The final five minutes of the second season of Marvel’s Iron Fist is possibly the most satisfying moment of television I’ve had this year. And it’s not so much what happens on-screen during those few moments (though I expect some serious comic book geek out reactions just like I had) but more so for what it implies: Marvel listened.
I worshipped the Iron Fist comics – in particular, Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker’s franchise-redefining 2006-2009 Immortal Iron Fist run – and so it’s not hyperbolic when I say that the first season of Iron Fist made me want to punch my TV in frustration. In a nutshell, Marvel had gone and made the same mistake as their Distinguished Competition.
When Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy set the box office ablaze and drew tons of critical acclaim and even an Oscar with its serious and mature portrayal of Batman, DC Comics owner Warner Bros instantly thought they had the secret to success. This is why the same sombre template was erroneously applied to the usually bright and ebullient Superman to give us Man of Steel. In the same way, Marvel’s first Netflix collaboration, Daredevil, was a breakout success with its gritty, adult themes, and so the same approach was taken with their other streaming shows.
But Iron Fist, in its truest form, could not be further from that. It’s supposed to be a fun kung-fu fantasy adventure that harks back to Shaw Brothers movies and pulpy radio serials. Instead, we got corporate takeovers, lame family drama and a grating wheel-spinning subplot about how nobody believed Finn Jones’ Danny Rand to actually be a billionaire heir returned from the dead with kung-fu skills and a glowing bazooka of a fist he gained from fighting a dragon. To be fair, Jones’ wooden acting, man-baby temperament and painfully obvious lack of martial arts training in awkwardly choreographed fight scenes had a lot to do with that, but the po-faced writing and self-serious stylings of showrunner Scott Buck exacerbated the problems tenfold.
With Iron Fist season 2, Marvel replaced Buck with new showrunner Raven Metzner though and, most importantly as I mentioned up top, they listened to the fans and their complaints. There’s nothing that can really be done about Jones’ iffy thespian skills and whiny complexion (Marvel made this casting and they’re stuck with it now), but this time around he definitely put in the martial arts work. Combined with accomplished stunt coordinator Clayton J. Barber (Black Panther) planning everything out, and we get fights that have improved by orders of magnitude in both choreography and execution. It was criminal how badly the first season failed in the fighting department, and while these new bouts won’t top the hallway fight from Daredevil season 1, this goes a very long way to address an egregious shortcoming.
Admittedly, I was still never convinced that Danny Rand is one of, if not the best martial artist in the world as he should be and as Jessica Henwick’s returning karate badass Colleen Wing reminds us. However, with punchier and far more frequent dust-ups in each episode, the better fights do help to keep the show’s overall pace ticking along much better than before.
On top of the improvements to the martial arts, the episode count for the second season has also been dropped from 13 to 10. I’ve argued for a very long time that Marvel’s Netflix shows all feel over-long, and Iron Fist season 2 proves this assessment correct. With essentially 3 hours less for narrative waffling, there are no episodes filled with idle dawdling or pointless sidebars with characters who contribute nothing. Well, not completely as we still have Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup’s Ward and Joy Meachum. You could not pay me to care about their maudlin brother-sister familial and personal melodrama, but at least it’s kept to a minimum and for the most part they’re actually contributing to the main narrative thrust with Joy out for revenge on Danny and Ward for holding back the truth about her father’s death.
Helping her exact her plans is Sacha Dewan’s Davos, this season’s big bad and Danny Rand’s foster brother from the mythical city of K’un-Lun who believes he was robbed of his birthright, and who is just a goatee short of being Evil Iron Fist. While Dewan is a decent enough actor when either giving speeches to misguided teens or punching people’s heads off (he does both), he’s just not a compelling villain. There’s no moral ambiguity for you to sympathize with like Daredevil’s Kingpin or Luke Cage’s Cottonmouth, nor does he show off that deliciously enticing evil streak of villainy like Jessica Jones’ Killgrave. So while he’s okay for glowing fist throwdowns, he’s ultimately just… well, okay.
Luckily, Alice Eve’s Typhoid Mary doesn’t suffer the same fate. Well, minus the “Typhoid” part though as this screen adaptation has stripped her of her comic book supervillain pyrokinetic powers and just focuses on her Dissociative Identity Disorder. In this case, her condition results in either the cheerfully innocent and artsy Mary or the all-business, all-dangerous Walker and Eve absolutely nails both personalities. By the end of season two, there’s still a big mystery hanging over Mary/Walker, and I’m really chuffed to dig into it.
This is especially true based on where a potential third season of Iron Fist appears to be heading. While the second season is still too serious for the most part (thank the gods though, we never see the inside of a Rand Corporation boardroom because that’s clearly why we watch comic book shows!) showrunner Metzner and co are clearly not ashamed of their show’s comic book roots, unlike their predecessors. Both Danny and Colleen’s journey takes some interesting turns as the show leans more heavily into its source material as it goes along. In particular, Henwick’s Colleen- who is once again the breakout here and should just get her own show now alongside Simone Missick’s robo-armed Misty Knight, who also drops by for several episodes – is left in a very intriguing place that ties her into the greater mythology in some interesting ways.
But it’s Danny Rand’s destination that had me chomping at the bit for season 3. It’s a destination that is also a beginning though, a start of a magical adventure, emphasis on the magical part. Gone are the days of Scott Buck’s meta jokes laughing at Danny’s mention of dragons and chi, like some kind of boorish jock ridiculing the geeks. I won’t give away spoilers now (expect that later) but I thoroughly did a double take in the series finale at how much Metzner is willing to make this the type of Iron Fist show I’ve wanted from the start.
It’s most definitely not there yet though. As much as things have improved, there’s still a bunch of work to be done as this season boasted some tropey writing, characters making illogical decisions just for the sake of drama, unconvincing dramatic performances (mostly from Jones and Pelphrey) and still a bit of wasteful side-character diversions I couldn’t give two mythical dragon farts about. However, overall, and especially with that future tease, Iron Fist season 2 is undeniably a big flying kick in the right direction.
Last Updated: September 10, 2018