There is something to be said about coming out with your best product first. It means that the expectations for the follows ups are much higher than they would be if a creator's first project was just okay. The best movie example of this is director Neill Blomkamp whose first movie is the masterpiece District 9. It is widely considered to be one of the best science fiction movies in the last several decades and even went on to get a "best picture" nomination despite the Academy Awards usually hating an ultra violent, alien thriller. That is a high bar for Blomkamp to clear and when he came out with Elysium in 2013 it didn't get much in the way of critical praise. A movie like Elysium or the 2015 feature Chappie coming from anyone else except Blomkamp would have been nothing short of a miracle. However, he was trying to top District 9 and that just isn't possible.
Marvel's Iron Fist is the fifth Marvel/Netflix series and it is currently getting critically panned to an almost amazing degree. It's being called Marvel's first real failure and one of the worst things to ever come out of Netflix. However, there is a case to be made that Iron Fist couldn't ever live up to the exceedingly high expectations put on its shoulders. This is not the first time Marvel has been in this position; there was no way for Avengers: Age of Ultron to live up to the the near perfection of The Avengers, despite them having roughly the same problems. This is the same problem Marvel will have to address in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 with the first film topping a lot of "best" lists for fans and non-fans alike.
Marvel/Netflix has already had their perfect series and that was Jessica Jones. The following two series, Daredevil season 2 and Luke Cage have not been able to clear that bar because it was set so high. There is no possible way not to judge these series against each other because they are all connected, so there was really no way for this situation to be avoided. Iron Fist has problems and there are plenty of them. The pacing and tone are a little off and the series takes quite a lot of time to get going. It is the first Marvel/Netflix series where the first episode very much feels like a pilot in the sense that pilot episodes are usually a mess because a series is still finding its footing. There isn't much in the way of an overarching theme to the series the way the other Marvel/Netflix series have so it comes across as rather empty.
This is also the first time that the various directors have really hurt the series rather than help it. Perhaps this is the fault of showrunner Scott Buck not having a steady hand over the entire project, but it often felt like the pieces of Iron Fist never quite came together the way they should have. The fight choreography is also not as good as it should have been, but that comes down to the rushed production. In an interview with The Telegraph star Finn Jones admitted that he had almost no time to learn the various fight scenes. "I was learning those fight scenes just 15 minutes before we shot them, because that was the schedule," Jones said. Jones is taking a lot of the heat for the problems with the series, and it appears that this series is yet another victim of a rushed production.
All of those problems aside, there is plenty to like within the series. While a lot of people have taken issue with Jones' Danny Rand personality, from a story angle it made sense. This is a character that is the very definition of "stunted". He didn't have a childhood after age ten and he was trained in keeping all of his emotions deeply buried. The best parts of the series are when Danny misses basic social nuances that are just awkward enough to make the audience uncomfortable to watch. He is volatile, angry and hell bent on revenge to the point that it is affecting him physically because that is what happens when an emotion, any emotion, consumes you. Others have complained that Rand isn't entirely likable but none of the various Marvel/Netflix heroes have been entirely likable. Unlike someone like Captain America the characters of this universe tread the line of moral ambiguity which means they aren't entirely "black and white" people.
Another criticism leveled at the series is that it's focus is too much on the corporate side of Danny's life and how he wants to get his company back. While the idea of watching people run a business is not the most amazing thing to watch (and perhaps the execution wasn't as good as it should have been) a lot of the things with Rand Enterprises and Ward and Joy Meachum wasn't about a billionaire taking his privilege back but a man trying to take his name back. When Danny is offered millions of dollars to walk away from Rand and stay dead, he says that it isn't about the money. This series, in many ways, is about family and legacy. It's about Danny's legacy to his parents and his name. It's about Ward and Joy's relationship to their father and how they are connected to Rand Enterprises, despite not having their names on the building. It is, to avoid a major spoiler, about Colleen Wing and loyalty to her own found family. This series is about family more than any series before it, and sometimes interpersonal conflicts aren't what people want from their superhero stories.
