Iron Fist’s first season was met with a mostly-negative response from critics and fans alike. From the slow-moving storyline — which has become a Marvel-Netflix show trademark — to the fight choreography, to the controversial casting of Finn Jones, the show’s first season was Marvel’s first official dud on Netflix.
Is it a surprise that Iron Fist was greenlit for a season two? Not necessarily; Jones’ Danny Rand improved, if only slightly in The Defenders. There was potential. But as everyone knows, the stakes were high. As the old saying goes: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
I was lucky enough to watch the first six episodes of Iron Fist’s second season, as is Netflix’s standard when it comes to media previews. After watching them, I have to say, there are still some problems — but there are also vast improvements.
[Ed. note: this post contains mild spoilers for Iron Fist season two]
The fighting is way better
I figured it would make sense to start off with one of the most glaring flaws of the first season: Danny Rand’s martial arts skills. In the first season — as Polygon has previously addressed — the fight choreography is clunky and poorly executed, especially when it comes to Danny , who is, you know, the Immortal Iron Fist. I kept comparing Danny’s fighting style to Daredevil, whose moves are unique to the character, communicating a lot about what kind of person he is through motion. He’s relentless, and though his fighting is fast and precise, when he gets tired, it shows. He’s a glutton for punishment, but keeps fighting until the other person is down for the count. Danny’s fighting style just looks generic and amateurish.
Kudos though, to costar Jessica Henwick, who plays Colleen Wing. She seemed to master her fight stunts just fine in season one, while Finn Jones struggled to make viewers believe his ability to play a kung fu master. I watched season one, I kept thinking “What the hell was Danny doing the whole time on K’un-Lun?” Wasn’t he supposed to be training in martial arts for 15 years? Blame for the lackluster martial arts was shifted from the show’s choreographer and editors to the showrunner and directors to Jones, who himself blamed the lack of adequate time given to him to train for his stunts.
Whatever the problem was seems to have been fixed in season two. Not only is the fighting seamless and on point, but the setup of each one seems to be more epic. From the first scene of episode one to a kitchen fight featuring Colleen and some local gang members to flashback life-and-death fight sequences of Danny fighting Davos (played once again by Sacha Dhawan) for the mantle of the Iron Fist, all the stunt sequences are performed with fluidity and, dare I say, elegance. The credit might go to fight choreographer Clayton Barber, known for his work on Black Panther, who was brought on to bring a more authentic and, in his words, “old school” feel to the the fighting. Marvel’s so proud of the fight sequences in season two that it even made a promo video about them.
The characters are more likable
Watching season one, I struggled with whether or not I liked Danny Rand. He was kind of a douchebag. I felt the same way about everyone else in the show, with the exception of Colleen and Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple, who made several guest appearances. My main concern was that none of the characters were interesting to me, and Danny ... well, he came off as whiny and hollow.
Then The Defenders came along and we got to see Danny team up with Luke Cage, a little glimmer of light that maybe Finn Jones could pull off making Danny a breezy, comic character. Then when the second season of Luke Cage was released, showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker knew that part of the magic behind Iron Fist is his team-up with Luke Cage, or Power Man. Luke is right in episode 10 when he says, “You seem different.”
Jones and Mike Colter, who plays Luke Cage, have a great chemistry together, and Coker doubled down on that with great success. Danny was more chill and Zen-like, compared to Luke’s anger and uptightness. The way they play off each other in the fight scenes in that episode are great, too.
And now we get to the second season of Iron Fist. Though his character is still whiny, Danny’s more likable. But I don’t get to see that much of playful Danny, which is what I liked so much about him in The Defenders and Luke Cage. When Jones plays serious Danny, which is most of the time, I don’t buy it. It helps, though, that he’s dating and living with Colleen. She helps balance him, while being her own person.
