Danny Rand is the Iron Fist. If you don’t know it yet, he would have gladly told you so in his previous appearances in Iron Fist Season One and The Defenders.
But now Danny Rand is a changed man: more humbled, driven and ready to accept help from his friends. The change makes for a season two that is markedly better than his first outing, but still leaves much to be desired in the wake of a powerful second season from Luke Cage.
More Competent Storytelling
The second season benefits hugely by dispensing with the Hand, whose presence has infected and dragged down many previous seasons of Netflix’s Marvel content. It also does away with the boardroom drama and corporate intrigue, so if you are one of the few people who liked that, then tough luck.
The majority of the season takes place in Chinatown, as Danny steps into the role of protector to honor Matt Murdock’s memory. Instead of literally following in Daredevil’s footsteps and beating the holy hell out criminals, Danny tries to keep the peace between rival gangs with the support of Colleen Wing, while Davos, his old frenemy from K’un Lun, returns to settle old scores.
Danny Rand’s character is better, but he is still outshined by this supporting cast. Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) is calm and mature as ever, and as the season progresses, she slowly steps into the limelight as she explores her own past. She is joined, sometimes, by Misty Knight (Simone Missick) who instantly lights up the screen with her commanding aura and charm.
Finn Jones, however, remains unconvincing in his role as the Immortal Iron Fist.
The Meachum siblings also return, both dealing with the fallout of their father’s betrayal in different ways. Joy (Jessica Stroup) teams up with Davos and the cast’s newest addition, Mary Walker (Alice Eve). Eve delivers a terrific performance, though her character’s mental illness isn’t always portrayed in realistic terms. Ward is dealing with his lifelong abuse by his father by trying to open up to his loved ones and trusting them more.
New showrunner M. Raven Metzner (Falling Skies, Heroes Reborn) focuses on a streamlined story backed up by a core, robust cast. He also does a good job with fight scenes, which are a big step up from the shaky fights and obvious doubles of last year.
A Down-to-Earth Focus
The focus, this time around, is the idea that one needs to be worthy of the Iron Fist, and that Danny isn’t living up to the mantle. Davos taps into some real-life criticism when he accuses Danny of being a white tourist who co-opted K’un Lun’s culture and power by denying Davos from battling the dragon, Shou-Lao. Joy is lashing out against both Ward and Danny, but she still loves Ward too much to hurt him directly. She assists Davos in stealing the Iron Fist away from Danny.
The series both benefits and suffers from this simpler focus. In a show where the main character has a glowing fist that he gained from punching a dragon in the chest, there’s still a disappointing lack of dragons. The season is shorter, too, at ten episodes instead of the usual thirteen. It prevents the show from growing stale, but at the same time, there was no episode where it truly gained steam.
The series also suffers from the lack of a powerful and magnetic antagonist.
Davos (Sacha Dewan) is a good secondary antagonist, but he lacks the screen presence to be a proper foil for Danny. Last season’s Harold Meachum and Bakuto were marginally better, but they are still far off from the likes of Wilson Fisk, Kilgrave and Cottonmouth.
Colleen Wing is perhaps the true star of this show. It remains to be seen how the show will handle her new role going forward, but Jessica Henwick has done a good job so far with what she has been given. Her chemistry with Simone Missick is noteworthy, and points towards the possibility of a Daughters of the Dragon spinoff down the line.
“”In terms of Colleen, I really wanted her not to be a sidekick or a backup character in service of Danny’s story,” said Metzner, the showrunner, in a SYFY interview. “I wanted her to have her own story, and to have her own arc, and we wanted her to have a story that was strong and empowering, and for her story to blossom and grow.”
As it stands, Iron Fist earns the title of the most-improved show of Netflix’s Marvel line-up. The second season moves the story towards more interesting directions, and hints towards exciting things to come.
A Somber Second Phase for Netflix
Netflix’s post-Defenders line-up, so far, has taken a muted approach to storytelling. That worked well enough in establishing The Punisher’s own series, but Jessica Jones’ second season got too tangled in exploring thorny family issues and experimental superpowers that make people go insane. As it stands, Luke Cage’s stellar second outing is the true standout of this second phase, with Iron Fist being a distant second.
If you saw Iron Fist’s second season and found it wanting, don’t worry: Daredevil Season Three and The Punisher Season Two aren’t that far off. Daredevil, in fact, lands at Netflix on October.