Netflix gave us the first look at the upcoming Iron Fist with the trailer it released in February. In a little less than two weeks, the series debuts in full. Will audiences want yet another adaptation based on a comic book superhero? And will Iron Fist differ significantly from its four-color source material? If it does, will the character’s obscurity allow Marvel and Netflix to avoid the blowback that filmmakers often receive when popular characters aren’t adapted exactly how fanboys think they should be?
The first trailer for Iron Fist underwhelmed some people and probably seemed familiar to a lot more. In fact, the internet focused on it seeming very similar to the CW series, Arrow. There are seeming similarities to Batman Begins as well.
Christian Toto (@HollywoodInToto) is editor of HollywoodInToto.com and host of the Hollywood in Toto Podcast. I asked him if audiences will be put off by another story about a rich orphan who goes off to a far-off land only to return years later as a crime-fighting superhero.
“Superheroes remain extraordinarily popular, and familiarity to existing properties won’t be much of a speed bump,” Toto said. “The show’s creators would be wise to create some distance to any Bat-similarities but I’m guessing they’ll do just that.”
“Well, I think the super-wealthy individual and/or child of the super-wealthy individual who puts on a costume in order to fight crime (or in some cases, COMMIT them) is a well-established super-hero trope,” he said. “It is one that easily provides resources for our hero. And while Danny Rand’s back story is close to that of Bruce Wayne, it isn’t entirely dissimilar from Tony Stark’s or Oliver Queen’s.”
He expanded on how origin stories factor into superhero tales. “So, I think that the back story is not going to be a deterrent. It’s not as interesting as ‘high school kid gets bitten by a radioactive spider,’ or ‘mutant has adamantium bonded to his skeleton because only his healing factor can keep it from killing him,’ but that’s less important, because the real draw is Iron Fist’s power and how he utilizes it.”
So what about Iron Fist’s obscurity? What role will that play?
The Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy may now be household names but they weren’t prior to Marvel turning them into blockbuster movie franchises. Captain America and the Hulk had modest name recognition in the average American’s mind but the other Avengers did not. And no one outside comic book fanboys had heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy until the 2014 movie provided America with an unexpected surprise.
Is being an unknown an asset when it comes to adapting comic book properties?
“In recent years we’ve seen a bit more flexibility from Geek Nation about changes to beloved properties. Partly, that’s due to the high quality of superhero fare. Most stories are handled so well long-time fans can deal with the creative license on display,” Toto said.
“Hollywood can do what it wants these days, as long as the movies or TV shows are good,” he added. “DC movies get more flak from fans, and it has little to do with any alterations to the canon. The product itself is suspect. Consider the changes we’ve seen with Ben Affleck’s Batman. He’s darker, and nastier, than previous movie versions. But fans care more about the fact that Batman v Superman was weak tea, in general.”
“While I think that Marvel’s D-List is more for characters like ‘Speedball’ or the original Carol Danvers ‘Ms. Marvel,’ the fact that Iron Fist is a lesser-known and less popular character provides the creators tremendous freedom,” Bladt said. “While he has had some strong stories in the modern era, his dying in the mid-80s certainly kept interest in the character to minimal levels for a long time.”
Teaming him up with another current Netflix hero didn’t bolster his name recognition either.
“The interesting thing about the eventual pairing of Power Man and Iron Fist as ‘Heroes for Hire’ is that neither character has the kind of longevity or popularity enjoyed by even a B-list Marvel hero like Daredevil. But, I do believe that he will well-compliment that Netflix television universe,” Bladt explained.
“Both Luke Cage and Jessica Jones showed that you don’t need your hero to be a household name if you just tell good stories, and at this point, there is no expectation that they won’t do just that,” Bladt said.
Bladt also gave his thoughts on if Hollywood is better off adapting lesser-known properties due to fanboys’ reputation for whining about changes from the source material of popular properties.
“I think that there is something to be said for that, sure. The bar isn’t even necessarily LOWER [for what fanboys expect]; it’s just set differently. FX’s Legion is a perfect example. He’s at most ‘X-Men adjacent,’ so you have a lot of leeway. At least so far, [the TV interpretation] has been wildly different from the way the character has been established. But, there’s not really anything to protest because the show has been so good,” Bladt said.
“But, ultimately, the fanboy is willing to cut some slack in favor of a good movie [or series]. That’s the biggest crime; you can’t get away with telling a bad story (X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: The Last Stand come immediately to mind),” Bladt continued. “We’ve seen filmmakers take liberties with Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, all of the Avengers, and also the X-Men. When the stories have been good, there’s a lot less to get upset about.”
Bladt also talked about how Netflix and Marvel not having the rights to the most popular Marvel characters affects how hardcore fans react to the Netflix adaptations.
“So, as it pertains to Marvel’s Netflix universe, they have some flexibility, because the rights to all of their A-list characters are either tied up in movies or with other studios,” he said.
Marvel’s track record also plays a part in how audiences will react to Iron Fist.
“But they now have consistently told good stories, so we are well-positioned for Iron Fist. I’ve been skeptical about how some of Marvel’s characters would translate to the screen (Thor, Ant-man and even Captain America) but have been proven wrong every time. So even though Iron Fist is a lower-tier character, I already expect the show to be great,” Bladt said.
“But, hopefully, he doesn’t wear the yellow elf slippers,” he added, referencing one variation of the comic book character’s costume.
(Above Video: “Iron Fist” isn’t just a comic book character—it’s a military exercise as well. U.S. Marine Recon and Japanese soldiers team up for Iron Fist 2017.)
Audiences seemed to have received all of the previous Marvel series on Netflix—Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage—enthusiastically. So history bodes well for Iron Fist. The similarities to other characters, as well as Iron Fist’s obscurity, likely won’t be an issue if the story is there.
All 13 episodes of Iron Fist are set for release on March 17.