Warning: SPOILERS ahead for The Defenders!
“I’m the Immortal Iron Fist, sworn protector of K’un Lun.” With those words, Danny Rand (Finn Jones) announces himself proudly to everyone he meets in Marvel’s The Defenders. Rarely is anyone impressed. In nearly every instance, Danny is met with incredulity or eye-rolling. And yet, The Defenders doesn’t work at all without Iron Fist. Of the four superheroes in Marvel and Netflix’s long-anticipated superhero team up that includes Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), and Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Iron Fist is the most integral to the plot of the series and the machinations of the Hand, the ancient evil criminal organization led by Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver). The Hand desires Danny Rand’s power, while the Defenders (reluctantly) work alongside Danny to keep the power of the Iron Fist from them. For once, everyone wants Iron Fist.
Marvel’s streak of critically-acclaimed, fan-favorite hits on Netflix hit a roadblock when Iron Fist premiered in March of this year. Daredevil season one effectively built the street-level heroics of Marvel New York City and its second season was even better received. Jessica Jones was beloved, while Luke Cage inspired numerous thought-provoking think pieces. When fans met Danny Rand, the billionaire heir to Rand Enterprises who returned to New York after 15 years of learning martial arts in the mysterious Himalayan monastery K’un-Lun, they were decidedly unimpressed. Unlike the emotionally torn Matt Murdock, the wittily sarcastic Jessica Jones, and the noble Luke Cage, Danny Rand was found to be childish and irritating, and the series was problematic. Fans and critics alike came down hard on Iron Fist, and quickly designated him as “the worst Defender.”
Fans who skipped Iron Fist and are meeting Danny Rand for the first time in The Defenders will likely come away with the opinion that he’s an annoying appendage to the other, more mature heroes. The Defenders doesn’t shy away at all from depicting Danny’s character defects. However, Danny Rand in The Defenders does make genuine progress as a character from how he was in his own series, and he is given leeway to show some better shades of his personality. Rather than de-emphasize Danny Rand in The Defenders, showrunners Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez took the opposite route and made Iron Fist the central hero around whom all of the action involving the Hand revolved.
When we last saw Danny Rand and his Hand-fighting partner/love interest Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), they had arrived in the Himalayas only to find K’un-Lun had disappeared as a direct result of Danny abandoning his role as its protector. The Defenders catches up with Danny and Colleen months later, having scoured the world unsuccessfully chasing the Hand with nothing to show for their efforts. By the time they returned to the familiar space of Colleen’s Chikara Dojo in New York, Danny was more frustrated and angry than ever in his failure to be a “one-man army.” Colleen wisely suggested a new strategy: finding some help, maybe joining a team.
It turned out finding some new friends was exactly the magic formula Danny needed. By the time he meets the other three Defenders and they fight their way out of the Hand’s Midland Circle skyscraper and take refuge in the Royal Dragon Chinese restaurant, we began to see some brilliant flashes of the kind of character Danny Rand could eventually become. Danny is the youngest Defender in age and life experience; rubbing up against the more world-weary Jessica Jones and the stalwart Luke Cage, Danny was the only one who grasped the gee-whiz coolness of having other heroes with superpowers around to fight alongside. Suddenly, Danny became relaxed and started being funny. He proudly paid for all of the damage to the restaurant and bought everyone dinner with his black card. He also read the room and quickly realized a team up was a natural progression of four superheroes showing up at the same place at the same time to fight the same villains. Danny also prodded Luke about the two of them forming a unit, teasing comic fans who want to see the comic book Power Man and Iron Fist banded together on Netflix.
Danny was most impressed by Daredevil, however. He’d heard of the exploits of The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen and was shocked to find out Matt Murdock was a blind lawyer-turned-ninja trained by Stick (Scott Glenn) and The Chaste, which was an army meant to fight the Hand that Danny had no idea existed. Danny also thought Daredevil was just plain cool, especially his weapons like his billy club, though he and the other Defenders resented Matt keeping his relationship with the Hand’s weapon Elektra (Elodie Yung) from them. Of the four Defenders, Danny Rand and Matt Murdock had the most in common; both had deep ties to the Hand and had been fighting them for years. Matt Murdock ultimately understood it as well, though he was hesitant to put his trust in Danny or any of the other Defenders until the very end when he had no other choice.
Page 2: Danny's Redemption
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