Speaking of Colleen, get ready for the Daughters of the Dragon! Misty Knight, played brilliantly as always by Simone Missick, makes an appearance alongside Colleen this season. Playing off their partnership in The Defenders and Luke Cage, season two, this is honestly one of my favorite parts of the first six episodes.
And as hinted at the end of season one, Joy, played once again by Jessica Stroup, goes dark this season, and I like it. And Ward (Tom Pelphrey), though still a jackass, is a likable jackass. Pelphrey gets to be a bit more charming and is funnier, too. Danny should take notes.
The one-percent problem
In the age of Trump, caring about rich white people and the corporations they work for becomes a bit more of a chore. I don’t mean to get political, but even Jones remarked, about the first season’s negative reception, “I think the world has changed a lot since we were filming that television show. I’m playing a while American billionaire superhero, at a time when the white American billionaire archetype is public enemy number one, especially in the U.S.”
Despite any kind of association with filthy rich, white businesspeople, the first season’s plot relied too much on what was going on at Rand Corporation. There was too much business-related goings-on, and not enough about the characters’ personal lives.
I’m happy to say that in season two, at least for the first six episodes, a lot less takes place in the office. Danny is working a much more humble job loading and unloading trucks (though even this gimmick tends to come off as trying a little too hard to distance itself from the whole “one percent” problem). Ward is busy going through rehab and his relationship with Danny becomes more tightly-knit. And Joy is busy teaming up with Davos to take down Danny. Overall, there’s much less corporate-tied story in favor of more personal arcs, and that makes for a better story.
Better bad guys
Another common complaint about season one was the lack of memorable foes. Sure, there was The Hand, the criminal organization that interconnected the Marvel Netflix shows leading up to The Defenders, but they came off as generic bad guys. And as much as I like the idea of Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), she was bland in execution.
As season one hinted, Joy goes evil in this season, along with Davos. But what’s fun is that Davos’ journey in season two takes him into Silver Serpent territory, one of Iron Fist’s most formidable foes. In the comics, he’s able to drain the power of the Iron Fist from whomever carries the mantle. Without getting into spoiler territory, let’s just say there are a lot more glowing fists this season. And because this rivalry is personal, the stakes are higher, which makes Davos’ and Joy’s collaboration fun to watch. Though in the six episodes I watched, I fear that Davos is no Cottonmouth when it comes to bad guy charm and personality. Hopefully, he’ll liven up more after episode six.
Speaking of personality, or personalities plural, Typhoid Mary features prominently this season, played wonderfully by Alice Eve. Originally known as an enemy of Daredevil, she’s also gone up against Spider-Man and Deadpool. Eve works well portraying multiple personalities and when it comes to her combat skills, she gives Danny a run for his money. Adding her to the bad guy lineup adds a little spice to what could have been another case of boring bad guy syndrome.
Danny gets the costume ... sort of
A lot of people complained that in season one of Iron Fist, Danny didn’t seem to favor his comic-book counterpart much at all. And there didn’t seem to be an attempt to interpret any kind of costume for him.
Not so in this season. Though in the episodes I watched there was no full costume reveal, there were hints of it. From the yellow mask to the color scheme, new showrunner Raven Metzner, who replaced first season’s Scott Buck, seems intent on giving fans a more comics-accurate Iron Fist this season.
The show is light on its feet
After watching the first six episodes, I’ll admit, Iron Fist season two left me hungry for more. Though still a slow burn, this season actually moves along a bit quicker than last season’s trudgefest. And there are only 10 episodes this time, compared with 13 in season one, which should help speed things along.
Will Danny don his legendary yellow and green Iron Fist costume, becoming the fist-glowing, martial-arts superhero we all love and so desperately want? I don’t know. But I do know that this second season of Iron Fist is overall, leaps and bounds better than its predecessor. With more interesting characters, more respect for its comic-book history and more martial arts mastery, I never thought I’d say this, but I want more Iron Fist.
Charlie Moss is a freelance writer based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He has written for The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Slate, Vice, Paste, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @chachimoss.