Mild spoilers from the second season of “Marvel’s Iron Fist” will be discussed.
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand further across the silver screen, the adjacent comic-book universe that resides on the small screen has packed this year with its own further explorations into its posse of titular street heroes. As March offered up another chapter with super-powered private eye Jessica Jones, and the summer lent more to the culturally-infused tale of the bulletproof Luke Cage, September sought to propel one of the small screen’s weakest links in the second season of “Marvel’s Iron Fist.” With the Netflix series weighing heavily on the familiar theme of family conflict, the season worked to tease at greater storytelling set to come, all while purposely sidelining its problematic leading hero.
With the events of “Marvel’s The Defenders” leaving New York City mostly scarce of protection from the growing wave of gang warfare on the streets, Danny Rand (Finn Jones) has evolved his purpose as the Immortal Iron Fist in order to become a silent protector to a volatile city. As he works to maintain a peaceful living with former martial arts master Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), the looming threat of his past manifests in Davos (Sacha Dhawan). As Danny’s former colleague yearns to take the mantle of the Iron Fist from him, a vicious battle for power ignites across Chinatown. As other deadly factors come into play, from warring factions to the venomous assassin Walker (Alice Eve), Danny must uncover his true role as the Iron Fist before the violence finally boils over.
When compared to the other Marvel/Netflix series that were set to debut their sophomore seasons this year, the return of “Marvel’s Iron Fist” was the one I was probably least excited about. Even while “Jessica Jones” evaded me for far too long, eventually leaving me solely with a surprisingly impressive second season for “Luke Cage,” I was less than eager to witness the continued adventures of the ill-fated martial arts-focused “Iron Fist.” With Season One offering up a widely-panned and fairly uncompelling origin for billionaire-turned-monk Danny Rand, which stumbled between being a corporate bore and a mythic-heavy tale of redemption, I had sparse hope that Season Two would play out much differently.
Promise for the new season, however, arrived in new showrunner Raven Metzner, who made it clear that a new direction was coming for the series. With that, while the tale of the Iron Fist still might have clung to its muddled mixture of comic-book and kung-fu clichés, it pulled off something I never expected the show to actually do: letting its central hero ride the coattails of a far more interesting supporting cast. As the first episodes of the season worked to strip Danny Rand of the power he harbors so close to his identity as hero and protector, while still maintaining him as the slightly-less whiny medium between rival Chinatown gangs, the season as a whole pushed towards emphasizing the elements that continue to hold the show together.
While I’ll delve into Rand and the faults of the show’s leading focus soon enough, a number of factors allowed the second season of “Iron Fist” to mature slightly beyond its lacking debut. As the scales of justice were mostly pushed aside this time around, opening the door for a handful of Rand’s former allies to forge darker paths, the narrative of the season focused primarily on the show’s antagonists. With last year’s team-up mini-series “The Defenders” leaving the thin-veiled collective of deadly ninjas and crime bosses known as “The Hand” in the dust, “Iron Fist” moved on to explore the villainous players stitched even closer to the show’s hero. While Jessica Stroup’s Joy Meachum took a back seat to Sacha Dhawan’s aggressive fighter Davos and his mission to reclaim his birthright, the duo created a suitable focus as the theme of family cropped up once again. While the potential of the conflicts between Danny and Davos, as well as Joy and Tom Pelphrey’s Ward, didn’t string out as far as I’d hoped, they did appear far more authentic than the conflict of family felt in Season One.
Also tossed in the mix was Alice Eve’s Mary Walker. Acting somewhat as the middleman between the dealings of Joy, Davos and Danny Rand, the inclusion of Walker (known as Typhoid Mary in the comics) sought to inject another facet of the deep-seated comic-book lore the season yearned to draw from. As if to say the mystical origins of Danny’s abilities weren’t confusing enough, Eve’s dissociative mercenary rolled into the series flocked with her own underdeveloped story to tell. Even while the actress channeled the multiple personalities of her comic-book counterpart to minor success, equally off-putting as she was hyper-competent, the entrance of the character felt more like filler material rather than a worthwhile addition to the story.
With the show’s first season clearly favoring glitzy fight choreography and thick comic lore over true development of its main characters, the second season again failed to give its central hero, Finn Jones’ Danny Rand, very much to do. After “The Defenders” ultimately shrunk the Iron Fist to a mere MacGuffin for the plot following his dismal first season, and “Luke Cage” Season Two lent the character a few more points towards becoming an enjoyable character, I saw some hope in Season Two to bring the character to greater potential. Despite being a far-less-whiny, self-proclaimed protector of his homeland, the show still felt like it didn’t know exactly what to do with the character yet. As he abandoned his billionaire businessman role in favor of a quiet life with Jessica Henwick’s far-more-intriguing Colleen Wing, his morals as a holistic protector shifted as he became too eager to become the savior vigilante New York truly needs. With that, as his motivations for why he remains the Iron Fist changing constantly throughout the season, nothing really gave the audience a clear purpose to see Danny’s story through to the end.
Overall, even as increasingly amplified fight sequences and a superior supporting cast held prominence this season, “Marvel’s Iron Fist” remains the weakest link of the Marvel/Netflix repertoire. As its unlikeable protagonist continues to struggle to find his role among his fellow street-level heroes, the mythology surrounding the title character has slowly become more and more irrelevant. Even with a new direction, as the second season leaned into its comic-book lore and sent up a mildly-coherent duel of fates, the show still has plenty of kinks to work out. In the meantime, someone please get Netflix to develop a “Daughters of the Dragon” mini-series with Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing and Simone Missick’s Misty Knight!
Season Two of “Marvel’s Iron Fist” is now available to stream on Netflix. You can read my review of the first season here.