The Meachums are criticized for getting too much screen time, but they are linked to Danny's story in a very fundamental way. Danny comes home to New York looking for his family, but fails to realize that Ward and Joy were never his family to begin with. They were his friends, but that doesn't make them his siblings, and he doesn't seem to understand that right away. Ward has one of the most interesting arcs in the series with a great turn by Tom Pelphrey. The Ward we meet at the beginning isn't that different from the Ward at the end, but as we learn more about him we learn about his motivations for why he acts the way he does. They don't try to excuse his bad behavior either, but they take a guy who is obviously a jerk and show him to be a real human being. Joy, as played by Jessica Stroup, also has a great character arc that won't be spoiled here. Her motivations by the end are interesting and will be something worth exploring in season two if there is one.
Colleen Wing, played by Jessica Henwick, has been the highlight of the show regardless of whether someone overall likes it or not. She is a strong and beautiful character who really only has to be saved once. The one time that Danny really starts to "whitesplain", she knocks him down almost right away. The moments where she teams up with Claire are some of the best moments of the show. The final twist that comes to her character isn't the best, but she recovers well enough from it, so it doesn't hurt our overall enjoyment of the character. Her chemistry with Danny is believable, and despite being a love interest it never feels like she is just there to be a love interest.
There has been a lot of controversy made out of the casting of Finn Jones as Danny Rand in this series. There are many different views on the idea and many people looking at it from different angles. However, the uproar feels paper thin compared to the uproar that happened when Doctor Strange was released back in November. There were quite a lot of people angry about Tilda Swinton being cast as The Ancient One, and a lot of people that pointed out that it was likely a version of whitewashing. Even the most generous comic book fan at this point must admit that the MCU has a lot of white men in it, and that the casting of Danny Rand as something other than white could have been a welcome change. The common comment is that casting him as an Asian man would have been a cliche unto itself but it would have been easy to write their way out of that if they were willing to put in the extra effort.
The thing that makes all of this outrage, while not being misplaced, ring a little less true is that it feels like the world is choosing when it decides to be angry. It got angry about Doctor Strange pretty much doing the exact same version of orientalism, but that walked away with award nominations and a 90% on rotten tomatoes. There are a lot of people bringing up Danny and privilege, but there is nothing that reveals privilege more than the ability to decide when something is a dealbreaker. The idea of orientalism is either offensive or it isn't, and you don't get to pick and chose when something is offensive when it suits you. Now, this hardly applies to everyone since there is likely a lot of overlap between people who were outraged at Doctor Strange and those outraged over Iron Fist, but if the overlap was the same, then Doctor Strange would have been much more critically panned than it was.
The casting of Danny Rand and The Ancient One are issues that Marvel and the rest of Hollywood are going to need to take a long, hard look at. The critical press, however, also need to take a look at themselves. The line in the sand when it comes to progression doesn't get to fluctuate because you decide it does. It also doesn't mean you get permission to lash out at people who do like the series. The internet often cannot handle the idea that criticism of a thing doesn't mean you should hate it. We can look at the controversy of Iron Fist and its problems, and still walk away enjoying it. Criticism of a thing does not necessarily equal hating a thing.
Iron Fist is a far from perfect show that feels a lot like Iron Man 2 as far as its place in the Defenders part of the MCU. It is set up as a long form trailer for something else, and a rushed production. The casting debacle likely wouldn't have been changed by casting a person of color since no one can learn fight choreography in fifteen minutes no matter what race they are. The bulk of the blame is being laid on Jones but there are so many people involved in these series that the mere idea that changing one casting decision would fix everything is ludicrous. The show takes some time to get going but once the pace begins to pick up it gets better. If you lower your expectations to a reasonable level it is likely you'll walk away from Iron Fist mostly satisfied.