevator shaft in DIE HARD.
And I be you can remember the first time you saw the Death Star explode in STAR WARS. (The second and third times, not so much.)
Directors making movies today grew up watching those cool, big-budget movies with amazing explosions. Even if they’re working on a cheesy TV show, now they can afford to blow up anything they want, as big as they want.
So yeah, they do it.
All. The. Time.
It goes deeper: people making fan movies or YouTube parodies have the technology to blow up New York City, the West Coast or the entire solar system, if they’re truly ambitious. Check out the insanely detailed fan-made movies about Star Wars with excellent lightsaber effects. Amazing.
With giant budgets and armies of CGI people, it’s insanely easy these days to spice up a bad scene with explosions. Except it’s used so often, it’s a cliché.
Michael Bay has created an entire career out of blowing things up in slow motion. Here’s a montage:
4) Easy CGI means explosions aren’t believable
Audiences today grew up watching real explosions in action movies. We know what they look like.
Even big movies with big budgets struggle to get CGI right.
When you know it’s fake, you don’t care.
5) We’re numb to ka-booms by now, and we know the villain will lose
It’s a staple of every action movie, comic-book movie or thriller that (a) the Bad Guy Wants to Destroy the World and (b) the Bad Guy Gets to Start Blowing Up the World because (c) it wouldn’t be any fun if the audience didn’t get to see six blocks of Manhattan get demolished for the 2,874th time.
The old rule of storytelling was to always, always raise the stakes. If saving your wife and daughter from terrorists was good, then saving an entire city from a stolen nuclear warhead was better and stopping a villain from destroying Earth had to be the ultimate.
Except we expect this now. We’re numb to it.
And audiences know how it ends. The villain never, ever gets to truly destroy Gotham, New York City or the Earth.
The dice are loaded. The villain is going to lose.
Which means there’s zero suspense.
Oh, we’ll get a little look at the Big Bad Guy stomping on a few blocks, or a glimpse of how his doomsday device will flatten New Zealand, but no, the villain never gets to actually win.
So as I sat there watching the X-Men head off to stop Apocalypse from destroying civilization, what should have been the most exciting part of the movie had zero thrills whatsoever.
Because you knew the villain would lose. No question.
This is part of the reason why CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR worked so well. The story is smaller and the stakes are lower. The villain isn’t trying to destroy the third rock from the sun. He’s simply trying to get revenge by turning the Avengers against each other. Yet you care far more about CIVIL WAR than BATMAN VS SUPES or X-MEN: COME SEE WOLVERINE FOR TWO MINUTES. And the reason why is simple: audience will always, always care more about living, breathing characters than bits of concrete and rebar.
TL;DR: Blowing up things isn’t shocking or thrilling anymore, not when it’s CGI pixel nonsense. Also: Villains with evil plans to destroy Gotham, D.C. or Earth never get to actually do it, so stop making that the plot of every action thriller and comic book movie.
Bonus video: Expectation vs reality – action movies