Iron Fist season 2 is an improvement over its disastrous first season, but lingering storytelling issues stall the series' rehabilitation.
After an inert, overlong, and disjointed first season was followed up with the character taking part in an uninspired crossover event, Netflix and Marvel are set to give Finn Jones and his take on Danny Rand a shot at redemption in Iron Fist season 2. Under the supervision of new showrunner, M. Raven Metzner, the series finds itself in the tricky position of essentially starting over again, but without the luxury of doing so from scratch. Though the degree of difficulty is higher with that much baggage, the new season does have one thing decidedly in its favor: after such an inauspicious debut, the only place to go is up. And although many of the telltale flaws of the Netflix Marvel Universe are still present and accounted for, the new adventures of the Immortal Iron Fist are a noticeable step up from rock bottom.
Because Iron Fist has already been introduced into the streaming MCU, and has taken part in crossovers with established and arguably more successful brands like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage (the second season of which kickstarted the rehabilitation of Danny’s character), Metzner and his crew are more or less stuck playing the hand they’ve been dealt. That hand isn’t as bad as the first season would lead you to believe, thanks in large part to Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing, who is essentially a co-lead with Jones time around, and a storyline at least attempts to have a pulse, putting Davos (Sacha Dhawan) and Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup) on a collision course with Danny, Colleen, and Ward (Tom Pelphrey).
Despite its struggles to be interesting, there’s a workmanlike quality to the series’ second outing that’s admirable, if not entirely successful. Netflix has pinned its marketing efforts on the notion of improved fight sequences, which are noticeably more kinetic and fun to watch. That is due in part to Danny no longer telling everyone he meets that he’s the Immortal Iron Fist. Instead, he’s taken a page from Matt Murdock’s playbook by concealing his identity when he’s out punching bad guys and saving the city’s streets at night. Hiding Jones’ face affords the stunt coordinators and performers room to stage faster-paced, more exciting fight sequences. Though Iron Fist season 2 is still miles away from where it should be, say, reminiscent of The Raid or John Wick, it’s at least not Iron Fist season 1.
And that seems to be the standard by which the series hopes it will be measured this time around. Rather than promote a direct comparison to its fellow Marvel Netflix series, Iron Fist season 2 is focused on demonstrating all the ways it is not the series’ first season. This approach doesn’t necessarily result in a great piece of television; it’s simply not as bad as what came before. The downside is that, because the issues facing Iron Fist were myriad, the efforts to elevate the show have still left it susceptible to problems that have long plagued the streaming MCU.
The series, like all Marvel’s Netflix shows, struggles to justify the length of its episodes and its season. Filling so many hours of television requires the story to slow things down on occasion, but the Iron Fist bench isn’t deep enough to take time off from crime-fighting to fill in the details of its characters’ lives. Doing so results in a dinner party/double date between adversaries that's demonstrably more awkward than the bits purposefully designed to make the audience uncomfortable. Moments that eschew open hostility for redundant dialogue and inaction are the reason why terms like “streaming drift” were coined. They exist to kill time, but they're static because the story isn't equipped to sustain such a high level of serialization.
The answer for Iron Fist, then, is to throw more characters at the problem. In addition to the protracted scheme being cooked up by Davos and Joy, the series introduces Alice Eve as Typhoid Mary. In the episodes made available to critics before the premiere, Mary’s presence works on the assumption of Eve's casting than in building actual intrigue around the character or her circumstances. The idea that there’s more to Mary than meets the eye is conveyed through Post-It notes scattered throughout her apartment, as though Mary’s biggest problem is actually just a passive-aggressive roommate. By the time Mary’s circumstances are made clear, the story is well past the point of caring.
The same is true of the season’s other primary antagonists. Davos is less a frightening adversary than a petulant sibling who’s angry his brother got the toy they both wanted. Envy isn’t the worst motivator for an enemy, but Iron Fist doesn’t use it to take Davos, or his relationship with Danny, anywhere unexpected or particularly fascinating. The expectation is that Davos will once again challenge Danny with powers of his own. But for those who want Davos to be a physical threat and a compelling character with a powerful motivation, they’ll have to make do with a doppelgänger villain driven mostly by jealousy and vindictiveness.
Consistent issues plaguing Marvel’s Netflix shows aside, Iron Fist season 2 is still an improvement over season 1. The improvements are superficial for the most part, but do help point the series in the right direction. But the series needs much more than a simple retooling. Improved fight scenes might make for a solid marketing angle, but, glowing fist or not, Iron Fist can’t quite land its punches when it comes to crafting a compelling storyline.
Iron Fist season 2 will stream Friday, September 7 on Netflix.